News / Calgary

Calgary Public Library ‘seriously’ considering making memberships free

Calgary Public Library is looking “very seriously” at following the lead of Edmonton and the vast majority of other jurisdictions in North America by making library cards free for everyone, according to its new CEO.

“Most places in the world don’t charge for library cards,” said Bill Ptacek, who took over the head role in February after 25 years with the King County Library System in western Washington state.

Ptacek described Calgary’s $12 annual fee for adult memberships as “really unusual” and a deterrent to some would-be users of the system.

“It’s a barrier, quite frankly, and it’s something the library is looking at,” he said. “I think a little bit later this year we’ll be ready to come up with some solutions to that.”

Library usage province-wide has been on a steady decline for the past several years, according to annual surveys commissioned by the Alberta government.

The latest survey, which included 1,000 Alberta residents interviewed between Feb. 13 and March 2, found that 57 per cent of households had accessed public-library services within the past 12 months.

That’s down from 67 per cent in 2010 and below the provincial government’s stated target of 70 per cent.

Edmonton Public Library waived its annual fee in March 2013 and, a year later, library memberships had increased by 40 per cent.

The province provides more than $26 million in annual operating grants to libraries across Alberta, said Municipal Affairs spokesman Jerry Ward, “but municipal libraries choose their own ways to market and promote their specific services to the community.”

By the numbers:

  • 57%: The proportion of 1,000 Albertans in a 2014 survey who said their household had used a public-library service in the past 12 months.
  • 58%: The proportion of 315 respondents from Calgary in that survey who said their household had used a public-library service in the past 12 months.
  • 62%: The proportion of 231 respondents from Edmonton in that survey who said their household had used a public-library service in the past 12 months.
  • 70%: The provincial government’s target for Albertan households using public-library services at least once every 12 months.
  • 75%: The proportion of households in the King County area of western Washington that had used public-library services within the past 12 months, according to Bill Ptacek, who spent 25 years with the Seattle-area library system before becoming CEO of Calgary Public Library in February.

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