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Alberta Public Libraries by the Numbers

by Jessie Bach

When you think about libraries, I’m sure the first things that pop into your head are books! Reading! WORDS! But when you take a look at the numbers, you can find a whole new story. In this post, I’ll take you on a numerical tour of Alberta’s libraries.

THE LIBRARIES

There are hundreds of public libraries in Alberta, and they come in all shapes and sizes:

  • There are 322 public libraries in Alberta,¹
  • and 7 Regional library systems.¹
  • Built in 1912, the Memorial Park Library in Calgary is Alberta’s oldest library.²
  • Later this year, the Langdon Library Society may just open Alberta’s newest library, having secured a donation of $150,000 from the Municipality of Cereal, whose library is closing.³
  • The Milo Library is the smallest public library in Alberta, with a service population of just 122.¹
  • Calgary Public Library is the largest, with a service population of over 2 million.¹
  • 53 of Alberta’s public libraries are co-located in schools.¹

 

 

THE PEOPLE

People are at the heart of Alberta’s libraries—the people who work and volunteer in them, the board members who govern them, and of course, those that love to use them:

  • 99.8% of the people in Alberta have access to a public library.¹
  • 35% of Albertans have a library card—that’s about 4 million people!¹
  • Albertans visited public libraries over 21 million times in one year.¹
  • More than 2400 Albertans volunteer their time on library boards.4
  • On last count, there were 2157 people working full-time in Alberta’s public libraries and regional library systems.¹

 

 

THE BOOKS

…and the movies, and the CDs, and the stuff, and the eBooks, and the…

In 2016:

  • Albertans borrowed over 38 million items from their public libraries.¹
  • Alberta public libraries had combined holdings of over 21 million items, or 5.5 per person.¹
  • On average, library users borrowed 9.5 items each.¹
  • Assuming an average price of $18 per item, Albertan library patrons saved $171 just by using their local library.

Did you know:

  • More than 2200 Alberta eBooks are available to library users on the Read Alberta eBooks platform. Check out this post for instructions on how to access this collection.

 

 

2020

We all know that 2020 was not a normal year. Just like so many other organizations, libraries pivoted to provide services in innovative ways. These numbers from 2020 tell a fascinating story about how library services and library use changed during the pandemic:

  • At Edmonton Public Library (EPL), more than 10,000 people attended online live classes and events, and there were more than 1 million video views of “EPL from Home” virtual classes and events.5
  • eBook borrowing increased by 200% and the use of online learning digital tools increased by 250% in Alberta during the first 3 months of the pandemic.6
  • Staff at Marigold Library System packaged and distributed 74,000 masks to their member libraries, to be used by staff and patrons.7
  • Patrons at Grande Prairie Public Library borrowed nearly 20,000 items using curbside pickup.8
  • While it has varied throughout the pandemic, the current recommendation for the quarantine of library materials is 24 hours.9

 

 

FUN FACTS

“I’ll take Alberta Public Library Potpourri for $200, Alex”

  • There are more than 300 Little Free Libraries in Calgary alone.10
  • In 2016, an overdue library book was returned to the St. Albert Public Library 38 years late. Luckily for this patron, late fines at the library max out at $5. 11
  • In 2020, Marigold Library System’s delivery drivers drove a total of 210,130 kms! That’s the equivalent of 22 round trips to the Library of Congress in Washington DC and back.7
  • Are you finally ready to try your hand at baking sourdough during this 3rd wave lockdown? The Dewey Decimal number for cookbooks about baking bread is 641.815.
  • The average Alberta librarian owns 3 pairs of funky glasses, 8 cardigans, and 4 cats. Oh wait… that’s just me!

If you’re interested in learning more about the numbers behind the operations at your local library, visit their website or drop by in-person (when the facilities are once again open) and check out their Annual Report.

Beyond the Stacks is a column about libraries in Alberta and the cool, useful, and necessary services they provide.

Photo of Jessie Bach, author of this articleJessie Bach grew up on a family farm in Southern Alberta, and is a life-long library user and book lover. She has a degree in history from the University of Saskatchewan, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. Jessie has worked in archives, academic libraries, corporate records management, and now public libraries. Her current role is Bibliographic Services Manager at Marigold Library System where she manages the team that does acquisitions, cataloguing and processing of library material for Marigold’s thirty-six member libraries. She currently lives in Calgary with her partner and, in true librarian fashion, four cats. Jessie likes to read (of course), knit, consume way too many true crime podcasts, and lift weights in the gym.

 

 

NOTE: those statistics sourced from the Government of Alberta represent 2016 numbers. All others are as indicated in the article or in the linked source.

Resources:

  1. Government of Alberta, Public library statistics 2016 https://www.alberta.ca/public-library-statistics.aspx
  2. Canada’s Historic Places, Memorial Park Library, https://www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=9157&pid=0#:~:text=Opened%20in%20early%201912%2C%20the,the%20American%20millionaire%20Andrew%20Carnegie.
  3. CBC News, Langdon has the books, shelves and supplies for a library, but no building https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/langdong-library-rocky-view-county-council-1.6020000
  4. Alberta Library Trustees Association, Who We Are https://librarytrustees.ab.ca/about-us/
  5. Edmonton Public Library, Annual Report 2020 https://www.epl.ca/wp-content/uploads/sites/18/2021/04/EPLAnnualReport2020_April2021_spreads.pdf
  6. Sean Feagan, Strathmore Times, Strathmore library opens with new safety protocols https://strathmoretimes.com/2020/strathmore-library-opens-with-new-safety-protocols/
  7. Marigold Library System, 2020 Annual Report, https://www.marigold.ab.ca/content/download/46052/file/2020%20Annual%20Report.pdf
  8. Grande Prairie Public Library, Challenges & Connections 2020 In Review https://www.gppl.ca/assets/Documents/reports/GPPL2020.pdf
  9. Government of Alberta, COVID-19 Guidance for Libraries https://open.alberta.ca/dataset/6803f9bd-0a67-4ef3-809f-32946ac82f43/resource/01e039de-c1c8-477d-9972-791be0ed5119/download/covid-19-information-guidance-libraries-2021-04.pdf
  10. Meghann Uptigrove, Todayville Calgary, Take a book, leave a book” at your Local Little Free Library https://www.todayville.com/calgary/take-a-book-leave-a-book-at-your-local-little-free-library/
  11. CTV News, Book returned to St. Albert Library nearly four decades after due date https://edmonton.ctvnews.ca/book-returned-to-st-albert-library-nearly-four-decades-after-due-date-1.2726774