[Editor’s note: This post was written by Peter Gaw, CEO of Inspire – Culture Learning and Libraries (Nottinghamshire). It has formed a consortium (Optimo) alongside the three other existing libraries mutuals – Explore York, Libraries Unlimited (Devon) and Suffolk Libraries – and consultancy firm Mutual Ventures.]
Optimo ran two free libraries masterclasses in March, funded by DCMS through the Taskforce, and produced a toolkit for the Taskforce to support other library services considering exploring alternative delivery models. These earlier masterclasses were oversubscribed and very positively received by those who attended, so DCMS is funding a further repeat masterclass through the Taskforce, to be held on 12 December in Beeston, Nottinghamshire.
Sharing Nottinghamshire's experience
Our journey in Nottinghamshire started several years before our contract went live in April 2016. It was rooted in a libraries strategy and a strong political consensus and desire to keep libraries open, whilst making further savings. Personally, my journey has been significant and I’ve learnt a lot about leadership into the unknown and how to maintain resilience and a good sense of humour. The support of our professional networks, and the honesty about the challenges of a mutuals approach to the delivery of library services, was an essential part of our success.
As a leadership challenge, it cannot be underestimated - you need to make a 100% commitment to lead. It is not like building new libraries or implementing the People’s Network; it’s a total systems and ethos change, and very, very hard work - but it’s worth it.
Optimo brings together those library services who have experience of exploring new models and in the delivery of alternative models within varying types of services and political context. Optimo also creates an exciting opportunity to work creatively and in new ways to ensure public libraries are innovative and maximise the freedoms of the alternative delivery models.
We were pleased that our first 2 masterclasses were so popular and that people who came told us how useful they were. So, as a result, we are holding a further free masterclass, (again funded by the DCMS and supported by the Libraries Taskforce). It’s a repeat of those we held last March, and we’ll be running it this time in Beeston, Nottingham, on 12 December.
What potential does an alternative delivery model offer?
We know that libraries have huge potential to deliver improved outcomes in local communities. They support people’s desire to learn and achieve; enable them to engage with a digital world; provide practical support and guidance at key points when people need help; and foster cohesion amongst diverse communities.
As councils across England handle increasing pressures and competing priorities, they need to look at different ways to help sustain and support library services in the future. So more councils are investigating the potential of public service mutuals and other alternative delivery models to achieve this. One of the 7 design principles in the Libraries Deliver: Ambition document suggests that “In line with broader public sector reform, councils should actively examine alternative delivery models and revenue streams that could unlock additional investment”. The recent toolkit published by the Taskforce on longer-term, evidence-based sustainable planning highlights the fact that evidence gathered to develop strategic thinking may lead the council or its library service to consider major service changes or transformation which might involve looking at new delivery models, in either the shorter or longer-term
At Inspire, we have brought together a range of cultural and learning services, with the public library service as the backbone of delivery. A clear vision to ‘Inspire reading, learning and the enjoyment of culture’ unites our staff into a single purpose. Our ability to act quickly and independently of the local authority has been exemplified by our new web presence (which allows online bookings and payments for the first time), the delivery of a new digital picture archive within 14 weeks from market testing to going live, and the stream of additional funding and partnerships that have enabled us to deliver more than just our core contract.
We no longer talk about ‘leaving the council’, but rather of our ‘partnership with the council’ that is underpinned through a contractual relationship. The council retains its statutory duties and we ensure we deliver their priorities.
But how do you start identifying what different options exist and what they mean for your service? There are so many factors to align before a service can successfully spin out from a council - and we have first-hand experience of these.
To help you with this thinking, our masterclass provides support for councils to think strategically about alternative delivery model options for their libraries. And you can use the Taskforce toolkit that we launched in March to complement this, by providing an authoritative and practical reference point in those crucial weeks after attending the event.
Learning from those who’ve done it already
Like the March events, our latest masterclass will focus on the practicalities of establishing public service mutuals and other alternative delivery models for library services. It will bring together Optimo partners’ real-life experiences alongside specialist expertise on technical issues, and give you the opportunity to ask those burning questions.
A range of issues will be covered including:
- why consider an alternative delivery model for library services?
- what alternative delivery model options are available?
- what are the benefits, risks and challenges associated with each of these models?
- how do you create an alternative delivery model for a library service?
- how do you engage staff and public in the process?
- what new skills are needed to deliver success?
- what lessons can we learn from library services that have already been down this route?
At the events, you’ll be able to hear from me, and also from others of us who have already been down this route including:
- Ciara Eastell – CEO, Libraries Unlimited
- Alison Wheeler – CEO, Suffolk Libraries IPS
- Fiona Williams – CEO, York Explore
- Derek Higton - Service Director, Communities and Place Department, Nottinghamshire County Council
- Oliver Cappleman - Director, Mutual Ventures
- Mark Bandalli - Managing Consultant, Mutual Ventures
- Jonathan Lindley - Director of Mutuals, DCMS
Who should attend the events?
You need to involve a range of people in investigating alternative delivery models; such as heads of library services, elected members, strategy or transformation officers, finance leads and other interested parties.
The masterclass is designed to bring together these different perspectives, so we’d recommend that councils identify a group of relevant people to bring along if they can, so they can all learn together.
As before, since numbers will be limited, we will be giving priority to representatives from councils who are considering exploring these options. If you are interested in attending the masterclasses, please register via Eventbrite.
Inspire is hosting the masterclass at its most recently refurbished library in Beeston, which is a short tram ride from Nottingham City Centre. The refurbishment successfully embodies our Inspire vision and recently received over 4,000 people to its first Fun Palace. I hope you will be able join us in December.