Halifax Public Libraries presents operating budget to HRM committee

Renovations and funding for expanded collection could be on the way

While Halifax’s public libraries continue to attract a high volume of visitors, the collections haven’t seen a lot of growth over the last few years.

Åsa Kachan, chief librarian and CEO for Halifax Public Libraries, presented a look at the numbers at HRM’s budget committee meeting on Wednesday.

Currently, Halifax Public Library’s holdings per capita are below the MBNCanada (Municipal Benchmark Network) median for 2018, while annual library visits per capita are much higher.

“That’s a big component of what a library is, the richness of our collection,” said Kachan in an interview after her presentation.

“If we have a great collection people end up connecting and learning things they didn’t intend to.”

Halifax Public Libraries per capita visits is above the MBNCanada Median.
Halifax Public Libraries per capita visits is above the MBNCanada Median.   Halifax Public Libraries
Halifax Public Libraries holdings per capita, meaning borrowable materials, is below the MBNCanada Median.
Halifax Public Libraries holdings per capita, meaning borrowable materials, is below the MBNCanada Median.   Halifax Public Libraries

Although there wasn’t a funding request from Halifax Public Libraries this year to increase the collection, Coun. Sam Austin introduced a motion directing library staff to find out how much it would cost to bring the collection up to the national benchmark.

“It’s probably a big hill to climb,” he said. “Something we should be chipping away at over time rather than all at once.”

One challenge libraries continue to face is the higher price for electronic resources.

A $50,000 request toward initiatives that reduce social isolation is also included in the library’s operating budget. That could mean putting out a bowl of fruit or offering free coffee.

“It’s worked very, very well in terms of connecting people who might otherwise be isolated in the community and drawing them to the library,” said Kachan.

New social worker having ‘positive effect’

Last year, the library hired social worker Sheena Jamieson to fill a community navigator position. It’s been about a year since she started, and Kachan said she’s had a positive effect.

“She has a very empathy-based approach,” said Kachan.

“She’s able to take some of those social issues and help us understand them in the context of people we may run into in the course of our day, and how do we feel comfortable walking toward and supporting them.”

That includes helping library staff understand what it might be like to struggle with an opioid addiction. All Halifax Public Libraries have naloxone, a medication that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, on hand.

The operating budget does include an increase in compensation and benefits this year, which mainly covers two years of back pay after a new four-year collective agreement was signed.

Renovations eyed for three branches

Kachan is hoping to see a capital funding request successfully approved this year for renovations at the Keshen Goodman Public Library in Clayton Park.

The $2-million project would mainly go toward redesigning the layout of the library and making it a bit bigger.

Although the building is only 20 years old, she said it’s one of the busiest branches.

“It’s quite noisy and it doesn’t have a dedicated teen area even though it’s next to a high school,” said Kachan.

“We figure for a couple million dollars we can improve the experience for people using that branch and be able to deliver better services to the community.”

 

Halifax Public Libraries are looking to renovate the interior of the Keshen Goodman branch.
Halifax Public Libraries is looking to renovate the interior of the Keshen Goodman branch.   Alexandra Skultety

Public consultations are also planned ahead of proposed renovations for the Halifax North Memorial Public Library, a building which is more than 50 years old.

Accessibility issues need to be addressed, as well as the building’s plumbing and heating. But the plan will go much further than that.

“We want to honour the history. It is a branch that’s had historic significance, particularly for the African Nova Scotian population,” said Kachan.

She said it’s an opportunity to look at what’s missing in the community that could be added, like meeting spaces or recording studios.

Halifax Public Libraries is also in the early planning stages to renovate the interior of the Dartmouth North Public Library.

HRM’s budget hasn’t yet been finalized. The approval of all items over the regular capital and operating budgets, including the $2-million for renovations at the Keshen Goodman library, will be discussed in February.

Alexandra Skultety

Alexandra Skultety

Alex has worked in the radio industry for over 10 years at stations throughout BC and central Alberta. She has a Bachelor's Degree in political science and recently moved to Halifax to take the one-year journalism program at the University of King's College.

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