Haliburton County’s Public Library is requesting money from the County’s COVID-19 relief fund for a new website.

On June 9, the County’s library board voted to submit a request for funding to County council for $60,000 to finance upgrading the site, which library staff say is outdated.

The funds, if approved, would come from the $2.87 million the County received from provincial COVID-19 relief funding.

Erin Kernohan-Berning, branch services librarian and deputy CEO, said that a new website would make administrating – and accessing – library services much more efficient.

“It was increasing difficult to get those services on the website we have now,” Kernohan-Berning said.

From 2019 to 2020, the Haliburton County Public Library saw a 43 per cent jump in demand for online services such as e-books and audio rentals.

“When we first shut down in March 2020, we really pushed so much of our services online,” she said.

The current website was designed around 10 years ago. Kernohan-Berning said it can’t effectively handle many new services the library provides.

The library board’s funding request outlines how a new website will also allow streamlining of the library’s events: right now announcements and event management services are spread out across multiple platforms.

So far, the library estimates that the project would cost $50-$60,000. That’s due to the extensive digital infrastructure needed for memberships, renewals, cross-library loans, event-management software and more.

Kernohan-Berning said that’s why the first estimates seem so high.

“The complicating factor with updating our website is it’s tied into our integrated library system,” she said.

The Highlander asked an industry expert, who said websites with those kinds of advanced functions require ongoing service and support, and usually require a large team to develop the site and provide training to library employees.

Since the library launched online registration in March 2020, it has had 385 new registrations across eight branches.

In 2021, the service has had more than 18,000 items reserved online, or rented digitally. Digital services make up over half of the library’s circulations so far this year.

If council approves the use of funding, the library will receive bids for the project.

Board member David O’Brien said he hoped the library could use local developers to build the site.

“If we can use them for our work, I think that would be a real advantage,” he said.

‘Unprecedented’ surplus

While COVID-19 has meant a halt on all in-person library programs, it’s had a positive impact on the budget: the service is running its largest ever surplus coming into fiscal year 2021.

COVID-19 meant staff layoffs, and extended leave for some library staff, including the CEO. That’s resulted in a $199,296 surplus.

The board voted to establish a reserve fund, which allots funds for operating expense and new purchase of books, equipment and other items.

Under the suggested reserve system, the board would use $22,300 for new computer monitors, branding refreshes, E-books and audio purchases, an outdoor public address system, new storage cabinets and other needs.

The library will also develop an operating reserve of $120,000 which will be used in case of unexpected funding delays or shortages.

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