Re: Response from the Town of Didsbury Letter: Didsbury council surprised by library allegations to the Friends of the Library Letter: Didsbury library decision alarming
I have hesitated to send this to the newspaper, mostly because I am cautious about working through community issues in the newspaper, instead of around a conference table with all the stakeholders. It seems the Town of Didsbury is choosing the public press route, beginning with their announcement about library expansion back in June, so here goes... and
Didsbury town council expressed great surprise at the Friends of the Library Society’s letter to the editor.
I believe that the Friends, meanwhile, had been very surprised by the announcement in the June 19 Albertan that the library board and the council were going to reverse the recommendation of the Library Expansion Committee and proceed to expand the library into the former town office, despite high costs and structural inefficiencies.
They were surprised, I believe, that being a valued stakeholder in our local library organization, they were not involved in any way in this “plan” which has a huge impact on their fundraising capabilities and on the vision for library services, in which the Friends have always engaged with the library board and staff.
Good planning, involving all stakeholders has always been a pillar of development encouraged and promoted by the Provincial Alberta Public Library Services Branch for all Alberta libraries.
I was involved in the planning and development of three regional library systems in Alberta (Marigold, Shortgrass, and Parkland) and three public libraries in three small towns (Black Diamond, Bow Island, and Didsbury) in which my family has resided.
I have been involved in Alberta libraries for 38 years - including six years on the Didsbury library board and 19 years as the Didsbury library manager.
I was surprised by the tone of the letter from council in response to the Friends of the Library Society’s concerns about the plan to expand - it was, in my opinion, disrespectful and condescending.
Council says they support all their not-for-profit organizations, and imply that they supported the Friends even more by not charging them rent for the old town office space.
It needs to be stated that the library board - as soon as town staff vacated the space, offered to manage the offices - wrote a letter to town council, offering to pay for security fees and all the utilities and to do regular security checks on the building (which town staff were doing a couple of times a week), so that the library organization would be responsible for ensuring the space was being run efficiently and would be available for library activities, including the Friends. (To be fair, this offer was made to the previous council.)
Council declined the offer, stating that the library would have to get the money for utilities from somewhere, likely council anyway...and this was the same argument made to the Friends about rent - it would simply decrease the amount of money the Friends would be able to donate to the library.
As a citizen and volunteer of 27 years with this community, I have always taken exception to the town’s policy of charging rent to not-for-profit community service agencies for the use of town facilities.
As a parent of a couple of young Scouts, I was frustrated by the amount of fundraising activities we were all required to do.
I joined the 1st Didsbury Scout Group Committee and served as treasurer for two years, to try to address this issue... I was unable to convince the town to stop charging Scouts and Guides rent for the Train Station (which had been donated to the Town of Didsbury by Eldon Foote to be a home for Scouting and Guiding).
Ever wonder why we no longer have Scouts and Guides in our town?
There were several factors in that demise, it’s true, but one of them was because, over the years parents and leaders burned out, raising money not only for camps and equipment, but also to send the town a cheque every year.
The library board and the Friends have struggled with many fundraising events over the years, in large part because of fear of not making enough money at an event to cover the cost of rent for our community hall, even at an amount subsidized by the town.
Our town’s policy of making not-for-profits pay is not something I think we should be proud of.
I suspect that other organizations in Didsbury may have suffered similarly but I will only write of what I know.
I am pleased that council has chosen to negotiate a contract with Avid Architecture, the people that were originally hired with the unanimous and acclaimed consensus of the Library Expansion Committee - known for their values respecting community vision and needs.
I have to trust that Avid will not be forced to compromise healthy design principles in order to comply with our town’s demands.
While there is indeed a motion in the council minutes there is no such motion in the library board minutes to issue a joint press release about library expansion.
Council says they keep an open line of communication with all volunteer groups in Didsbury but my experiences over many years, with our library, with 1st Didsbury Scouts, with “Just Done For Fun” out-of-school care (former director), with Mountain View Arts Society (founding member and former treasurer), Didsbury High School Band Society (treasurer and parent volunteer), and MVC Adult Learning Society (board member and treasurer) tell me otherwise.
Plus, my experiences with similar organizations in three other Alberta small towns in which my family has lived and worked, tell me that it does not have to be this way.