Case study

Chalfont St Giles: checklist for setting up a community library

Checklist for communities running a community managed library with volunteers

Chalfont St Giles community library
Chalfont St Giles community library

Checklist for communities setting up community managed libraries with volunteers from Chalfont St Giles Community Library in Buckinghamshire


Communities should consider:

  • the vision for the library
  • the needs of local residents (research on user needs may need to be carried out)
  • the level of local community support
  • the view of the town or parish council
  • the main issues which need resolving
  • the costs of the library now and in the future
  • where future funding will come from
  • whether the current building is suitable
  • who currently funds building maintenance
  • talking to or visiting existing community managed libraries

Communities should ensure:

  • there is an initial project leader and team
  • that a business plan is prepared

Agreement with the council

Is the aim to provide a full branch library service? Avoid unnecessary service limitations

The agreement with the council should cover:

  • a clear outline of responsibilities of both the council and the community running the library
  • grant support
  • who owns the till income
  • the provision of council stock (existing, new and on rotation between libraries)
  • the ability to update the library catalogue locally
  • professional library training and support and whether it is ongoing
  • the provision of IT equipment (computers, printers, broadband, WiFi) and ongoing support
  • the provision and updates of library software for example the library management system, Peoples Network
  • the support for public library initiatives for example the Summer Reading Challenge
  • utilities, safety checks and maintenance responsibilities
  • insurance - particularly public liability
  • whether the library part of the statutory library service and resulting implications
  • inter-library lending, reservations and inter-library stock delivery van
  • start up and transition arrangements
  • the length of the agreement should be clear (there may be early exit options)
  • the building lease and duration (this may be a peppercorn rent, responsibility for repairs)
  • the provision and maintenance of library furniture

Formal organisation

The group will need to consider the most appropriate organisational form for the community library. Matters to be considered will include:

  • the organisation’s constitution
  • charity and HMRC registration
  • trustees, officers, meetings and minutes
  • running a bank account
  • accounts, annual report and independent examination

Funding sources

There are a number of sources of funding available to community libraries. These include:

  • the council - responsible for providing the funding for the statutory public library service
  • town or parish councils for example Section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972
  • resident donations - ‘Friends of the Library’
  • local fund raising and crowdfunding
  • grants
  • local businesses
  • sundry income for example room hire, vending machines, items for sale and a cafe
  • till income (fines, DVD hire charges, book and sundry sales)

Know and manage your costs

Communities looking at taking on the running of a library should obtain the library’s current costs and establish how these will change with community management. This can be used to prepare a budget.

Local running costs may include:

  • rent
  • business rates (charities have an 80-100% reduction)
  • insurance
  • utilities
  • telephone
  • safety checks
  • volunteer costs
  • local stock purchases
  • magazine subscriptions
  • marketing (notices, posters, displays)
  • stationery
  • general supplies
  • cleaning
  • maintenance
  • repairs
  • refurbishment


Community libraries should consider:

  • what volunteer positions are required including supporting roles
  • the number of volunteers required, taking into account the opening hours (Chalfont St Giles Community Library suggest there should be at least 2 volunteers on duty)
  • the length of the average volunteering session
  • determine how often people want to volunteer
  • whether there are enough volunteers
  • recruitment and vetting (are Disclosure and Barring Service checks required)
  • the best way to fill, amend and communicate the volunteer rota, it may be useful to have a rota manager
  • contingency back up in support of the volunteer rota
  • training in basic library work and the library management system (this may require a competency check or council support)

Volunteers could sign off for basic responsibilities such as:

  • safety
  • data protection
  • equality and non-discrimination
  • DVD age restrictions
  • computer security
  • basic copyright

After the start up period community libraries could:

  • buddy less experienced with more experienced volunteers
  • look at building up the confidence of new volunteers through helping with specific tasks
  • consider the best way to communicate with the volunteers - email, telephone, forums

Finally, communities should thank their volunteers!


It is essential to maintain an up to date quality stock that is appropriate for the local community. Stock will need regularly updating. Community libraries need to work out:

  • how new stock is added onto the system and who does it
  • when new stock is added
  • if training is required to do this
  • labels, bar codes and whether they want covers

Sources of book stock include:

  • council provided (existing stock, new stock or on branch rotation)
  • local purchases
  • donated books - though only add to stock if they really are a stock improvement

Other things to consider:

  • disposal of books - via sale, to charities, ebay or to pulp
  • DVDs (beware rental vs retail) and audio books
  • magazines - could they be on subscription or donated
  • stocking the local newspaper
  • additional stock - items for sale and leaflets - manage appropriately

Services offered

There are a variety of services which could be run to meet local needs. These include:

  • a good up to date range of adult and children’s books, audio books, DVDs, newspapers and magazines
  • access to computers, WiFi, office software and e-reference materials
  • children’s activities such as story time, chatterbooks and craft sessions
  • the Summer Reading Challenge
  • local and visitor information
  • computer taster sessions

Opening hours should be appropriate to the community and be for as long as possible. Community libraries can also look to maximise the community use of the building for example, meeting councillors, the local MP or the community police.


The local community must be informed and regularly updated about the library’s services andevents. Marketing actions by community libraries include:

  • making sure the public knows about the library, its services and when it is open
  • publicising library events and enhancements via email, local websites and social media
  • placing notices in the library and local shop windows
  • using the local newspaper (human interest stories work well)
  • setting up a library website
  • circulating a library newsletter
  • arranging author talks and outings


Community libraries need:

  • a management person or group to supervise the library day to day
  • to ensure health and safety compliance
  • to keep the library clean and tidy and decor and furnishings in good order
  • to continually review performance - visitor numbers / lending stats / stock usage etc
  • to encourage and carefully consider suggestions and feedback from users and volunteers
  • to connect with the local community whenever there is an opportunity
  • to connect with local schools and playgroups and encourage class visits to the library

Those managing the library should see:

  • whether optimum use is being made of the library space
  • how the existing service can be improved
  • what further services could be provided
Published 13 July 2016