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Library faced with tough choices

It is not necessary to read between the lines. The facts speak for themselves. Growing pains are causing the board of the Bowen Island Public Library to make some tough choices.

It is not necessary to read between the lines. The facts speak for themselves. Growing pains are causing the board of the Bowen Island Public Library to make some tough choices.

Chief librarian Tina Nielsen, the library's sole full-time employee, says "we have been very fortunate to have run this library for 30 years with an incredibly strong volunteer contingent that allows us to offer the level of service that we do. What we are finding, given the growth of this island since the library began in 1986, and the demographics, is that it is no longer feasible to rely as heavily as we do on volunteers."

The library depends on volunteers to provide a core service to the public. If a volunteer cannot be in the library, that core service is in jeopardy. An advance in technology means the library requires volunteers to possess expertise that requires time and experience to cultivate. Volunteers are in short supply because the cost of living has increased. Therefore more people have to work, leaving less opportunity to offer up their time. Staff time is required to train volunteers.

Nielsen says, "The library is used constantly and recruiting volunteers and getting them into place is actually a full-time job.

We are running out of time to just do the basics of ordering books, getting them on the shelves and provide the additional information and assistance that our patrons request."

In the light of these growing demands, the board of the Bowen Island Public Library recently submitted a funding request to council for additional staff. It was refused.

Councillor David Wrinch says, "The short and simple explanation is that we do not have enough money. Every budget had to be trimmed and that had to include the library. Not a popular decision but we really had no choice."

Council says this is an extremely difficult budget year across the entire community.

Before submitting their request for funds for additional staffing to council, the library board looked at the history of the library and its current status. They researched other libraries of comparable size in the province to observe their staffing and budget practices. They examined the circulation of the library, which is the measure that most libraries most commonly use to indicate how busy they are. The conclusion the board came to is that it is not realistic to expect to continue to provide the current level of service with only one full-time employee, one person who works 20 hours a week and two people who work eight hours a week. A second full-time position is required.

The issue of safety is also a priority with the library board, staff and volunteers. With the current situation, there may be times when a staff member or a volunteer is the only one in the building. The library is a large space and safety is compromised when a volunteer works alone while the single staff member on duty is on a break. Staff safety is compromised when a volunteer may cancel on a shift and solo staff have to manage the large premises by themselves.

The current budget has allocated just over a three per cent increase to the Bowen Island Library. This is meant to cover wage corrections that were put forward due to the library becoming a municipal service in 2010. At that point library employees became municipal employees and needed to come under the municipalities HR policies. These increases do not address the immediate need for more staffing. The choice the library board is presented with is either to hire a second full-time staff person or reduce service hours. If service hours are reduced, it will be a board decision. In the end, when council decides how much they are they are going to give the library, it is up to the library board how the money will be allocated.

Despite the refusal for funding for more staff, the Bowen Island Library Board is committed to going ahead with a re-modeled service plan. If an additional full-time staff person is not possible, the library will have to re-consider its hours of operation and days open.

In the meantime, the library is supported by the community and by the Friends of the Library, a group who raises funds on an on-going basis and who are a strong backbone of financial support to the Bowen Island Public Library. This weekend on Sunday, May 1, in celebration of its 30th anniversary on Bowen Island, the library is hosting a gathering with some New Orleans themed events. The Pearl Anniversary Celebration is from noon to 4pm. Razzmajazz, a seven-piece New Orleans-style band, will entertain along with Bowen's Black Sheep Morris troupe.