CPL optimistic despite not meeting provincial targets

The Calgary Public Library (CPL) is not achieving the provincial target for use, but its CEO says it has big plans to transform itself and to increase its number of users.

A survey conducted for the Alberta Ministry of Municipal Affairs and the Alberta Ministry of Culture shows that 58.8 per cent of Alberta households use libraries, a figure lower than the provincial target but higher than Calgary’s rate of household usage.

The Alberta government target for library use is 70 per cent of households. However, 56 per cent of households in Calgary are using the CPL system according to its 2014 customer survey. In light of this, the CPL has plans to fully redefine itself as a community hub.

“We are in an information age, and libraries are becoming more important,” said Paul McIntyre Royston, CEO of CPL Foundation. For him, libraries are the place to promote human and community connection.

McIntyre Royston isn’t satisfied with Calgary’s usage. “We need to do better; hence, all the positive changes we are making, including dropping the [membership] fee.”

Alberta Municipal Affairs did not make anyone available to comment on how the 70 per cent provincial goal was determined, but the CPL considers it to be a good one.

“It is a reasonable target, and we are looking to increase (Calgary usage) further,” said McIntyre Royston.

Valoree McKay, executive director of the Canadian Library Association, said libraries are one of the main support systems of our communities. Libraries help new Canadians to learn English, people to look for jobs, provide internet access, are learning centres for new technologies and they offer cultural infrastructure like theaters and galleries for communities.

“Libraries are as important municipal infrastructures as water and gas pipelines,” said McKay. “Libraries know the pulse of our communities.”

Evan Woolley, city councilor for Ward 8 and CPL board member, said that CPL is changing. The organization hired a new CEO, eliminated membership fees, is building a new central branch and is expanding its programing and library collection.

Woolley said that with the new improvement system, “We’re kicking butt.”

Woolley was surprised that only 56 per cent of households use CPL services.

“It is very interesting because CPL has the second largest circulation of materials in any city in Canada,” said Woolley. “Calgary must have the most avid readers in Canada.”

CPL expects the elimination of membership fees will result in a total of 800,000 Calgarians using its services following trends at the Edmonton Public Library system (EPL), who cut the fee back in 2013.The public library offers a dynamic variety of books on many diverse topics.

Photo by Amira Caro

“Expanding the library system is a challenge,” said Woolley, citing that a yearly population growth of 40,000 is difficult to accommodate.

The new central library is already under preliminary construction in the East Village. It is expected to cost $245 million and open in 2018.

Library user Chantelle Potter supports the new library. “I think that as a city we need to show that we have modern spaces for learning and art,” Potter said. “A library is the perfect thing to invest in.”

Another user, James Richards, expressed doubt. “I don’t know about all the money that’s being spent on it. I already like this one.”

Other initiatives that are being discussed include providing some free printing, eliminating fees for use of meeting rooms by non-profits and community organizations, and enhancing the library’s multimedia collection available to the public.

For Woolley it is frustrating to be compared with provincial targets when he feels that there may be a lack of commitment. “It is easy for the province to set a provincial target, and don’t give funding dollars to achieve it.”

According to the CPL the province of Alberta provides 10 per cent of the funding of its over $55 million annual budget. The provincial government wasn’t available for comment on funding by the Calgary Journal’s deadline.

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