Tough times lead to increase in usage at Red Deer Public Library

Libraries offer a low-cost welcoming space

Red Deer Public Library saw an almost seven per cent increase in use in 2016 over the previous year, partly due to the Fort McMurray wildfire and the downturn in the economy, CEO Christina Wilson said Thursday.

In total, the library had a circulation of 922,816 in 2016 compared with 863,176 — a 6.9 per cent increase. This includes all items checked out at the Downtown, Dawe and Timberlands branches.

Wilson said they saw an increase in library use last May, when thousands of people were displaced by the Fort McMurray fire. Some ended up in Red Deer and used the library Internet and other resources, for connecting with authorities and insurers, for example.

The increased trend continued the rest of the year, and Wilson believes that in part was due to people who went “off the grid” or cut back on spending for economic reasons. There is no question that public libraries are reporting increased usage tied to the downturn in the economy, she said.

Libraries across Alberta noticed similar increases in usage in 2016, she said. Public libraries offer a low-cost service, and besides books, there are also audio-visual, CD, newspaper, eBook and other resources available.

Adults checked out 434,868 items in 2015 at RDPL branches. That jumped to 469,770 in 2016.

Looking ahead to the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer, Wilson expects to see increased use of the Downtown Branch by visitors here during the Games.

She said RDPL realized during major sporting events, usage jumps. The library offers robust and fast free wifi, and a welcoming space. When journalists from around the world were in Red Deer covering the first Tour of Alberta in 2013, many didn’t have a lot of equipment with them and used the service to file their stories. “It was very eye-opening.”

RDPL also saw programs attendance “go through the roof” in 2016, up 22 per cent form 2015, Wilson said. Programs drew 61,981 attendees in 2016 compared with 50,654 in 2015.

Meanwhile, Red Deer Public Library renovations to Level 2 in the Downtown Branch’s Centennial wing are well underway.

Wilson said that the new ceiling, lighting and paint are proceeding on time and within the budget of $270,850. A new water fountain is also being installed.

During the work, it was learned that none of the building — built in 1967 — has any asbestos in it, she said.

Construction began in December. The project is expected to be complete sometime in early April.

barr@reddeeradvocate.com