Friday Fun Link – Cash Cow: User Fees in Alberta Public Libraries (June 4, 2010)

Posting this as a Friday Fun Link sorta feels like being the party guest who comes over and starts criticizing your housekeeping or your parenting skills or whatever.  But anyhow, here I am in Edmonton, enjoying the CLA conference and I can't help but re-post my essay, “Cash Cow: User Fees in Alberta Public Libraries“. 

I didn't mention it except for one brief exchange with a colleague from Calgary but for me, it was the elephant in the room for the pre-conference on social responsibility.  We had twenty or so people there, at least fifteen were from Alberta yet nobody seemed to notice or bring up that the fact that Alberta charges a fee to everybody who wants a library card (and yes I know they'll waive the fee for those who can't pay it but I address all the related issues around that in the essay.  Go read it!)

(That reminds me – I gotta go reply to Punch Jackson on Twitter.  Oops, can't find his reply to my tweet right but I think he asked “how do you make up the $4 million shortfall for not charging user fees?”  Well, call me a communist but how about since Alberta's population is 3.3 million, how about adding a buck and a quarter to the annual taxes of everybody in Alberta?  Or what about tapping into a very small fraction of the the surpluses they had when I wrote the essay and the government projects to be coming back?  Or maybe have the libraries raise their levies a small amount?  It's not a hard question – it's a question of having the balls will to do it.)

Comments 5

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    The shortfall would be less than the amount raised by the levy. There is a cost to administering and collecting the user fees.
    User on institutions like public libraries are not about raising operating funds – they are, in fact, nearly the least efficient means of raising capital and operating funds.
    User fees are about discouraging use of the institution – especially by those for whom the fee would be a greater burden.
    After all, we don't want to poor to have ideas, do we?
    Deterent fees. That's all they are.

    Posted 05 Jun 2010 at 2:51 am
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    Library user fees in Alberta did get brought up at the conference – I don't know if they were discussed anywhere else, but I know we talked about them briefly during the session on school/public/academic library collaboration. We didn't really go into it much because it was kind of a derail, but…I do think there's a lot of support in libraries in this province for getting rid of user fees; many librarians here do disapprove of it, and some Alberta libraries don't charge. It is, however, left to the discretion of each library whether or not to do so. (And “each library” encompasses more libraries than one might think, because in the regional systems here, every member library is an independent entity and sets its own policies about things like user fees. There's a handful of libraries in our system that don't charge, and rates vary for the others.)
    What I really wish is that Municipal Affairs would just tell everyone they can't charge membership fees anymore. Somewhat relatedly, I really really wish they'd get the mess with First Nations library service sorted out already. I don't care if reserves are considered federal land; people who live there should be able to join their local non-reserve library without having to pay non-resident fees. (Either the reserve should be allowed to join a regional system – they're not – or the province should work out something with Indian Affairs, I don't care which, but it's just not right that people living on reserves don't get to access library services on the same terms as any other Canadians. One regional system in Alberta abolished their non-resident fees entirely just to get around that.)

    Posted 06 Jun 2010 at 12:08 am
  3. Anonymous wrote:

    (Not letting reserves join library systems, or providing some reasonable alternative for their residents, means we're setting up significant barriers to library service. For a group that already faces literacy and poverty challenges. It's a perpetuation of injustice, and it really pisses me off.)

    Posted 06 Jun 2010 at 12:22 am
  4. Anonymous wrote:

    Thanks for the thoughts. Not sure if you clicked through to read it but I like the one quote I used – something like: “They can use all the reasons they want but I think the deeper darker truth is that this is about keeping out the riff raff.”

    Posted 06 Jun 2010 at 3:26 pm
  5. Anonymous wrote:

    Not serving people on reserves is another issue. Don't quote me on this but I think that used to be the case in Saskatchewan but they realised it was too stupid for all manner of reasons – from the agreements-for-service you had to create with each band council to the fact that it complicated service, for those few who chose to use it. I think everybody on reserves in Saskatchewan is now eligible for public library service but again, don't quote me on that because I'm not positive.

    Posted 06 Jun 2010 at 3:29 pm
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