Libraries Taskforce to investigate sustainability of community-managed branches
Mon 12 Dec 2016
The long-term sustainability of community-managed libraries is to be put under the spotlight by the Libraries Taskforce.
According to Kathy Settle, chief executive of the body, many local authorities work in partnership with communities in delivering their library services.
This, she said, can be a good way of augmenting the services available and achieving strong engagement between public libraries and the communities they serve.
However, Ms Settle acknowledged there are concerns about some branches using volunteers to run the service alongside paid local authority staff, as well as others being run on a day-to-day basis by members of the local community.
Specifically, she said the Libraries Taskforce is worried about the long-term sustainability of these branches, as well as their ability to maintain a wide-ranging, high-quality service offering.
Ms Settle stated that if councils choose to adopt this approach more widely, it wants to ensure all parties involved make informed decisions and understand the pros and cons of increasing volunteer involvement.
Furthermore, she said the Libraries Taskforce wants them to learn from "others who have gone before, so that a high-quality service is provided to local people".
The organisation is therefore planning to develop its Community Libraries toolkit further, based on the findings of upcoming research into community-managed libraries, as well as work with partners to create a new peer support network that makes it easier for communities to share good practice.
As part of this effort, the Libraries Taskforce and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have commissioned SERIO, an applied research unit at Plymouth University, to look into how community-led libraries operate.
SERIO will also look into the effectiveness, efficiency and sustainability of these branches to see if lessons can be learned on a wider scale.
The first stage of this research will see an online survey sent out to community-led libraries in England, which will then be analysed and form the basis of a report to be published in March next year.
This announcement comes shortly after the government published a report calling on councils to consider how best they can make use of libraries when delivering vital public services.
Ministers are urging local authorities to "think innovatively" to help increase reading, literacy and digital access in their communities.
The government argues that library buildings should be used to provide access to various public services such as employment, health and learning opportunities.
Rob Wilson, minister for civil society, said libraries are "among our most valuable community assets and remain hugely popular".
Indeed, he stated that last year, more people went to a library than visited the cinema, Premier League football matches and the UK's top ten tourist attractions combined.
However, he said "standing still is not an option if libraries are to thrive and work best for communities in the 21st century".
Mr Wilson insisted that libraries can "flourish and prosper", but said this will take "change and new thinking about our service".
A new report - entitled Libraries Deliver: Ambition for Public Libraries in England 2016-2021 - outlines potential ways of improving and developing service, so they can be "more resilient while still delivering vital public services to the communities that need them".
Joanna Bussell, Lead Partner in Winckworth Sherwood’s Local Government Team, commented: "We welcome the Libraries Taskforce’s review in relation to community managed libraries.
"We have previously raised our concerns with regards to the sustainability of this delivery model. We fully appreciate that in some instances this is the only alternative option to closure.
"We would, however, urge all local authorities to consider alternative delivery models and, in particular, the Trust model. This will deliver, not only immediate financial savings, but, also, provide a more sustainable business model going forwards.
"Notwithstanding, all libraries, whether operated by the local authority or a new delivery vehicle, must innovate and remain relevant for the 21st Century.
"We are on standby to provide advice and support to all our local authority clients exploring options for library services.”
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