In profile: Garden Suburb Community Library

As part of this blog we regularly post profiles from different community managed libraries. 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 we’d like to welcome  Garden Suburb Community Library to the blog.

In 2011 the London Borough of Barnet (LBB) reviewed the library service in the borough and announced that they would close two libraries, in Hampstead Garden Suburb (HGS) and Friern Barnet.

A group of residents from HGS which is one of the first planned garden suburbs in the UK and has a defined and active community of 5,000 households ( http://www.hgstrust.org/the-suburb/the-suburb.shtml )  campaigned to prevent the closure of the library and presented the council with a petition of over 2,000 signatures. This resulted in the relevant council committee offering local groups the chance to bid to run the two libraries at low or no cost.

A group supported by the HGS Residents Association submitted a successful bid for the HGS library and was given 6 weeks to prepare to take the library over. We opened in April 2012.

We were gifted the library fittings and existing stock, given an annual grant of £10,000 to cover all running costs, four new computers and as the LBB did not want us to use their existing library management software they bought us Micro Librarian Systems software which we chose together. They also pay our rent.

We are based in a very small shop in the heart of the HGS just off a small shopping centre on the busy main road. As such we don’t get a great deal of passing trade, but serve the local community, and after another round of cuts in the LBB are now open and staffed for more hours than any other library in the borough.

We are a company limited by guarantee and charity and have 7 trustees who divide responsibilities up between them.

We are open 5 days a week (Tuesday – Saturday) and have two volunteer shifts 10.00-1.30 and 1.30-5.00. Two volunteers are on duty at all times and they are responsible for opening the library up, running it and closing at the end of the day.

We have approximately 40 volunteers, all of which are DBS checked. They do an initial half day training course, sign a volunteer agreement and most of them volunteer every two weeks. Initially we drew our volunteers from the local community. We have a local community newsletter which goes out to all 5,000 households 4 times a year plus an active chat line, both of which we used for recruitment. After two years local volunteers began to run out, so we now use London-wide volunteer recruiting websites. This has resulted in volunteers coming from a much wider area, and also a decrease in the average age – initially we mainly had retired volunteers, now an increasing number are in their 20’s and 30’s. Many of our volunteers are now people coming from abroad and living in London. We do have a fairly regular volunteer turnover with volunteers moving away, getting employment and moving on. We have never employed anyone.

We have 2,500 users and a stock of about 5,000 books, children’s DVD’s and spoken word. Initially we bought these through the LBB book buying service, but this was not ideal, and we now have a book buying committee and buy most of our books from Amazon. This has resulted in the lending rates increasing dramatically, as we are now buying books that our users actually want to read.

We have a very well used children’s section which accounts for 55% of books borrowed. We have also established a relationship with various local schools, and now have a weekly visit from one special needs class.

We run weekly sing song time and story time sessions for under threes which are extremely popular and occasional children’s activities in the school holidays. There is a very popular monthly book club and we have occasional evening author talks, the latest one selling out.

Our small space limits activities and so many activities undertaken by other community libraries, such as running a cafe, would be impossible for us.

As far as the future is concerned we have a great deal of support from the community, but are reliant on support from the LBB. We have an agreement with LBB for another 4 years, but there could be another round of cuts then which may affect us.

Do take a look at us here www.gardensuburblibrary.org.uk and if you are passing call in!

Thank you Garden Suburb Community Library for this fantastic in-depth profile of your journey so far and the work you’re doing and best wishes with your future plans.

If you’d like to share your library’s story with the community managed libraries network via this blog then please fill in the Contact Us form or email  CommunityLibs@unlt.org

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