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Library votes to undertake city-funded operational audit

The review will seek clarity on the city's $1-million fiscal and operational review from 2020.
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The Library's seven-member volunteer board voted Jan. 19 to pursue a $100,000 internal audit to be funded by the City of St. Albert.

The St. Albert Public Library board has voted to undertake a third-party internal audit of its services with money offered up by city council during budget deliberation in December. 

During their first meeting of 2022 on Jan. 19, the library's seven volunteer members voted unanimously in favour of accepting $100,000 from the City of St. Albert to fund the audit. 

City council voted to float the library the funds for an audit during budget deliberation last month. Coun. Sheena Hughes, who brought forward the motion, said the audit will help clarify the results of the city's $1-million fiscal and operational review conducted in 2020 by consultant firm Ernst & Young. 

While the Ernst & Young review suggested there is room to save $7.3 million over five years by taking a second look at the grants the city provides its library, Peter Bailey, St. Albert Public Library CEO, said the review misunderstood the library’s operations and made comparisons to larger libraries in Ontario, which use different funding models. 

When Hughes brought her motion forward on Dec. 7, she said allowing the library to undertake an internal audit could be a way to avoid “slashing because we had someone tell us the budget was too high.” 

While council extended the internal audit as an option for the library, the power to give the audit the green light is in the hands of the library board.

During the board meeting, Bill Wells, library board chair, said he had observed discussion about the audit when it came forward at council.

“My takeaway was that there was a sincere interest on the part of council to clarify the confusion that arose out of the audit report that the city had done,” Wells said, referring to the Ernst & Young report. 

Wells said he sees the audit as an opportunity to provide the board, library administration, residents of St. Albert, and city council with assurance the library is being operated effectively, and is providing value for the funding it receives. 

Bailey weighed in as library CEO on the potential for the audit, describing an operational review conducted by the Lethbridge Public Library.

According to Bailey, the review included three components: a workflow analysis, which looked at library processes to see whether they were running efficiently; a service evaluation model initiative that reviewed best practices at comparator libraries; and a community needs assessment, which Bailey said could be “really helpful" for the St. Albert Public Library. 

Bailey said the last time the library performed a community needs assessment was in 2009. 

“I think it’s a really great opportunity to kill a couple birds with one stone,” Bailey said. 

Donna Kawahara, one of the library’s four new board members for 2022, also spoke in support of the audit. She echoed the importance of examining the library beyond the Ernst & Young report, and added that a community needs assessment could contribute to ensuring the library serves residents to the best of its ability. 

“We can make sure that we’re not excluding any members of the community because of health concerns or disabilities of any sort,” Kawahara said. 

In a news release sent out Jan. 21, Bailey said that going forward, the work of the audit will be considered an “operational review” to avoid confusion with the library’s annual comprehensive financial audit, which the library undergoes in conjunction with the City of St. Albert’s annual audit. 

Leslie Greentree, marketing and communications specialist for the library, said in an email Jan. 21 that next steps for the review will include work with the library leadership team and board to develop the review's scope and the goals. The library will then begin the process of hiring an independent consultant, Greentree said. 

“This operational review is a priority for the library,” Greentree said in the email. 

In the release, Bill Wells said the board believes the library provides "great return on investment," but said looking for improvements is "always a good approach."

"We appreciate the city's support to undertake this important work," Wells said in the release.