Library needs money

By Dan McHardie

With overflowing bookshelves and a lack of meeting rooms, the Ottawa Public Library is looking for municipal funding to renovate its facilities or find a new home.

Barbara Clubb, the chief librarian of the Ottawa Public Library, says the different branches need $10 million in upgrades to eliminate piles of books mounting on top of each other because of a shortage of shelves.

Though she says a new $5 million facility in South Keys is the library board’s top priority, Clubb points out that the downtown branch is in dire need of renovation.

Clubb outlines an exhaustive list of serious upgrades needed by the main branch, including making the library more accessible to people with disabilities, the inconvenience of having only one elevator, and a lack of meeting rooms and shelf space.

She says renovating three other libraries, including the main branch at the corner of Metcalfe Street and Laurier Avenue, top her current unfunded capital expense priority list. The projects aren’t covered by the annual grant given by the City of Ottawa.

These priorities outlined in the library’s wish list detail many top concerns the library has, but simply can’t find the money in its coffers to implement.

“The (municipal library) board doesn’t have the capacity to tax, and the library can’t take out a loan. These are major dollar investments, but our fortunes are tied to the City of Ottawa and they have made it clear they don’t want to incur any new debt,” Clubb says, adding she acknowledges it’s hard for the city to chose where to allocate scarce capital dollars.

But because the library is located in very cramped quarters, the board is floating the idea of possibly finding a new home.

The main branch will soon be conducting a feasibility study for the city to determine if the building can continue to house the facility.

David Daubney, chair of the library’s board of trustees, says the library is clearly in need of change to bring it in line with the other main libraries across the country.

“The Ottawa library is not the best main library of any city of comparable size in Canada,” says Daubney, adding it’s foolish for the trustees not to look at relocating the downtown facility.

But he says the board of trustees will be bringing the proposal of a new South Keys branch, and its other concerns to the Oct. 21 city council meeting.

“These plans are No. 1 on our list, and it is important we can make it one of the top three capital expenses on the priority list of the city,” Daubney says. “We can’t do it without (money from) the city.”

Raising money isn’t normally a problem for the library, Daubney says, who were very successful in raising money for small projects such as providing CD-ROMs for the main branch last year.

Beverly Rix, vice-president of Friends of the Ottawa Public Library, says the 15-year-old organization raised around $50,000 last year for the library, but the money is traditionally allocated to resource materials.

“In the past, we have funded specific literary materials, vans for shut-ins, and money gifts to the library,” Rix says. “Friends raises money for relatively small scale projects — between $10,000 to $30,000. We cannot replace grants from the municipal or provincial grants.”

But she says the organization, if approached, would not be opposed to help fund-raise money for a major expense, such as moving to an alternate location.