Calgary raised $47M for new library branch, but will Ottawa residents open their wallets?

“The Ottawa Public Library hopes to raise $10 to 15 million over the coming years as part of a major fundraising campaign for the new central library — not to pay for the bricks and mortar, but to ensure interesting things take place inside once it’s open.

On Tuesday, the library’s board will consider a consultant’s report that suggests residents are willing to raise money for the public library system and offers possibilities for how to do it.

The idea of a fundraising campaign first came up as a way to offset the debt the city would incur to pay for its $104-million portion of a new central library on Wellington Street, which will be shared with Library and Archives Canada.

But donors want to give toward the library’s operations, not its construction, said Anna Basile, the communications and strategic services manager who wrote the report.

‘This is doable’

The money, said Basile, would help the library carry out state-of-the-art programs at its new home.

The early vision for the new central branch includes a media lab and a demonstration kitchen, but the money could also fund author appearances and writers-in-residence.

It would also go toward programs that take place in all 33 of the system’s branches, said Basile.

However, $10 million is also a significant amount for an Ottawa fundraising campaign, considering that the Great Canadian Theatre Company had to seek extra money from the city when it fell short on its own capital campaign a decade ago.

The Ottawa Art Gallery studied that experience more recently when it set — and hit — what it saw as a manageable goal of $3.5 million.

Still, Basile thinks the library can reach the consultant’s target.

“I do certainly believe this is doable. It is over five years, so it’s a nice thing that we have [time] until the central library opens its doors officially,” Basile said.

Ottawa’s new central library is expected to open in 2024. This week, the library board will consider a consultant’s report suggesting a fundraising campaign could bring in between $10 million and $15 million.(Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

The Calgary experience

Calgary’s experience with its own new central library could offer some guidance.

While the city paid the entire $235-million cost of constructing its new central library above a light rail line, a fundraising campaign raised an extra $47 million.

In the years leading up to its fall 2018 opening, the donor list grew by leaps and bounds.

One in every 100 Calgarians, or 18,000 people, supported the library financially, said Ellen Humphrey, president of the Calgary Public Library Foundation.

While the city has a strong corporate base, Humphrey thinks most of the funding came from individuals.”I think it’s something special about libraries,” she said.

Library philanthropy evolves

Libraries are a generation behind hospitals, colleges and universities when it comes to philanthropy, Humphrey said, but she believes that’s changing.

The money a library foundation raises can be used by the system on the things it finds most important, like creating lively children’s areas that can include components like climbing structures and media labs for teens.

Events held at libraries — like escape rooms, for instance — can also attract new patrons and supporters, Humphrey said.

“If there is ever an age when libraries aren’t cool. it’s when you’re a teenager. But our space here is — come 3 o’clock, when school gets out — it’s jumping,” said Humphrey.

Basile said she hoped to build that same excitement in Ottawa. 

The new library at 557 Wellington St., near LeBreton Flats, is expected to open in 2024.”