Libraries want $300K to expand collections

Proposed budget for 2024-25 would help accommodate cost of physical and digital reading materials at libraries

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caption Three people walk in front of Halifax Central Library, located on Spring Garden Road in downtown Halifax.
Aidan Rawding

A proposed $1.5-million budget increase for Halifax Public Libraries would include funding more licences for e-books and e-audiobooks, which have been in demand since the pandemic.

The total proposed budget for 2024-2025 is $25 million. About $300,000 of the increase to the libraries’ operating budget would go toward accommodating the cost of physical and digital materials, and HRM’s growing population.

The municipality’s budget committee voted Friday to include the plan in its operating budget, which will go to regional council.

“Our ability to have a collection that is varied — has varied viewpoints, that represents a wide variety of voices, that comes in a wide variety of formats requires investment,” said Åsa Kachan, CEO and chief librarian of Halifax Public Libraries.

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Kachan listed examples such as picture books, multilingual books and audio books.

Demand for e-books has doubled

According to a staff report provided by the municipality’s chief administrative officer in November, there has been an increase of 110 per cent in demand for e-book and e-audiobook loans over the past five years. The cost of e-resources are more expensive than physical books, according to the report, which is a reason the library has asked for and received additional funding in recent years.

The difference in cost is “outrageous,” observed Coun. Patty Cuttell (District 11). The promise of cheap and accessible technology “does not seem to be the case with libraries, even though you don’t need hard space to store digital copies.”

Halifax Public Libraries is working on a long-term facilities plan it will bring back to council. Kachan said the plan will look at areas where there is opportunity for growth, and places where access is not as good as it should be.

Staff had concerns about library resources for rural communities in the municipality.

Coun. Cathy Deagle Gammon (District 1) said people in rural communities don’t see the library in the same way Kachan presented it.

“What will the community engagement look like? And what will it look like in terms of the rural component? Because this is a place where we are very different,” said Gammon, using the limited access to internet service as an example.

The facilities plan should be coming in the next year, said Kachan.

“It’s premature for me to say where and when, because that relies on council as well,” said Kachan, and “council will need to identify, in a sense, how much investment is available.”

This new plan will be greater in scope than the previous plan, said Kachan. “It will be longer than a five-year plan. I’m anticipating a 20-year plan.”

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