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OVERDUE: New report establishes Canada’s public libraries were critical during pandemic and calls for broader support to ensure economic recovery and resilience


Toronto, ON – October 4, 2023 - The Canadian Urban Institute (CUI) and Canadian Urban Libraries Council / Conseil des Bibliothèques Urbaines du Canada (CULC/CBUC) announce the release of OVERDUE: The Case for Canada’s Public Libraries. The report details the significance of public libraries for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery, competitiveness, and resilience and calls for renewed and diversified investment.  

Overdue_socials.jpgThe report is the product of three years of CUI’s engagement with Canada’s urban public libraries through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Findings show, that by providing critical supports – access to knowledge, culture, health, reconciliation, belonging, and our democracy – Canada’s public libraries are quietly fulfilling the core mandates of every order of government. CUI’s research sheds light on the crucial role Canada’s public libraries play in enabling governments to meet their obligations and strengthen the common good. 

“Through the pandemic, libraries emerged as our ‘safe third places’– providing reliable, essential service that was mobilized swiftly and decisively to meet the needs of local communities. Libraries ensured community knowledge informed emergency response nationwide. This report highlights the invaluable role libraries are playing for every order of government, meeting critical needs across the country.” 

– Mary W. Rowe, President & CEO, Canadian Urban Institute.    

Not only important to their local communities, Canada’s public libraries are a national network of critical social infrastructure, often operating as community hubs and triage centres on main streets and downtowns, supporting social services and managing crisis response on-the-ground. Libraries have had to expand their traditional roles, mandates to respond to social vulnerability across the country but are struggling to handle the demands. 

“Public Libraries are one of our most important national assets. Libraries are crucial community anchors in every neighborhood, in cities and smaller communities, performing essential community work, and the demands placed on them are only increasing. This report captures the ongoing evolution of libraries’ roles across Canada, and calls upon all our leaders to make investments in their future.” 

–  Åsa Kachan, Chair of the Canadian Urban Libraries Council. 

The report proposes two potential futures: one where chronic under funding, persists pushing libraries to be “Stretched to the Brink”, versus an aspirational scenario, where libraries are “Resourced for Resilience”, equipped to respond to every day – and extraordinary – challenges, and ensure we are building community resilience.  The case provides recommendations for public policymakers to instill positive change: 

  1. Relieve current operational pressures to ensure libraries remain safe, accessible, and welcoming libraries to everyone. 

  1. Treat libraries as critical infrastructure where community resilience is strengthened through funding of libraries to deliver government priorities. 

  1. Formalize sustainable investment streams that recognize their expanding role. 

Libraries currently generate a high rate of return on investment but Canada’s per capita investment in library infrastructure lags behind other countries. As libraries provide essential community support, the report calls upon each order of government to up their investment in the country’s largest network of knowledge and service providers with the tools and resources they need to meet the challenges of this post-pandemic century. 

Read the full report here

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Canadian Urban Institute 

The Canadian Urban Institute (CUI) is the pan-Canadian platform that houses the best in city building — where policymakers, urban professionals, civic and business leaders, community activists, and academics can learn, share, and collaborate with one another from coast to coast to coast. Through research, engagement, and storytelling, we support vibrant, equitable, liveable, and resilient cities.  

Canadian Urban Libraries Council / Conseil des Bibliothèques Urbaines du Canada (CULC/CBUC) 

Incorporated in 2008, the Canadian Urban Libraries Council / Conseil des Bibliothèques Urbaines du Canada (CULC/CBUC) works to strengthen public library service in Canada’s urban areas. CULC/CBUC members are the 53 largest public library systems in Canada, along with Library and Archives Canada and the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec. 

CULC/CBUC is committed to the strengthening of vibrant urban communities through building the capacity of Canada’s urban libraries. Our members collectively serve more than 8 million active users who annually visit our 724 locations and virtual services. In 2019 we loaned over 200 million items, and had more than 560 million uses in person and online. CULC/CBUC member libraries expended over $110 million on collections including $11 million on digital resources. More than 12,000 library workers are employed by CULC/CBUC member libraries. 

In excess of 77% of all Canadians are served by a CULC/CBUC member library. The activity in CULC/CBUC libraries comprises more than 80% of Canada’s public library activity. 

Media Contacts  

Samantha Staresincic 
Senior Manager of Communications, Canadian Urban Institute 

Åsa Kachan 
Chair of CULC/CBUC 
CEO/Chief Librarian, Halifax Public Libraries  

Carol Cooley 
Vice-Chair of CULC/CBUC 
CEO, Saskatoon Public Library  

Mary Chevreau 
Past Chair of CULC/CBUC 
CEO, Kitchener Public Library 

Ella Nason 
Secretary/Treasurer of CULC/CBUC 
Executive Director, New Brunswick Public Library Service  

Judy Moore 
Member at Large of CULC/CBUC 
Chief Librarian, Thompson-Nicola Regional District Library