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The Community-Managed Libraries Scheme How Warwickshire transformed its library service
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The community-managed library scheme is a testament to what can happen when a local authority and residents share a common goal and determination.
Warwickshire County Council had to make £70 million savings by the end of 2015; the Library Service had to play its part with its budget being reduced by £2 million.
Of its network of 34 libraries, 16 accounted for only 10% of total usership. The council could no longer afford to manage these but did not want to lose a library service in these areas.
It embarked on a journey with hundreds of residents who shared this determination.
A year on 13 community libraries are flourishing.
Under the circumstances, this has been an amazing achievement. Nationally, authorities were facing judicial reviews from local groups who were desperate to retain their libraries.
From a starting point of hostile residents, the council won the public over.
The council supplies stock, library management system, training and networking opportunities and specialist advice
Now, there are around 450 volunteers at 13 community libraries which are open for 241 hours per week, a 4.3% rise on opening hours.
In most communities, the impact has been minimal which is a testament to the partnership.
The concept of a community library was not innovative. They have been done before. But never on the scale that was happening in Warwickshire where 13 have been established.
The innovation came in engaging the public via a blog which received nearly 3,000 visits, through twitter where the council engaged with nearly 57,000 twitter accounts.
But also the engagement took to 26 public meetings, 39 roadshows, 5000 questionnaires completed at libraries and online. Volunteers at successful community libraries were invited to meet Warwickshire’s volunteers.
The effort that engaged and won over a hostile public marked the project as something special.[/one_half_last]
We underestimated the scale of the learning curve for nearly 450 inexperienced volunteers.
They were given comprehensive training, an officer worked at the community-managed library for the first week of their ‘going live’ and officers visited them every three months. They were also given the number of the local library hub.
However, the volume of calls blocked the line for other library users. We established a dedicated number that was staffed throughout the week for the exclusive use of the volunteers with trained and experienced staff at the other end. A simple measure made a world of difference.
The organisation has benefitted hugely from the transformation. It has helped to make the savings that had to be made and our residents can continue to enjoy a library service in their areas. We have created excellent relationships with the community groups.
For residents, increased partnership work has afforded new opportunities. By sharing premises, one community library can use the cinema and stage, another shares with a dance school and has a new cluster of customers.
The message that has come out is that doing something different has been incredibly hard work but, for the localities involved, very rewarding.[/one_half_last]
Head of Libraries Strategy
Warwickshire County Council
Ayub Khan is Head of Libraries Strategy at Warwickshire. He has held a number of posts in public libraries including President of the Career Development Group of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) for whom he became a fellow in 2004. He is currently overseeing a transformation of the Library and Information Service in Warwickshire, which the community-managed libraries scheme is part of. A published author, whose book Better by Design is an industry guide to designing a new library, he was awarded the Centenary Medal from the Library Association in 1998 for services to librarianship.