Sidney wasn’t and isn’t considering leaving current library system, says mayor

Current plans call for a review of library services in 2022

Sidney Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith says the municipality was not and is not considering changing library systems.

He made that comment after council received a report from Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) that described various local user statistics. Sidney had asked for them after councillors had considered a letter that called on Sidney to leave VIRL for the Greater Victora Public Library (GVPL). When councillors considered the letter, Coun. Peter Wainwright presented a series of general statistics that eventually led him to question VIRL’s performance compared to GVPL.

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“Why is GVPL out-performing VIRL by so much, considering that the tax levy, the funding for them, is somewhat comparable?” asked Wainwright during his presentation last month.

Rosemary Bonanno, VIRL’s executive director, subsequently described these comparisons as “problematic” in arguing that a “review of VIRL policies, strategies, and deliverables all point to an excellent return on investment.” This said, she also told Sidney that the provincial library act offers jurisdictions an “exit strategy.” Such a step would require a referendum.

If Bonanno’s comments further raised speculations about Sidney leaving VIRL, McNeil-Smith was trying to reign them back.

“We weren’t and we aren’t considering changing our library service provider at this time,” McNeil-Smith. “And there are three reasons for that.”

First, the Sidney/North Saanich just underwent what McNeil-Smith described as a “rebuilt” valued at $2 million dollars. “So it would only be reasonable with the new completely revamped facility there to let service unfold, and then measure it sometimes down the road what resident satisfaction is,” he said.

Second, the Sidney/North Saanich branch is a partnership with North Saanich, which is currently considering additional services. “Sidney’s council certainly respects North Saanich’s freedom to do that. If in fact it happened, it would change service levels significantly, and that is a longer process,”said McNeil-Smith. “So we would want to wait until that outcome to see where they [North Saanich] are. We are now talking about a number of years.”

Third, since the existing Sidney/North Saanich branch is a partnership with North Saanich, any review of library system would inevitably involve North Saanich, he said. Such a review, he added, would come from an independent third party, or involve additional discussions with VIRL. And if the outcome of that review process would lead to a referendum, depending on the information received, the most-effective timing of such a referendum would be the next municipal election in 2022.

“So those three reasons kind of dove-tail,” said McNeil-Smith, adding that the current strategic plan calls for a review of library services in 2022. “Depending on the outcome of North Saanich and what we hear from patrons in Sidney, we might pursue it in a number of different ways,” he said, adding later that strategic plans are subject to change as well. “Will it absolutely happen? Who knows.”

McNeil-Smith acknowledged growing public interest in state of local library services. “At this point, we would like to work through our representative Coun. Barbara Fallot with VIRL and if there are opportunities to improve services, then well.”


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