St. Albertans love their library and are widely supportive of seeing expansion, but paying for it with higher taxes is a different story.
The library released a community needs assessment on its facility this week and the results show strong support for the institution.
The telephone survey of 800 residents combined with focus groups and other resources revealed that more than 89 per cent of people believe the library provides good value for tax dollars and that 98 per cent think it is an important community resource.
On the subject of the facility’s expansion, 85 per cent of people when asked about the library said they strongly or somewhat support the plan.
When expansion comes with a tax increase though, only eight per cent of people strongly support the move and 35 per cent somewhat support it.
Mayor Nolan Crouse said he was pleased with the support for the library but wasn’t surprised because residents have always rated it highly in city surveys.
He said he also wasn’t surprised the question of expansion came down to dollars for most residents and there are still questions that have to be asked.
“The bottom line is that the question has not been asked to the residents about what are they prepared to pay for an additional library.”
Library director Pam Forsythe said she sees an upside to the survey results because many people support an expansion even without an understanding of what they would gain.
“It seemed like a good starting point,” she said. “We haven’t really done any promotion on what the community would get for spending that extra money.”
Coun. Gareth Jones said the library expansion is going to be a difficult decision because the city also has to consider a new fire hall, the seniors’ centre and several other possible capital projects.
“There are a number of big capital projects like that we need to discuss as a whole.”
Downtown versus branch
The survey also revealed a lot about people’s preferences for library expansion.
Two possible options have been on the table for the expansion — either a larger downtown facility or a branch library away from the current facility.
As part of the work on the downtown revitalization plan, Crouse put forward his idea of one large downtown facility opposite St. Albert Place this spring
While support for a taxpayer-funded expansion wasn’t high, when pressed, respondents said they favoured a branch system over a central location.
A total of 56 per cent of residents prefer a branch system versus 29 per cent of people who want to see a bigger downtown location.
That question didn’t include an option for neither, though seven per cent of respondents gave one anyway and another eight per cent had no opinion.
Peter Bailey, public services manager for the library, said the board and staff just don’t think that can work.
“Really it is not an option, as far as the board and the staff are concerned. The status quo is not really an option so we didn’t ask it.”
Forsythe said the library has no space to expand in the present building and has to turn away book donations.
“We can’t really squeeze much more into this space,” she said. “We have really come to the breaking point with this building. There is nothing else we can do here.”
Crouse said that, while he understands the space crunch, he doubts council will be able to solve the problem this year.
“It is probably not going to be one of those short-term questions.”
LIBRARY: BY THE NUMBERS
o 74 per cent are satisfied with the library;
o 98 per cent believe it is important to the community;
o 89 per cent says it is good value for tax dollars;
o 71 per cent of people have used the library, 42 per cent in the last year;
o 85 per cent support expansion;
o 43 per cent support expansion if taxes are increased to pay for it.
The survey included 800 people and has a margin of error of 3.5 per cent 19 times out of 20.