Public libraries are part of strong, healthy communities. Public library service is a municipal service in Alberta as set out in the Libraries Act. Municipalities may choose to provide the service at the local level, and also at the regional level. The Government of Alberta provides grants to municipal and library system boards to supplement municipal funding and encourage library service. It also establishes standards for operation and planning of the service and facilitates province-wide sharing of public library resources.
Municipal Service at the Local Level
At the local level, a municipal council may pass a bylaw under the Libraries Act to establish a municipal library board. Council appoints members to the board. Once established, the board is a corporation with all the rights and responsibilities of a corporation. It is responsible for the management and control of the public library and its service. Boards may operate one or more public library service points, or, with the permission of the minister, may enter into agreements with other boards to share the operation of one or more service points. Municipalities may also enter into agreements with up to two additional municipalities to form an intermunicipal library board to provide public library service to their citizens.
The structure supports four principles for equitable access to public library resources:
- Access: Albertans have an equal right to access information regardless of economic, social or geographic circumstances;
- Accountability: Provincial and municipal governments are responsible for maintaining a healthy public library service. Library boards are accountable to the citizens and funding authorities;
- Quality service: Cooperation among and through library systems is the most efficient means of providing access to information; and
- Funding: Public Library service is funded by local and provincial tax dollars. Library boards are not taxing authorities but as corporations may raise additional funds.
What is Free?
In order to encourage accessibility, the Libraries Act sets out conditions of free basic public library service:
- Free access to public library facilities;
- Use of library resources in the library;
- Borrowing public library resources;
- Acquiring library resources through interlibrary loan;
- Consultation with library staff; and/or
- Basic information service
The Provincial Role
Albertans need and request a broad range of library resources for their information ,education and recreational needs and no single municipal library has the resources to meet their needs. The combined resource strength of all libraries in the province goes a long way toward meeting these needs. The province recognizes that all Albertans require access to information resources and has long history of encouraging this outcome. Government funding supports equitable access to public library resources for all Albertans and there are a number of initiatives that make it easier for all Albertans to achieve this outcome through their local municipal library. To improve how we work together as a government and with the library sector, the province adopted a Collaborative Library Policy to strengthen cross-government work and further enable the goal of seamless access to library resources from publicly funded libraries. The policy is a response to a recommendation in the 2009 report, Framework for the Future: Positioning Alberta Libraries for the 21st Century.
- Public Library Systems: Library systems are established by the Minister under the Libraries Act when municipalities in an area agree to jointly provide library system services. There are seven library system boards in the province. System boards are incorporated under the act and are one of the few programs established under provincial legislation that provide municipal services at a regional level. Library system services provide professional and technical support to public libraries within the system area so that even the smallest library has access to advice and assistance along with the cost effectiveness and synergies made possible by working through a larger unit. Systems manage regional resource development and sharing at the regional level. Systems also function as nodes within the provincial public library network to connect resources to residents using municipal libraries in small rural communities.
- Resource-sharing: Provincial policy encourages public libraries to share their resources so that all Albertans can have equitable access to public library materials. Provincial legislation requires all library boards to have a policy that supports resource-sharing. In addition, the province funds interlibrary loan management, delivery and the connection costs for the Alberta SuperNet which connects all public libraries through high-speed broadband. The Resource Sharing Operational Policy for Public Libraries was adopted in December 2012 to support this type of collaboration across the provincewide public library network.
Public library service is primarily funded through the local tax base at both the local municipal level and also at the regional library system level with support from a provincial library operating grant. Funding is provided under the Municipal Affairs Grants Regulation.