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Cash Cow: User Fees in Alberta Public Libraries

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Author(s): Jason Hammond

Journal: Partnership : the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research
ISSN 1911-9593

Volume: 2;
Issue: 1;
Date: 2007;
Original page

ABSTRACT
Alberta is the wealthiest province in Canada. It is also the only jurisdiction in North America where the majority of local library boards charge patrons to use their public libraries. There are many reasons why these fees came into being in the 1980s and continue to exist today. Library trustees see them as an easy source of funds for their cash-strapped libraries, some librarians feel that they help instill a sense of value in library materials and services, library patrons realise the fees are often less than the cost of a single paperback book and don’t mind paying them. But the main reason the fees still exist is because of the unique form of conservatism espoused by the popular Alberta premier Ralph Klein, who favoured big business, lower taxes, and privatization of public services while leading the province from 1992 to 2006. Klein’s policies included a focus on user-pay models for all manner of services. Paying for library cards is something that Alberta’s citizens have accepted for the most part. But because of Alberta’s strong support for user-pay models, this isn’t just an issue for the librarians, patrons, and politicians of that province. The possibility also exists that libraries in other provinces could be opened up to a GATS challenge by for-profit corporations outside of Canada because of Alberta’s current user fee policies. How this unique user fee arrangement developed, the current situation, and what the future may bring will be the subject of this paper.

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