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Powell River Public Library faced challenges from pandemic and flood in 2021

Past year presented difficulties, says chief librarian
2716_finance_library_Rebecca Burbank
PRESENTS OVERVIEW: Powell River Public Library chief librarian Rebecca Burbank reviewed successes and challenges in 2021 and proposed a 2022 budget with a 0.4 per cent decrease over the previous year during a presentation to the city’s finance committee.

Powell River Public Library faced a challenging year in 2021, city councillors were told.

Chief librarian Rebecca Burbank said she was appearing before the January 27 finance committee to provide an overview of some of the successes and challenges faced.

She said 2021 was a challenging year on the heels of a very challenging year in 2020.

“We had just opened the library following a pandemic closure, we had restored our evening hours, and in March 2021, we had a flood, which resulted in a four-and-a-half-month closure,” said Burbank. “This caused severe disruption to our workspace and the access the public had to the library. It impacted our ability to deliver services very dramatically.

“It was a complete upheaval of our work and the way we typically deliver services. Fortunately, it enabled us to put back in place a lot of the lessons we have learned from the pandemic.”

Burbank said a pop-up space was set up in the First Credit Union community room. It was the only public space the library had available for the four-and-a-half-months.

“I’m so thankful our staff was able to deliver library services here and continue those through the flood closure,” she added.

One of the other practices carried through the flood closure was virtual and outdoor programming that built up during the pandemic closure and Burbank said the library is thankful to carry that forward.

One of the focus areas was early childhood literacy. There were various times in 2021 when there was a virtual story time, plus outdoor story time, which was made possible through a grant-in-aid from the city for the Willingdon Beach pavilion, said Burbank.

During the past year the library held a photo competition and participants were asked to show what they enjoyed about the community when travel was really challenging.

“We focused on our local community and regions, and it was a really positive step,” said Burbank. “It garnered some great feedback. We had about 180 submissions.”

The winning photograph was taken atop Valentine Mountain.

Burbank said this past fall, when the library went back to in-person programming, it was able to facilitate the return of school tours.

“It’s a critical connection that we are able to make between the schools, the classrooms and the library; this had been on hold since March 2020,” said Burbank. “We had been holding these virtually, so enabling students to come back into the library, to meet our staff and build that connection was something special and was something we were thankful to have back.”

Burbank said the library had a library card volume drop of about 10 per cent, which shows the impact the pandemic and the flood closures had on its ability to renew library cards and bring in new patrons.

“That was not a surprise but was sad to see,” said Burbank. “We had a huge uptick in the last month of 2021 in both our foot traffic and new cards. The trend into 2022 is looking pretty good.”

Budget review

Burbank then reviewed the proposed library operating budget for 2022. She said operational revenue is up because the library is able to book its meeting rooms again. She said there is a transfer from reserves listed in the operating budget. She added that the pandemic and flood closure resulted in an unanticipated surplus and that is being used to offset the local grant request from the city and qathet Regional District.

Burbank reviewed the 2022 proposed operating budget and said programming costs are proposed to increase. This includes funding for a writer in residence, which is a new program.

“There will be a pilot in 2022, which we think will deliver some really exciting programs and events,” she added.

Burbank then reviewed the local government contributions. This included a 0.4 per cent drop for both the city and the regional district in 2022 over 2021’s figure. The requested contribution from the city in 2022 is $897,956, which includes operating, capital and COVID-19 janitorial expenditures. The requested regional district contribution for 2022 is $396,324.

Councillor Jim Palm asked how the flood impacted the overall budget in 2021. Burbank said the impact was in staffing. There were positions that didn’t need to be refilled and services were limited.

“There were labour savings, but thankfully, no layoffs,” added Burbank.

Finance committee chair councillor George Doubt said Burbank came in with a financial request that was slightly lower than the previous year’s request and believes everyone appreciates that.

“More than that, I and everyone else appreciates the contribution the library has made to everybody during the pandemic and putting up with the flood,” said Doubt. “You’ve been there to provide a service that’s very welcome in the community and I want to thank you for that. Thank you for your report and being responsible with the taxpayers’ money.”