At the council meeting last week, I made the motion that the John M Cuelenaere Public Library (JMC) leave the Wapiti Regional Library, and become instead a city library, like Regina and Saskatoon. The motion was supported unanimously. While I'm not currently on the library board, I was chair of the board for many years and represented the city on the Wapiti board. And I still enjoy good conversations with the current library director about how things could work better, and how being part of Wapiti was hampering many of the innovations that JMC would like to try.
Wapiti has been around for many, many years, and when first established was instrumental in bringing libraries and their multiple benefits to many smaller communities. I appreciate the values that having a library brings to any community, big or small, and the regional structure allows the smaller branches access to services that they otherwise couldn't afford. It has member branches from the Manitoba border to Leoville, north to Paddockwood, and south to Humboldt - a large geographic area to try to serve efficiently.
Wapiti provided centralized financial, computer and purchasing services. However, the governance structure, in which each of the forty-six members was represented, definitely gave the bulk of the benefits to the smaller communities, while assessing taxpayers in those communities a far lower rate than taxpayers living in Prince Albert.
For those of us who enjoy the broad range of services at JMC, you would probably be surprised to find that the Candle Lake Paperback Deposit is a member of Wapiti, even though it is open only 3 afternoons a week in the Rec Hall. The Gronlid Library, another member, is open two days a week, in the school. The only library that comes close to providing the hours of service that we get at JMC is Humboldt, which is open six full days a week. JMC, of course, is open seven days a week, except during the summer, when it closes on Sundays.
JMC has the internal capacity to provide the services that Wapiti provides, and will now have control over its financial reserves. It will also now be able to pursue initiatives more important to city residents, such as considering more branches within the city, to improve services to all residents. It is unlikely that leaving Wapiti will cost Prince Albert residents more; rather, local services will likely improve.
The issues of working within the Wapiti structure have been well-known to those on the library board for many years. I think that the time is now right for JMC to be able to focus on the needs of Prince Albert, not get in line with forty-six other branches, while subsidizing their needs because those communities feel that they can't afford to pay comparable fees.
I don't dispute the value of a library to any community. I do, however, think that our responsibility, as City Council, is to ensure that we make decisions in the best interests of our city, not for the many people who do not live here.
"A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never-failing spring in the desert." - Andrew Carnegie