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.