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Mismanagement, pandemic demands left public libraries scrambling to cover costs

Vancouver Island libraries are struggling financially because of previous management.

Vancouver Island Regional Library’s executive director Ben Hyman gave a report to the Regional District of Nanaimo board earlier this month, explaining why the overall budget is increasing this year by 15% to $38 million dollars.

“The previous administration effectively had a pattern of underbudgeting and overspending, and it left us in a position towards the end of 2021 that we are motivated to get out of,” he said. “Rest assured, this is not a typical year for VIRL.”

The library service had $13 million worth of investment assets a decade ago, but Hyman said previous management used them to cover cost overruns. Now there is less than $1 million left.

Image from Ben Hyman’s presentation to Regional District of Nanaimo board Jan. 9, 2024.

Hyman says the new budget will mean an increase of about $10 per capita for the whole Island. The service is mostly funded through levies collected annually from local governments.

He adds the main cost increases are from wages and benefits, which are up 22% over last year, and costs for leases, security and utilities, which are up 37%.

“We’re dealing both with legacy issues and national issues, on a large scale,” he said, pointing out the pandemic response demanded millions in unplanned costs from libraries across the country.

Some of those costs, such as on-site security, remain. Hyman said VIRL spends around $800,000 per year on security at Island libraries.

Hyman pointed out VIRL collects less in levies than other similar-sized library services in BC, and that the provincial funding portion hasn’t changed in terms of per capita funding in decades.

The Vancouver Island Regional Library has 40 branches in communities all the way from Haida Gwaii in the north, to Sidney in the south. It has the third-largest physical collection in BC.

RELATED: VIRL budget increase has North Cowichan asking questions


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