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Community managed libraries - the next phase….

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Many local authorities work in partnership with communities in delivering their library services. This can be valuable in augmenting the services available and ensuring close collaboration and engagement between public libraries and the communities they serve.

In some cases, volunteers work alongside paid local authority staff. In others, communities have taken on day-to-day responsibility for delivering library services in an area - usually with support from their local authority, but occasionally through a library independent from the council network.

Undertaking research and creating a peer support network

As we explain in our Community Libraries toolkit (which provides guidance to those who are looking to establish community libraries and for heads of library services who are supporting them), the Taskforce is concerned about the long-term sustainability of community managed libraries and their ability to maintain a wide ranging, high quality service offer. However, we recognise that some local authorities are, for various reasons, considering heading down this route - and some already have done so. If that path is taken, we want to ensure that all parties involved make informed decisions: understanding the pros and cons and learning from others who have gone before, so that a high quality service is provided to local people.

Therefore, to develop our Community Libraries toolkit further, we’ve committed in our new Libraries Deliver: Ambition for Public Libraries in England 2016-2021 document that we’ll:

  • undertake research into community managed libraries, and
  • work with partners to create a new peer support network to make it easier for communities to share good practice and to learn from each other

What does the research cover?

To further build the evidence base on community managed libraries, the Taskforce and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) have commissioned SERIO, an applied research unit at Plymouth University, to conduct a national research project to understand more about how community managed libraries operate, and what lessons or examples can be learnt and shared about their effectiveness, efficiency and sustainability.

As a first step, SERIO have issued an online survey to all known community managed libraries in England. The survey focuses on areas such as:

  • the different types of service(s) the library delivers and their effectiveness
  • any barriers to service delivery
  • staff/volunteer satisfaction and training
  • current and future resourcing plans
  • the financial sustainability of the library

What will we do with the results?

An analysis of the responses, along with more detailed case studies from a representative sample of community managed libraries, will form the basis of the final report to be published in March 2017. We’ll use this to update and improve our Toolkit.

If you want to know more about the research, email

What will the peer support network involve?

The Upper Norwood Library Trust, in partnership with Locality, the Libraries Taskforce and the Society of Chief Librarians, have established the Community Library Peer Network. This is a new initiative, funded by Power to Change, and will be developed over the next 18 months. The project aims to expand the existing Locality-run Community Knowledge Hub by growing its membership to include a further 200 community libraries with shared interests and goals; developing cutting edge content and ensuring its long-term sustainability.

Upper Norwood library.
Upper Norwood library hub. Photo credit: Julia Chandler/Libraries Taskforce

The peer network aims to be a vital resource for members, offering support and guidance including (but not limited to) the following:

  • extensive range of online tools and resources
  • series of expert webinars
  • local networking events
  • advice and learning from others in the network on fundraising and business development
  • platform for shared learning
  • signposting to other external resources
  • Q&A forum for practical advice and support
  • sector news and debates – how can you make a difference?

How do I join?

Members will have a unique opportunity to shape the Peer Network, ensuring it meets their needs and those of their communities over the next 18 months and beyond, so we’re encouraging all community managed libraries to join.

It’s very easy - just fill in the online registration form, provide your name, organisation, title and contact details, and in the free text box with the heading "A few words about yourself", please include 'Interest in the Community Library Peer Network', and someone will come back to you.

If you need any further information on the new network, contact Emily Jewell from Upper Norwood Library Trust at

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