New provincial legislation seeks to usher in a new era for Aboriginal access to public libraries, and staff at Cold Lake’s have some big ambitions on that front.
After much lobbying from Library Systems across the province for more Indigenous engagement, a new law exempts people living on reserves and settlements from having to pay non-residency fees to register with the nearest library. The 60 dollar fee proved to be a major obstacle for many Aboriginal people hoping to borrow books, often not having access to a branch on their reserve and having tight finances as it is.
“For us that’s huge,” says Leslie Price, Director of the Cold Lake Public Library. “We used to do service right out to the Elizabeth Settlement and we had to pay a non-resident fee for each one of those kids. We didn’t actually charge them we picked up the costs at our local library. But then when their memberships came up for renewal and we were no longer going there the kids would come in and were told that they had to pay 60 dollars. Now that money wasn’t what we were charging them it was what the system had to charge them on a taxation basis. [Now that those fees aren’t being charged] it’s huge. It’s actually been something we’ve been fighting for for quite a while.”
Price says by not having to cover the fees anymore, it will save them thousands of dollars every year. She’s also been going to province-wide meetings in Edmonton and hearing what other libraries are doing to increase engagement. She’s very excited by what she’s heard.
“Our library’s thinking of doing pop-up libraries where we go out there once a month or so and just have a library table where people can sign out stuff right there. So we remove that barrier and hopefully some day be able to get them into our actual location.”
Price adds that’s far from the only idea going forward. “We’re going to Blue Quill to get some training on Indigenous-type services. Some Indigenous people will be there and telling us what works for them. It’s great for us to have a lot of ideas but we don’t know what they’re looking for.”
In addition to the cancelled fees, the Northern Lights Library System has received some funding from the province to improve access in reserve and settlement communities.