Library issue not shelved

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The city’s proposed short-term fix to address the St. Albert Public Library’s increasing need for more space strikes a balance between demands from library supporters and taxpayers.

While the library has said it needs more room to cope with an expanding user base, 61.7 per cent of voters in last October’s non-binding plebiscite on ice, aquatics and library space voted against further planning of a new library branch.

Given the clear message sent by St. Albert residents, councillors will consider another option to tackle the library issue. Later this year they plan to look at leasing 3,000 square feet of storefront library space at a site in the north end, an area the library says can benefit from having access to its services.

In a recent report, city administration pegged the estimated startup cost at $517,000, which would help cover the anticipated storefront renovations that would be required to meet the library’s needs. The annual estimated operating cost for 2019 and 2020 would be approximately $279,000 and $382,000, respectively.

The price tag, though significant, is considerably less than the projected multimillion-dollar cost of the proposed branch library that had been the focus of a petition and much debate in 2017.

The short-term solution would enable the city to assist the facility and likely appease opponents of a new library building. It would also be welcomed by library patrons, particularly those who live in areas such as Deer Ridge, Erin Ridge, North Ridge, Jensen Lakes and Oakmont.

North-end residents have to travel across the city to borrow their favourite books, movies and music from the library, which is situated in St. Albert Place. Those who can’t afford a home computer or don’t have internet hookup also make the trek downtown to use the computers that are set up on the library’s second floor – a free, and popular, service available to its members.

Among the many other reasons patrons seek out the library are its reading programs, book clubs, computer training, career resources, author talks and genealogy club.

Statistics show the number of individual visitors to the facility annually tops 300,000. The level of ongoing support from families, kids and seniors in a growing city of 65,000 is a major reason council should be willing to pony up the money to aid the St. Albert Public Library in the short-term. While it is not known yet what programs and services will be offered in the leased space, plans are for library requests and pickups.

And if councillors need further proof that the facility is a big draw in this community, they need only turn to social media. A Facebook post on Wednesday from the library, which opened its doors in 1984, touted a record-setting day for the organization.

The library said staff handled 140 new/renewed memberships – which are free – on Tuesday as 2,349 people came through its doors, surpassing the previous record of 1,900. Statistics show the number of items checked out that day almost reached 7,000 while approximately the same number of materials were returned.

City council must heed these numbers because it is apparent that a huge number of St. Albert citizens rely on the community library for information and programming that enriches their lives. The city will likely be keen to monitor the new library space usage before considering any future funding.

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St. Albert Gazette

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