The Fraser Valley Regional Library budget approved in December won’t be enough to keep up with the growing demand for books, DVDs, magazines and other materials as the population and cardholders increase.
The directors of the FVRL board met virtually on Dec. 9, and approved a 2021 budget that includes a 1.98 per cent increase in overall spending, and a two per cent increase in purchases of books and other borrowing materials.
However, the budget report notes that is not enough money to keep books bought per capita steady.
“Because of COVID, we went to a bare-bones budget,” said Gayle Martin, Langley City councillor and chair of the library board.
Martin noted she was actually surprised that the vast majority of the board voted for the middle of three budget options, rather than an even lower-cost option.
“We know how important the materials are to our population,” she said.
Port Coquitlam councillor Nancy McCurrach was the only board member to advocated for the lower option.
“This year, it could be the year to hold off,” she said, based on the impact COVID has had on municipal finances. Based on advice from her council and Port Coquitlam staff, she was voting for the smallest tax increase, she said.
The total increase in the FVRL annual budget will be $534,492, spread across its 13 member municipalities and two regional districts on a per capita basis.
The budget “requires about a four per cent increase in spending to maintain the same level of per capita purchasing power in 2021,” the report to the directors said.
The budget reports that even the four per cent increase, which would have maintained purchasing power, would not provide any extra funds for areas where demand has been increasing sharply – ebooks and audio books, Sphero robots, birding backpacks, telescopes, and other special items.
So far, the report noted, items like the Spheros and birding backpacks has been funded by donations.
The total spending on books and other materials in the 2021 budget is set at $4.835 million.
As demand for ebooks and other items has increased, spending on traditional books has actually dropped substantially. FVRL spending on traditional paper books has dropped about 10 per cent over the last seven to 10 years, its own reports say.
While the FVRL is buying fewer paper books, the digital side can’t keep up with the new demands of the pandemic.
“COVID-19 has spurred a dramatic increase in digital materials usage, and while FVRL has responded by shifting spending to this area, the digital collection simply does not have the same level of depth and variety as the physical collection,” the budget report says.
The lower spending on new books and materials has now been going on for the last five years, the budget notes. Even the four per cent increase in materials spending wouldn’t have brought the FVRL back up to where it was before 2015, the report said, referring to the decrease in the book budget as a “short-fall.”
The cities and towns served by the FVRL has been growing rapidly, and it is now the largest library system in the province by the number of cardholders.
According to the FVRL’s 2018 annual report, there are 356,053 active cardholders to the system, out of a population of 778,112 people.
By comparison, Vancouver Public Library (VPL) had 269,626 cardholders out of a population of just over 630,000 people.
However, FVRL has fewer loans of books and physical materials per year, at 5.5 million in 2018, compared to VPL, which saw 7.4 million loans in the same year.
The FVRL does not have a fundraising foundation, while both Vancouver and Surrey Public Libraries have dedicated charities.
The budget was developed as though it were for a normal year, with the understanding that COVID-19 had made 2020 and 2021 anything but normal.
Libraries across the province were closed, and the FVRL operated for several months by allowing books to be taken out only via online requests and pickups outside of libraries.
The Libraries Branch was recently moved from being under the auspices of the provincial Ministry of Education, and is now overseen by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.