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'Hard-working' Banff Public Library staff to get wage increase

“I see a lot of use in the library. It’s really, really needed these days, especially with mental health and some of the cost-of-living issues around town… I want to make sure there’s enough in there. The library is such an important place for so many families," said Coun. Hugh Pettigrew
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The Library Listening Room concert series put on by the Banff Public Library. RMO FILE PHOTO

BANFF – Underpaid staff at the Banff Public Library look set to get a wage increase.

The Banff Public Library is asking for a five per cent increase to its municipal grant from $485,977 in 2021 to $510,276 in 2022 to help better align wages for library staff with comparable jobs elsewhere, including the Town of Banff.

Ali Buckingham, chair of the Banff Public Library’s board of directors, said the board recognizes it is a tough year financially because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but a wage review has indicated library staff are not being paid fairly for the work they are doing.

“The Banff Public Library did a spectacular job during the pandemic… as soon as regulations allowed doing home deliveries, doing curbside pick-ups, getting resources to the community when they were needed most,” said Buckingham during a recent Town of Banff service review meeting.

“When people were locked at home, they needed their books, they needed their movies, they needed these resources and the library was there for them. The staff at the library, of course, have been the main reason that being possible.”

The Banff Public Library, consistently voted by locals as the No. 1 service in town in resident satisfaction surveys, fosters literacy, life-long learning and supports a love of reading in people of all ages. It also provides support for newcomers and job seekers and is a centre for digital access for information.

Along with traditional lending services, the Banff library also offers several programs and services, including children’s programming like story-time, adult programming such as a pen pal program, art exhibits and community wellness programs.

Total projected revenues for the library for 2022 are $626,556. The single biggest expense is staff salaries, which would be $444,518 in 2022, up from $410,089 in 2021. Benefits account for about another $60,000.

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and associated public health restrictions over the past two years, fundraising efforts that have traditionally brought in additional revenues for Banff’s library have been impossible.

Buckingham said the revised library budget manages to raise staff wages a little closer to align with equivalent jobs elsewhere in Banff.

“In order to do this, this budget is incredibly tight. We’ve cut any slack in additional hours, we’ve cut any slack in collections, so buying new books, acquiring new resources… we’ve cut as much as we can in order to be able to raise staff wages,” she said.

“That’s obviously critical this year when everyone’s watching every penny, but it’s not sustainable in the long-term, so this year we’re looking for a small increase and then I think we will look forward to future conversations in other years.”

Councillor Hugh Pettigrew was concerned the Town of Banff’s grant still wasn’t enough for the library, indicating he could be convinced to cut the Town of Banff’s operating budget elsewhere if the library needed additional funding.

“I see a lot of use in the library. It’s really, really needed these days, especially with mental health and some of the cost-of-living issues around town,” he said.

“I want to make sure there’s enough in there. The library is such an important place for so many families.”

The Banff Public Library has a staff of about 12. Preliminary wage assessments, for example, show that a programmer at the Banff Public Library earns about $15,000 to $20,000 less than a programmer with the Town of Banff’s community services department.

Sarah McCormack, director of the Banff Public Library, said the library is continuing to formalize its compensation review.

“We’ve known about this discrepancy for a very long time,” she said.

“We were going to come to council and then we had a pandemic, and so we’ve kind of been delayed because of that.”

McCormack said library staff provide an endless list of services to the community.

“Not only have they kept this library thriving through an unprecedented global pandemic, but they continue to innovate and grow how we share with our community,” she said. “These are truly thoughtful, hard-working, valuable, talented…”

Banff’s governance and finance committee unanimously gave the tentative go-ahead to the five per cent increase in the grant; however, no decisions are final until final budget deliberations which get underway later this month. Town of Banff staff are set to get an inflationary increase of 1.6 per cent.