If you want to raise funds for library books in Surrey or Vancouver, a non-profit foundation will be happy to collect your donation.
But the largest library system in B.C. has no foundation to help it raise money and public support.
Fraser Valley Regional Library has 356,053 cardholders, compared to 269,626 at Vancouver Public Library, the second largest library in the province.
But the two systems are run in a very different way.
FVRL serves 13 municipalities and two regional districts. Its branches can be found as far afield as Port Coquitlam and Delta, Langley and Maple Ridge, and in the hamlet of Boston Bar, a couple hours drive up the Fraser Canyon.
The system was born decentralized, with its first outlet a book bus that visited multiple communities in the 1930s.
The idea of a foundation has been brought up a few times in the past, said Scott Hargrove, the CEO of FVRL.
“We have considered it, and probably will again,” he said.
But the idea of a foundation has run into logistical problems.
“How would those funds be distributed?” Hargrove said.
Each municipality builds its own libraries and takes on some of the costs of operating them. But the overall collection of books, magazines, DVDs, ebooks, books on tape, and even ukuleles, telescopes, and toy robots is managed by FVRL staff overseen by a 15-member library board.
The financial and logistical issues faced by FVRL are very different from a single-city library system like Vancouver’s or Surrey’s.
Hargrove said half his job is just building consensus for a library system that stretches across much of the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley.
The closest thing the FVRL has to a foundation are the Friends of the Library groups. These volunteers do raise money and, during normal years, help out in the branches.
But there are a dozen Friends of the Library groups, one for each community. Langley has just one organization, despite technically having two memberships in the FVRL, for both City and Township.
FVRL can accept financial donations and put them towards books, but the bulk of its revenue comes from its members municipalities.
The potential impact of a foundation can be seen in Vancouver, where the VPL Foundation has set a goal of raising $15 million towards the $24 million cost of a major renovation campaign.
Likewise, Langley has long had a successful foundation for the Langley Memorial Hospital, which raised millions of dollars in recent years for both a new emergency room expansion and for an MRI suite.
Meanwhile, the FVRL has seen demand for its services grow faster than its budget, as it serves several of the fastest growing communities in the province and has also seen a significant number of new cardholders sign up during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Libraries are incredibly popular,” said Councillor Petrina Arnason, who serves as the Langley Township representative on the library board.
“There is a demand, an expanding demand in addition to population,” she said.
When it comes to library advocacy from the public, however, Arnason doesn’t see a lot of noise being made.
“Yes, there’s Friends of the Library,” she said.
But the idea of a foundation has not come up while she has been on the board.
“I find it is a group of people [library patrons] that are quietly enjoying the benefits of libraries,” Arnason said.
They aren’t as vocal as people calling for other municipal projects in the community, Arnason said.