Councillors have voted in favour of a 7.6% increase to the Halifax Public Libraries budget, and they’ll consider adding another $150,000 for e-books and food programs at the end of their budget process.
Halifax Public Libraries’ chief librarian and CEO Åsa Kachan presented her proposed spending for the 2021-2022 fiscal year to council’s budget committee on Friday.
Kachan’s base budget request, in line with her target from municipal finance staff, was $23,330,000. That’s an increase of $1,655,500 from the 2020-2021 budget of $21,674,500. That was the budget for libraries after council made cuts due to COVID-19.
More than half of the increase is due to salary increases, comprising more than $875,000 of the extra $1.7 million, but there is also about $120,000 in reduced revenue from the libraries’ elimination of fines.
On top of the $23.3 million budget, Kachan asked councillors to consider adding two items to their budget adjustment list: $100,000 for “electronic resources” like e-books and audio books, and $50,000 for food programming, including snacks and lunches at libraries and cooking classes.
Kachan said electronic resources are more expensive than hard-copy books, due to complex agreements with publishers. An e-book can cost libraries as much as $100 versus $15-$20 for a book. And in general, the size of Halifax Public Libraries’ collection per capita is less than that of other Canadian cities while its usage is higher.
Council had voted for an increase to the collections budget for 2020-2021, but ended up slashing the extra cash due to COVID-19.
On the food programming request, Kachan said the $50,000 would double the libraries’ budget for cooking classes and snacks and lunches. She said the lunch program is simple; staff just place bagged lunches on a table and people can grab them if they want.
“We don’t want people to feel ashamed if they’re hungry. We really just want them to have some food in their bellies,” Kachan said.
Councillors voted to add both items to the budget adjustment list. That list now totals $1,031,400. Council will debate whether and how to pay for each of the nine items on the list at a meeting scheduled for April 20, at the end of the budget process.
The base Halifax Public Libraries budget passed unanimously.
Next week, councillors will debate the proposed capital budget for all municipal departments.
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Time to remind readers that peninsula Halifax has more library space than any similar size place in Canada and many other places in the world. Libraries at SMU and Dalhousie as well as the legislative library and the provincial departmental libraries, although access is not as good as it once was. Excellent for a place of less than 70,000 residents.
I’m glad the library is getting this – I have been and continue to be so impressed by their response to Covid-19 – extending loan periods, eliminating fines, starting curbside pickup, providing food, acting as a venue for testing and more. Well deserved!