[Editor’s note: The Taskforce does not endorse the model of community managed libraries with no support from the local council. However it recognises that some local authorities are, for various reasons, considering community managed libraries - and some already have these. 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. To help with this, we have published a Community managed libraries: good practice toolkit, and commissioned some research to explore [their] service effectiveness and sustainability.
In December 2016, alongside the publication of our Ambition document, we also announced that we would work with partners (Locality and Society for Chief Librarians) to create a new peer support network to make it easier for community managed libraries, or those considering setting one up, to share good practice and to learn from each other. Emily Jewell and Margaret Adjaye, of Upper Norwood Libraries Trust, are currently co-ordinating the Network]
The Community Managed Libraries Peer Support Network has now been in existence for just over a year. We have members drawn from the full spectrum of Community Managed Libraries (CMLs) – from independently funded to those that receive local authority support. We’re supported by the Society of Chief Librarians, the Libraries Taskforce and Locality, with funding from Power to Change.
We were set up primarily to help trustees or people who work in community managed libraries. But we also welcome members from:
- people setting up a CML or from community groups exploring the possibilities further
- people who work within council library services who liaise with, and provide support to, community managed libraries
- organisations or individuals who are involved in supporting community managed libraries in other capacities
What are we aiming to do?
We want libraries in community management to thrive – each at the heart of their community, run by their community, providing a wide range of benefits for their community. We’d like to see them:
- operate as effectively as possible, to make them sustainable in the long term
- be respected for their contribution to community life, through effective delivery of outcomes such as those set out in the Libraries Deliver: Ambition document
- be aware of, and able to grasp, funding opportunities
- provide mutual support and learning
How are we developing our work?
We started out by surveying as many CMLs as we could, and those working with them, to find out what they wanted in terms of support and learning. We’ve also looked at what the research (commissioned by Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Taskforce) which looked at the service effectiveness and sustainability of CMLs said.
In mid-July 2015, community managed libraries representatives stepped forward as members of a pilot group, to work through ideas for making the Network a lively, informative and valued resource for CMLs at all stages of development.
Based on these research findings, and what our pilot group said, we have been working hard to develop a series of training events and workshops (based on our research, we mostly run these as webinars to eliminate travel costs for our members); we have a blog which we use to share information and experience, as well as a monthly newsletter for our members; and we’ll be running our first conference focussed on the needs and interests of CMLs in March.
Over the last 12 months, we have seen the Community Managed Libraries Network grow to almost 200 members, our training workshops have been well received, and our pilot network group is thinking about what we need to do to keep the Network thriving for the future.
Learning from (and about) each other
One of the reasons we exist is to help CMLs connect with, and get advice and support from, others across the libraries sector; and help them to gain insight into some of the creative, enterprising and innovative things other libraries are doing. To help with this, we have been running guest blogs from a range of our members, to share the learning and experience they’ve gained over the time they’ve been operating. Do take a look - they make interesting and inspiring reading!
Places we have featured so far are:
- Sheffield Library Service
- Chalfont St Giles in Buckinghamshire (which recently received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service which is the highest award given to volunteer groups in the UK)
- Deeping Community Library in Lincolnshire
- Blackfen Community Library in Bexley
- Garden Suburb Community Library in Barnet
So far we’ve run 4 events, focussed on what our members told us were priorities. They have been on:
- Community Asset Transfer
- Legal, governance and trustee advice
- business planning
- community engagement
All except the legal one were run as webinars.
And if people couldn’t get along on the day, they haven’t missed out - we added a Resources page to our blog, where we’ve posted links so you can watch our past webinars, get hold of workshop handouts, and access other resources like SCL’s ‘Making the most of your library’ training package which was developed by Leicestershire Library Service (and co-created with volunteers) to help volunteers working in community managed or community led libraries
We’ve got more free webinars planned in February and March, and anyone is welcome to use the links below to book on to them:
- Communications and Social Media (8 February)
- Back to Basics (15 March)
- Measuring your Impact (27 March)
We will also be running a face-to-face session on income generation and fundraising at the Upper Norwood library hub - we’ll publish a link to book on the events section of our blog as soon as date and times are confirmed.
And CML events don’t just run on a national basis - following the first meeting of our pilot group, the Friends of Jesmond Library (in Newcastle upon Tyne) decided to mark Libraries Week by hosting an informal workshop for community libraries in the North East of England, including those interested in forming new community libraries. Attendees fed back how they had really appreciated the chance to network with other local CMLs and staff from the local library service. Other areas across England might want to consider hosting local / regional events like this one too.
Coming up is our Community Managed Libraries Conference: The Changing Landscape which we’re holding in Sheffield on 20 March. It’s free to attend, and you can book online. This will feature a range of activities and speakers, and will also include a visit to one of Sheffield’s CMLs. It’s a chance for anyone involved in running community managed libraries (or supporting them within council-run library services) to get together, meet people from other libraries and share ideas and experiences. Places are filling up fast, so book quickly if you are interested in attending.
Our pilot group will be discussing how we further develop the network, especially ways to make it self-sustaining for the future. If you are interested in our work and have any ideas on what else we could do to support CMLs effectively, then please contact us. Or even better, sign up to our blog to join us (using the sign-up box on the right hand side of each blog page). We’ll then keep you updated through our blog and our monthly newsletter.
Please note, this is a guest blog. Views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of DCMS or the Libraries Taskforce