If Sidney were to leave the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL), it would take a referendum (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Head of Vancouver Island Regional Library system calls Sidney’s claims ‘problematic’

Rosemary Bonanno says the Library Act gives Sidney an ‘exit strategy’

The executive director of the regional library system that includes Sidney and North Saanich calls comparisons with another regional system “problematic” in defending her system and calling on elected officials to do their job.

“The library system received by Sidney/North Saanich customers is high performing, sustainable, and cost effective,” said Rosemary Bonanno, executive director of the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) system. “It is your obligation as the elected officials to ensure value for money.”

Bonanno made those comments in letter sent to Sidney councillors, who last month asked VIRL for specific statistics for the Sidney-North Saanich branch after Coun. Peter Wainright presented a set of general statistics from provincial library statistics that compared VIRL with the Greater Victoria Public Library (GVPL).

“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. It compared and contrasted the percentage share of library card holders across both systems, the per-person levy, the per-capita size of libraries, material expenditures per capita, and circulation per capita.

RELATED: Sidney hears calls to book out of Vancouver Island Regional Library system

Bonanno said in her letter that staff determined that “many of the conclusions” drawn from the comparison of general statistics appeared “problematic” in noting that VIRL is a rural dominated system.

“This impacts hours of operation, per capital expenditures and other factors that affect VIRL’s perceived performance against other urban dominant systems,” she said. She also pointed out that VIRL uses a different system than GVPL to purge inactive cardholders, adding that “extensive refurbishments and rebuilds” across the systems over the past decade impacted statistics.

“As a result, at any given time, branch closures and temporary locations affected many of the statistics mentioned in the [council] meeting, even though the result was new or refurbished libraries that will serve their communities for decades to come that will, over the long term, lead to more customers and better overall library service.”

Bonanno also suggested that Sidney councillors concerned about the quality of the service might be hypocritical.

RELATED: Official predicts Sidney will not leave Vancouver Island Regional Library

“When VIRL was planning the most recent capital project for Sidney, we received clear direction from the Town to refurbish the existing space and to not expand its footprint,” she said. “If, however, the proposed branch for the District of North Saanich moves forward, the Sidney branch will then be the appropriate size for its population served.”

Wainwright had presented his statistics after council received a letter from Sidney resident Robyn Quaintance in which she called on Sidney to leave VIRL for GVPL because of her VIRL’s perceived lack of selection.

Bonanno said VIRL addressed Quaintance’s concerns in telling her among other points that libraries are no “longer simply repositories” for books. “There is a pressing need for libraries to help bridge the digital divide,” she said.

This said, Bonanno later pointed out that Sidney can choose to leave the system if it wants to do so.

“We believe the review of VIRL policies, strategies, and deliverables all point to an excellent return on investment,” she said. “However, the Library Act does provide jurisdictions with an exit strategy.” By way of context, such a move would require a referendum.

Council considered the letter Tuesday night and received it for information. The public also heard that Sidney will review library services in 2022. Residents concerned about library services should also share with their local branch. Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith told the Peninsula News Review through staff be releasing a media release Thursday on the subject and that he would be available for additional comment.


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