BCLTA Governance Workbook: Public Library Discussions

The following is a quick look at topics that are being discussed in the public library community.

Community Engagement

Public library staff and trustees proactively engaging with the community they serve and represent is not a new trend or issue in Canada. Throughout the history of Canadian public libraries there are stellar examples of boards and staff reaching out to better understand how to meet the needs of the community. For BC public library trustees, knowing the Official Community Plan of your community and establishing a future-focused relationship with your local government officials will help align your library’s community efforts with that of your local government.

The national Working Together Project (2004–2008) shifted expectations as to how community engagement—or, more specifically, community development—could be more inclusive of people traditionally underserved by the public library and how services could be improved by working with community and forming collaborative outcome-focused community partnerships.

Increasingly, public library boards are looking at their strategic planning, policy development, and assessment through a community-engagement or a community-development lens. This, along with staff initiatives—such as working with community partners and underserved populations

to develop services, programs, collections and space—is strengthening the role and relevance of public libraries to their communities.


Public libraries across BC are supporting the reconciliation efforts of their community.  It is important for trustees to be aware of the significance of reconciliation to local First Nation communities, to Indigenous peoples and organizations, and to the government.

In regards to local and provincial government priorities please note:

In 2017 the Canadian Federation of Library Associations, of which BCLTA is a member, published the Truth and Reconciliation Report and Recommendations as a call to action for libraries and archives across the country. The report can be found on the federation’s website along with other resources.

See the BCLTA Reconciliation Discussion Starter for resources to support your governance discussion on this topic.

Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

BC public libraries are unique spaces. They are often the only public space and service  in the community that is fee free for everyone. Public libraries are reaching out to  under-served and under-represented populations to better understand how to provide equitable access to the library and to better support, work with, and truly include the diversity found in the community.

This is an important issue for public libraries as staff and trustees navigate policy, space use, costs such as programs and collections, and the strategic  priorities of the library, the community, and the province.

As with many of these important topics and issues, trustees will want to seek out opportunities to listen to and understand the lived experiences of Indigenous, Black and People of Colour (IBPoC); people who experience discrimination and systemic barriers due to how their bodies and minds work; those who identify as part of the 2SLGBTQQIA+ community; and others who have not traditionally been heard in public library governance.

As well, it is important to keep learning to ensure a board culture that evolves with changing language and ideas such as with how we discuss human rights, anti-racism, and anti-oppression.

See the BCLTA Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Discussion Starter for resources to support your governance discussion on this topic.


How scientists, policy makers, and the media discuss climate change and how we each understand this issue is evolving as new research and information becomes available. Increasingly we are seeing that climate change is being referred to as a climate crisis to reflect the devastating impact that the changes are having on communities around the world.

The Federal Government, BC Provincial Government, and many BC local and regional governments are recognizing that the impact of the climate on individuals and community needs to be discussed and addressed. As with many other important community discussions the public library has a role in access to information through programming, collections and other resources and a role in participating in government and other organization’s consultations and programs.

The public library, with the direction and oversight of the board needs to have its own plan for participating in climate awareness and actions such as through facility development and care, waste reduction ,and recycling. As well it needs a plan for what to do during events such as forest fires and floods.

See the BCLTA Climate Crisis Discussion Starter for resources to support your governance discussion on this topic.


Funding for public libraries is discussed as an issue at both the local and provincial level. Each BC public library system receives a portion of their operating budget from local government—for example, from municipal or regional-district bodies—and from the provincial  government through grants distributed by the Public Libraries Branch.

Ask your board chair and library director to review your library’s revenue and expenses at the appropriate level of detail for your board work. This review should include

  • the provincial statistics found through the Public Libraries Branch, so that you understand where your library’s funding and operating budget is compared to similar library systems
  • your library’s most recent Statement of Financial Information (SOFI) )
  • the Provincial Public Library Grant Allocation Document and the Basic Guide to Library Grants
  • the most recent library financial report to the board
  • additional revenue streams for public libraries which may include
    • non-governmental grants
    • extraordinary or non-recurring governmental grants, such as for capital projects or specific government-funded programs
    • sponsorships
    • donations and legacy bequests
    • fundraising, such as through a campaign or event, a library foundation, or a Friends of the Library group
    • operationally generated revenue, such as through room rentals and library fines (many BC public library boards have removed this revenue stream – see section on public library fines)
    • service agreements (this varies per individual library procedures and policy)

Digital Access

Connectivity is critical in the information age and while there is still much work to do in this area, public libraries have been significant in bridging the digital divide. Access to the digital world is critical to participating in and benefitting from the resources and information available online, such as distance learning, government information, and employment opportunities. Increasingly, some resources and information are only available  in digital format.

Space Use and Facility Planning

Increasing demand is being put on the use of public library space across the province. The public library is a welcoming community space and is used as

  • a place for sharing and learning
  • a centre of technology and creativity
  • a community hub for programming, events, and forums on topics of importance to the community such as reconciliation, climate crisis, democracy, human rights, social and economic justice, equity, diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism
  • a refuge
  • a door into the community for newcomers
  • an event venue for local authors, artists, and business people
  • a gathering place where accurate information, privacy, intellectual freedom, and curiosity is valued
  • shelter from extreme weather conditions such as heat waves

Public library boards need to have vision, policy, and financial plans for providing oversight of the space and for ensuring that the space continues to meet the evolving needs of the community.