Provincial Funding for Public Libraries on the Decline in Alberta

As Alberta’s new Premier Jim Prentice likes to say, the Government of Alberta is “under new management.” Hopefully, though not likely, the ‘new’ government, from the same party that has been in power for over 40 years, will reverse the recent trend of declining real investments in Alberta’s public libraries from the provincial government.

In 2006, the Province directly funded provincial library boards (removing funding to TAL, APLEN, funding for resource sharing, and SuperNet Connection Fees) to the tune of $7.49 per capita (provincial library statistics are available here http://www.municipalaffairs.alberta.ca/plsb_statistics.cfm.

In 2011, direct funding to library boards was $7.76 per capita. While this is an increase of 3%,  Consumer Price Index data from Statistics Canada for Alberta notes that between 2006 and 2011, prices rose a total of 16%. Thus in real dollar terms, provincial support for libraries is down, and down significantly. A similar trend can be seen in other jurisdictions as well. For example in Ontario between 2011 and 2012, direct provincial spending on libraries fell (not just in real dollars, but in nominal dollars).

While declines in direct provincial funding to library boards is mitigated to a degree by increasing municipal funding, more downloading of the costs of library services to municipalities, puts libraries increasingly at the whim of local politicians and municipal tax bases that already finance a broad range of services (from roads and snow removal to police and firefighters). Perhaps the large public deficit in Ontario can partially explain declining provincial expenditures there, but why has Alberta, one of the most prosperous jurisdictions in the world, continued to let its share of financial support for libraries decline, in relative terms?

Hopefully the ‘new management’ in Alberta will realize the importance of investing in public libraries and significantly increase support for library boards and provincial library initiatives such as TAL. More likely, especially with declining oil prices, the Government of Alberta will continue to reduce its share of financial support for libraries. The recent Speech from the Throne noted, “Every effort of your government is focused on the fundamental goal of ensuring Albertans have the best quality of life possible.” It will be interesting to see if that quality of life includes provincial support for libraries.