Free library cards still available

Red Deerians have two more weeks to score a free library card.

Red Deerians have two more weeks to score a free library card.

The Red Deer Public Library formally turns 100 on April 23, and to celebrate the occasion the local book bastion is waiving its normal membership fee for its entire birthday month.

Adult cards usually cost $10 for a 13-month membership term. But this month, any new patrons can come and get a free card, and those with current memberships can renew for another year free of charge.

The promotion has already greatly enhanced the library’s patronage, says member services manager Kareena Fulton.

“It’s been a lovely month so far of very happy people. It’s been quite a treat for the staff as well. It’s something that we’ve been very excited about being able to do,” said Fulton.

At most Canadian libraries, cards are always free for residents. For the last 20 years in Alberta, though, most jurisdictions have charged annual dues.

When Edmonton Public Library celebrated its centennial in 2013, it made cards free for the entire year. Despite its celebrations having ended this March, it has continued to offer the free cards. The move may have cost the library more than $700,000 in lost revenue last year, but it increased membership numbers by 40 per cent.

When asked in December whether the Red Deer library could offer something similar, CEO Christina Wilson said she loved the idea, but that doing so would require an infusion of revenue from some other source to make up for the shortfall it would create. She said the Edmonton library has a much greater capacity than Red Deer to fundraise and solicit donations to generate additional funds.

The decision to offer the free cards for April was made by the library board.

Fulton said membership fees do constitute a major part of the library’s total revenue. According to the library’s website, about 15 per cent of its revenue comes from things like user fees, fines and room rentals.

But despite the up-front lost revenue, Fulton said the free cards could function as something of a loss leader. The amount of funding a library receives depends in part on how many users it has and the amount of materials borrowed.

“We have so far probably doubled our memberships that we would have done already this month with the free memberships. Every person that comes in that has a membership and then borrows, all of those statistics come back to our benefit at the end,” said Fulton.

Free cards are limited to persons with an address in Red Deer. Fulton said those wishing to sign up should bring along a piece of identification showing their address.

New adult and children’s library cards have been specially designed for the centennial. Anyone obtaining one of the new cards will be entered into draws to be made at the library’s birthday event on April 23.

On that day, events will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., first at the library’s downtown branch and later at the Dawe Branch. There will be cake and giveaways, and local poet Frank Pavlick will read the work he wrote to mark the occasion.

mfish@bprda.wpengine.com

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