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Our View: Libraries could use some more local advocates

Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows are members of the largest library system in B.C.
Fraser Valley Regional Library serves more people than any other library system in B.C. (Black Press Media files)

When the province recently announced new funding for library systems across B.C., the second-highest funding amount was set aside for the Vancouver Public Library (VPL). The third highest was for Surrey’s library network.

The highest was for the Fraser Valley Public Library (FVRL), which includes the libraries in Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge, along with their neighbours in Langley, Abbotsford, Mission, Delta, and up the Fraser Canyon as far as the little branch in Boston Bar.

FVRL serves more people than any other library system in the province. It has more than 700,000 people living in its service area – and that number comes from a few years ago. With the explosive growth of most of its communities since the start of the pandemic, FVRL has even more people, and more cardholders, than ever before.

The libraries are busy, expanding, and beloved by many of their users.

Through the past decade, the FVRL has pioneered new programs, adding everything from robots to telescopes to the list of items cardholders can check out. Its librarians persevered through the pandemic, returning to lending as soon as possible, passing out books in paper bags like takeout. And most recently, the FVRL has announced an end to late fees, which can penalize poorer book borrowers and discourage them from returning.

Yet the library remains an afterthought for many local leaders.

Despite the fact that it serves more people than VPL, it receives far less funding per capita.

Part of this is doubtless due to its governance structure, which is divided up among a full 13 municipalities.

It is true that FVRL also has to deal with logistical problems that VPL and Surrey don’t – when your library system includes Delta, Chilliwack, Agassiz, Boston Bar, and Mission, you run into some issues moving books and establishing branches.

Yet libraries are one of the great public goods that we rely on every day in our communities.

Just as you wouldn’t imagine a community that doesn’t have parks, rec centres, and sports fields to nurture its citizens’ physical needs, you can’t have a complete community without libraries to nurture their mental needs.

On the practical side, libraries are an invaluable resource for young learners, for children and adults learning English for the first time, for people seeking information that can help them upgrade their skills.

But beyond that, libraries are a recognition that access to literature is a right. Whether that’s Shakespeare or 50 Shades of Gray, the purpose of a library is to give readers the broadest possible selection and let them find their way through the stacks.

Our library system has done a lot of good, but with a rapidly growing population, we have to ask our local and provincial politicians if it’s keeping up with the people it serves.

Our local libraries need more funding, staff, and materials in our fast-growing region.