Monday, April 30, 2012

Alberta Libraries - Doing Business Differently

Alberta Public Libraries have always done business differently but no one paid attention because they are...just libraries!!

To get a sense of this look in on the first 100 years video.

In 1993 the Klein administration was cutting budgets left and right and libraries were clearly going to be caught. At the time the government was dealing with requests for two new library systems; Chinook Arch in the south and Northern Lights in the north east. The Minister of the day, Gary Mar, proposed that no money would be cut from the budget if the "library community" could find a way to accommodate two new systems. An awkward compromise was developed that would see all libraries grants reduced from $4.29 per capita to $4.03 per capita and existing library systems grants reduced from $3.22 per capita to $3.07 per capita.

The "found" money was used to start up the new regional library systems. While it worked there were some who still carry a different perspective about the process. The outcome, though, was enhanced library services in two parts of the province.

In 1996 as one of Gary Mar's last efforts to support libraries he convinced Cabinet to approve the concept of connecting all libraries to the internet. (Lucy Pana, Director of Public Libraries, had done an end run to show Minister Mar the viability of the concept)
When Shirley McClellan became Minister (June 1996) she found the money ($4.8m) to get the connecting libraries project underway.

 At the same time I moved to libraries (shocked!!) after spending 27 years in the recreation/sport & leadership development world, most of that in the Alberta government. My pledge to staff was to stay out of technical library operations and focus on strategic areas.

Slowly these phases started to appear, You don’t have a God given right to the money (entitlement), Quit whining & Tell your story, , Competitive environment – learn to compete and think outside the box. The hardest thing library folks had to get used to was  You can’t kick a politician in the ass on Monday and ask for money on Tuesday.
(I would not have been able to move on the strategic level if the Branch staff did not keep the day to day library operations working at a high level)

Alberta Community Development (Libraries Branch) created an agreement (partnership January 1997)) with a new organization called The Alberta Library (TAL) to build out the Alberta Public Library Electronic Network (APLEN). We were demonstrating that government could do business differently!!

The APLEN Committee was created and when all was said and done we had partnered with WEPA ($1.2M), Industry Canada (Community Access Program $4.1m) + a number of years of operating grants for CAP. The last leveraging was done with the Gates Foundation and the Canadian Library Project to support libraries serving low economic areas of the country. Our share was $1.3 -$1.8m depending on the calculator.

By 2000/01 the output was 300+ libraries connected to a dail-up internet network, new computers, wiring, cabling and a mass of training done to maximize the investment. Mobile training lab funded through the Gates Foundation money. Bigger urban libraries were supported but they had access to faster internet connections.

Early outcomes; engaged library boards and staff, feeling of connectedness  "to the outside world" by remote rural communities, libraries seen as community places as local services disappeared. Clearly a glimpse into the future.

TAL was also working with Colleges and Universities on the Knowledge Network and soon TAL Online was working. All libraries were connected and the smallest communities had access to 25 million resources.
The TAL Card was also introduced at that time.

Next building Sustainability

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