In Profile: Chalfont St Giles Community library

Chalfont St Giles Community Library recently received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service which is the highest award given to volunteer groups in the UK. Here Mike Bedford, Treasurer of Chalfont St Giles Community Library, describes the library’s journey.

A Community Library success story in Buckinghamshire

Chalfont St Giles Community Library is a small public library in the centre of the village. The library is run and staffed entirely by unpaid volunteers. There are 26,000 visits to the library annually. The library is a registered charity (a CIO).

Some history

The library was built by Buckinghamshire County Council in 1966. It ran as a county library for forty years. In November 2006 the County controversially closed the library along with seven other small Bucks libraries. The County provided the village with an alternative mobile library service. The village was strongly against the library’s closure. At the time the County would only allow the library to continue if it was run at ‘no cost to the County’.

We [the Friends of the Library] consulted the community, including the Parish Council, and with their support we decided to take up the challenge. We opened as a self-managed Community Library in January 2007.

In 2010 the County revised its policy agreeing to work in partnership with the village and provide some support to the Community Library. The mobile library was redeployed. Also in 2010, Chalfont St Giles Parish Council purchased the freehold of the library building from the County.

What has contributed to the library’s success?

Our volunteers are crucial to our success. We have around 50 volunteers, a good proportion of whom have been with us since we opened in 2007. Many, but by no means all, are retirees. There is a good team spirit and as local residents and library users themselves they help ensure that we provide the best possible service for our village. Volunteering at the library is also quite a sociable activity and new contacts and friendships are made through volunteering.

Our strong volunteer support has enabled us to increase the library’s opening hours by 70% to 34.5 hours a week. Broadly we follow the opening hours of the village shops. We have two volunteers on-duty, previously the library was single staffed.

Village residents are very supportive of the library. They continue to use the library in good numbers. Comparing the library now to the County library back in 2006, library visits are well up and children’s book lending has increased. Adult book lending is lower than in 2006 but the decline has been significantly less than the national trend.

We work hard on the book stock to make sure it is up to date and balanced. We have increased the stock by 60%, particularly improving the children’s section.

An important ingredient in our success is that we are able offer a full library service in exactly the same way as in the County’s libraries. We use the County’s library management system, we can join new users, stock can be borrowed and returned across the County and Community Library network, we can reserve any County stock item for local pick up, we manage and update our stock locally and we can order stock via the County and have it delivered to us shelf ready.

We work in partnership with the County Library Service and our library is part of the Bucks statutory service. The County provide us with an annual grant, IT and systems support, library training and some book stock. The aim is to provide users with a high quality local service as part of an integrated county wide library system.

Although we are space constrained we use the library as much as possible for events. We have ‘Bounce and Rhyme’ every week and we run craft sessions for the children. We have class visits from the village school. Other events, for example, MP and Councillor surgeries or computer taster sessions, are organised as required.

Communicating what’s on at the library and keeping our service in front of residents is also important. As well as the usual posters we use our village’s excellent weekly email newsletter which is received by over half the households in the village. At a more mundane level one of our first actions was to put a ‘Community Library’ sign on the building and put an A-board sign prominently outside to show that the library is open. Previously it wasn’t clear that the building was a library or whether it was open!

When we started back in January 2007 the village’s visitor information point was moved into the library. This improved the service and enhanced our pool of volunteers.

The library has been completely refurbished over the last few years. This year we’ve changed the layout with a new reception desk in a new position and we’ve bought some modern mobile shelving units. The library is now a much more welcoming and flexible space. Funding for the refurbishments has come from the Parish Council, the County Council and local residents who are Friends of the Library.

Some concluding thoughts

Overall our Community Library is a success and I’m delighted that our volunteers have received the Queen’s Award in recognition of their work over many years.

Whilst a well-funded traditional paid staff library is likely to be the best option for any community, our experience indicates that it is possible to do things differently and be successful.

The model that works in Chalfont St Giles may not work everywhere. Our library is small with light to moderate use. Buckinghamshire is a relatively prosperous County with a sufficient pool of people with the time and skills to operate the local library. Trying to follow the same model in a busy town library in a deprived area would be much more challenging.

The public library service remains a wonderful thing. Libraries are important community builders. Libraries are particularly important in smaller communities where there are few other public facilities. We all know that times are challenging for councils and public libraries, thus it is more important than ever that councillors and library service managers work closely with their communities to ensure that access to library services is maintained and that communities are not damaged by closing libraries.

Further information

Community managed libraries: good practice toolkit

Buckinghamshire Library Service’s view of Community Libraries

Chalfont St Giles’ checklist for communities considering setting up a Community Library

Many thanks to Chalfont St Giles Community Library and Mike Bedford for such an interesting post. If any other community managed libraries would like to tell their story or showcase their work on our blog then please contact us.


Latest news and workshop opportunities

This week we’re posting a round-up of some of the latest news from the library sector, plus details of upcoming workshops and training opportunities.


Latest on library consultations in three areas

Three councils are currently going through major consultations regarding the future of their libraries. Unsurprisingly, this has created significant public and media interest with local residents fearing for the future of their library services. Here are some of the latest news pieces we found on the Bristol, East Sussex and Northamptonshire library service consultations:

Bristol Post reports on the Bristol Council consultation

Eastbourne Herald reporting on East Sussex County Council consultation

And the Northamptonshire Council plans have received wide coverage locally and nationally, including from the BBC, The Bookseller and The Telegraph

Flying start to campaign to re-open a Lancashire library

12 months after the closure of Lytham Library in Lancashire, The friends of Lytham Library and Institute have already gained over 600 signatures on a petition in a great start to their campaign to re-open the library. You can read more in the Blackpool Gazette.

Community Managed Library receives royal honour

Chalfont St Giles Community Library received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service at a ceremony on 23rd October. The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service is the highest award given to local volunteer groups in the UK and it is recognition for the hard work of the library’s many committed volunteers. Congratulations to Chalfont St Giles library on this prestigious award.

Group’s bid to take over running of library in Bury

Friends of Dumers Lane Community Centre are bidding to take over the running of their local community centre and library and are inviting residents to share their ideas for the building’s future. They have submitted an expression of interest to Bury Council to run the library, and want to bring residents and community groups together to hear how they would like to see it used.

Last month, the council said that they were inviting applications from local groups wishing to take over the running of six sites. You can read more here.


Webinars, workshops and briefings

If you read our newsletter then some of these opportunities may already be familiar to you, however we don’t want anyone to miss out on these free workshop opportunities and so here they are again, plus one new briefing we’ve just found out about:

Community Asset Transfer Webinar

The first network webinar was held last week. The subject was Community Asset Transfer and the session explored topics such as what is happening nationally, understanding the basics, your community and the process of asset transfer and the business plan. The session was hosted by Stephen Rolph, Head of Community Enterprise and Assets at Locality. Dont, worry if you missed the webinar, you can watch it here.

Libraries Taskforce Masterclasses

The Libraries Taskforce have designed two toolkits, an evidence-based strategic planning toolkit and a Benchmarking Framework which libraries can choose to use for self-assessment. These toolkits are designed to help libraries assess the services they currently provide, and then think long-term as they plan and develop their library service, in consultation with their communities.

The Libraries taskforce are running two FREE masterclasses in London and in Leeds whereby you can find out more about the toolkits and learn from the experiences of those already using them. You can find out more about the masterclasses, who they are suitable for, and sign up for them by visiting the Libraries Taskforce blog.

Legal, Governance & Trustee Workshop (FREE)

10th November 2017
10.30am – 1.30pm
Venue: 134 Edmund Street, Birmingham, B3 2ES

For more information and to book your place:

Income Generation & Fundraising Workshop (FREE)

7th December 2017
10.30am – 4pm
Venue: Upper Norwood Library Hub, 39-41 Westow Hill, London, SE19 1TJ

For more information and to book your place:

General Data Protection Regulation briefing

New data protection rules come in to place in April 2018. If you’re unsure how these new rules will affect you then this briefing aimed at leaders in the public sector may be for you:

If you have any further news or training and development opportunities relevant to the community managed libraries sector then please share them with us via our contact us page so that we can share them with the network.

News from the Network: Community Libraries in the North East

This is a guest post kindly written by Chris Clarke from Friends of Jesmond Library.

Following the first meeting of the national Community Managed Libraries Peer Network, 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.

The free workshop, held on 11 October 2017 in Jesmond Library, attracted representatives of two existing community libraries (Low Fell, in Gateshead, and Jesmond itself), three groups aiming to set up new community libraries (Whitburn, East Boldon and Boldon Lane, all in South Tyneside), and two interested local authorities (Newcastle and South Tyneside).

In line with recently published national research (the report is published here), there were interesting differences between the situations in each area, particularly in the detail of the relationships (or proposed relationships) between the community libraries and their respective local authorities, on such subjects as Library Management Systems, book purchasing and inter-library loans.

On all sides there was a remarkable degree of goodwill on show, both in the preparedness of the community representatives to help each other out, such as by exchanging documentation and practical tips, and between the local authorities and the community libraries in their areas. Clearly, massive cuts in local authority budgets loom large in the background to the whole discussion, but most people at the workshop seemed to agree that a community library was at least a better option than no library at all, and could be much more than this.

Other key topics discussed also mirrored national discussions: volunteer recruitment and management; and generating enough income to be sustainable.

It was agreed to meet again in six months time, in Low Fell, by which time a number of key decisions should have been made in South Tyneside. And in the interval before then, most participants were making plans for more one-to-one contacts, both between community libraries and between the libraries and their respective local authorities.

Areas felt to be worth exploring further both across all the volunteer libraries and between the libraries and their local authorities included :

  • Greater involvement and cooperation in national and local public library initiatives such as the Summer Reading Scheme and World Book Day;
  • Sharing and enabling access to training and general library awareness for volunteers in libraries; and
  • Increased sharing and/or signposting of library catalogues both across volunteer led libraries and with their own library authorities, to ensure that the resources of volunteer led libraries can be better shared.

Friends of Jesmond Library would be delighted to hear from other actual or proposed community libraries who are within easy reach of North East England, and/or would like to exchange information on any of these topics. Chris Clarke at Friends of Jesmond Library can be contacted at

In profile: Sheffield Library Service

As part of this blog we will be posting profiles of different community libraries each month. Supplied by some of our network members we hope these will start to build a picture of the different models of community managed libraries that exist and that we can learn from each other’s experiences.

This month Sheffield Library Service have written to tell us about their libraries service and the different models they operate within the city; the support provided for the different library types and how this works in practice for them.

There are three different types of libraries operating in the city of Sheffield:

  • Sheffield City Council (SCC) run libraries, staffed by SCC employees;
  • Associate Libraries;
  • Co-delivered Libraries;

Sheffield library services run 11 Hub libraries, Central Library and a Home Library Service contributing to SCC’s statutory duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service as required by the Libraries & Museums Act 1964.

Community led libraries staffed by volunteers set up in 2014 consist of:

  • 11 Associate Libraries;
  • 5 Co-delivered libraries;

Neither Associate nor Co-delivered libraries contribute to SCC’s statutory duty.

Prior to the volunteer groups taking on the running of libraries an extensive training programme was provided by Sheffield City Council via Voluntary Action Sheffield and Sheffield Library Service. This training programme aimed to give new groups of volunteers the core skills needed to both run a small voluntary organisation and a community library. This training programme began approximately 6 months before the volunteer groups took over the libraries. Ongoing top-up training is still provided by SCC.

All the volunteer groups except those that would be running Burngreave and Tinsley Libraries took over the running of their library in September 2014. Some of the libraries opted to open immediately for a seamless transition and others closed for a week and re-opened the doors at the beginning of October. Library officers were heavily involved in the first two weeks of opening to ensure as seamless transition as possible.

Co-delivered libraries receive all the services that Council run libraries get, but not the staffing.  The Council pays the running costs for the building directly (out of the Library services budget). The library building remains the property and responsibility of SCC.  The offer also includes support from Library Information Officers in the form of advice and guidance. Also included is the provision of new books and lending materials and access to any local or national initiatives, such as the Summer Reading Challenge, that the Sheffield Library Service is participating in. Support for the Co-delivered libraries is from the core libraries budget and is therefore subject to any changes in the budget.

Co-delivered Libraries in Sheffield are:

  • Broomhill;
  • Burngreave;
  • Park;
  • Southey;
  • Woodhouse.

Associate libraries are ‘independent libraries’ with the offer of a peppercorn lease and a package of support. Until April 2017 this has included a grant (based on the former building running costs of that library), salary of a Volunteer Co-ordinator employed by the library service, training for volunteers and management committee members, and to cover costs (incurred by the library service) of the library groups remaining on the Library Management System. This grant did not include purchase of new books.

A further package of support has been agreed for April 2017- April 2020, the new package also includes provision to purchase new books for the Associate Libraries.

Associate Libraries in Sheffield are:

  • Ecclesfield;
  • Frecheville;
  • Gleadless;
  • Greenhill;
  • Jordanthorpe;
  • Newfield Green;
  • Stannington;
  • Tinsley;
  • Totley;
  • Upperthorpe;
  • Walkley.

Other Key points:

  • There are around 400 active volunteers in Sheffield Volunteer run libraries at the moment;
  • The Associate Library grant is administered by the Contracts and Partnership team with SCC. Liaising with the library service, they issue grant criteria and collect monitoring data;
  • The Contracts and Partnership team also collect monitoring data from the Co-delivered libraries although they do not receive a grant;
  • The Council Library Management System is called ‘Symphony’ provided by a company called Sirsi Dynix who (at the moment) contract with Capita who are the system administrators (not the library service). Capita will not accept calls from volunteers so all issues are relayed via the library service;
  • Training is provided in using the LMS. Training in data protection, safeguarding and trusteeship is also periodically offered;
  • A Library group co-ordination meeting is hosted at central library, and was initially chaired by library officers (at the library group’s request). This originally met every two weeks (if not weekly), and very recently has started meeting monthly. The meeting has split into two parts, a strategic group that meets one month and an operational meeting the next;
  • Most of the Associate libraries have, in addition to the SCC Library management system, their own localised lending system. That allows them to quickly get donated books into circulation at their library;
  • Being on the Councils Library Management System offers volunteer libraries the following:
    • Access to the Council wide book stock
    • Ability to reserve items from any library in the city and further afield
    • Free use of self service machines (Radio Frequency Identification Devices) where these are installed.
    • Computers and computer maintenance
    • Access to the internet for library users via the ‘people’s network’
    • Van deliveries (bringing and returning reserved stock)
    • Service users can use their SCC library card.

What really works? In Sheffield the volunteer libraries meet on a monthly basis to discuss issues relating to the delivery of volunteer run libraries. This gives them a vital opportunity to share experiences, skill and knowledge as well as proving a forum that encourages cooperation and working together. Representatives from Sheffield Library service also attend these meetings so that they can help, advise or work through problems. It is usually trustee level representatives who attend these meetings, but other volunteers often attend to aid with knowledge sharing.

If you are a trustee or volunteer for a community managed library and would like to share your story with us then we would love to hear from you, email

Free Workshop in Newcastle on Wednesday 11th October

The Friends of Jesmond Library are organising a free workshop for anyone involved in community libraries, or wanting to know more about taking on the challenge of opening (or re-opening) a community library. The workshop will take place on Wednesday 11 October from 10:30 am to 2:00 pm, in Jesmond Library, Newcastle upon Tyne.

If you would like to take part, or you would like to know more, email .

Jesmond Library itself recently passed the fourth anniversary of it’s re-opening as a volunteer-run library, after being closed by Newcastle City Council.

Legal and Governance, Trustee Workshop – 10th November 2017, Birmingham

We are really delighted to let you all know that David Alcock from Anthony Collins Solicitors – a specialist law firm with a clear purpose – to improve lives, communities and society will be running our first half day workshop on ‘Legal, Governance and Trustees’ .   This FREE session is developed and tailored for Community Managed Libraries (CMLs) and will take place on 10th of November 2017, from 10.30am in their Birmingham Office, 134 Edmund Street, B3 2ES.

The session will explore:

  • Different legal forms
  • What makes good governance
  • Legal considerations when trading
  • Local authority agreements
  • Defining your needs and sourcing help
  • Trustees
  • Q&A

Lunch and refreshments will be provided.

To book, please follow this link:

We have also organised a number of face to face and webinar based events, they include:

  • a two hour webinar (starts 11am) on Community Asset Transfer, 27th October 2017, facilitated by Stephen Rolph, Head of Community Assets and Enterprise, Locality
  • a whole day session on Income Generation and Fundraising, 7th of December,  in London, starts 10.30am. This session is facilitated by Elaine Harrison from the Crystal Palace Community Projects Fund.

Both events will be published on Eventbrite on 29th September.   Please look out for the link, it includes details of how to book and kindly share through all your networks, colleagues, trustees, volunteers and other CMLs. Thank you.

Have you seen this new research on the effectiveness and sustainability of community managed libraries?

A new piece of research on community libraries, commissioned by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Libraries Taskforce and conducted by SERIO has just been released.

The research gives a comprehensive picture of community libraries in England today, covering their operations, structures, governance, performance, service offering, finances, sustainability and more and covers a wide range of operating models. You can read the full report here:

Research and analysis to explore the service effectiveness and sustainability of community managed libraries in England

If the full report seems a little weighty then the Libraries Taskforce blog offers a concise summary of the main research findings written by the research organisation:

Libraries Taskforce Blog post

This has been followed by a further post from the Libraries Taskforce explaining how they’ll be responding to the research findings:

Community managed libraries research – what we’ll do next

And Power to Change have written an excellent response to the research report that is also well worth a read:

Shining a Light on Community Libraries

There’s lots here, but we think it’s well worth taking the time to read about the research and how the Libraries Taskforce are responding to it.

The first Peer Network newsletter is out now

The community managed libraries peer network has published our first newsletter. We welcome comments, suggestions for content and most importantly we’d like network members to contribute to future editions of the newsletter. If you have anything you’d like published in the next issue then email

You can read our newsletter here, but make sure you sign-up to receive future issues:

Locality’s Annual Convention – have you booked your place?

Locality’s Annual Convention is two days of inspirational learning, connecting and networking with our diverse and interactive schedule of sessions, talks and workshops. This year’s convention looks at how we can put communities back in control.

Join the Community Libraries Network and hundreds of inspiring Locality members, partners and people working in the community, voluntary and social enterprise sectors for the biggest community sector event of the year.

Find out more and book your place now:

Communities in control

Workshop opportunity!

We’re excited to confirm our first workshop opportunity for the community managed libraries network. It will be a half day workshop on legal and governance issues pertaining to community managed libraries and it will be hosted and delivered by David Alcock at Anthony Collins Solicitors in Birmingham. David and the team have worked with the social sector for many years and advised community managed libraries on a wealth of legal and governance issues so this will be a very valuable workshop.

More details on the workshop and how you can sign up will follow shortly but please put Friday 10th November in your diaries and make sure you sign up to our blog to ensure that you’re the first to hear of this and other training opportunities.