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 firstname.lastname@example.org