The Big Community Offer was initiated in 2010-11 as part of Gloucestershire County Council’s (GCC) approach to managing a forecast council budget shortfall of £125 million (to 2014). The offer was property led for youth and library buildings. Expressions of interest were invited and business cases were submitted. A judicial challenge delayed the implementation until 2012 and through further consultation the local authority enhanced the offer to communities taking on libraries.
Local authority support
GCC set up a Service Level Agreement with communities who agreed to take over the running of their local library. Communities were given the opportunity to either:
- buy the building at a 20% discount against market value as long as it was still used by the community
- move the location of the library to an alternative publicly accessible building, in which case they could submit a case to get 50% of the sale proceeds from the old library building to invest in the new one
- rent the premises at a peppercorn rate
The local authority agreed to provide:
- a grant of £10,000 per year for 5 years
- support for volunteers from a community libraries support officer
- support from Gloucestershire’s Rural Communities Council to provide communities with independent advice and support during the planning period.
- an initial collection of library books of a sufficient quantity, quality, range and formats
- book shelving, furniture and equipment
- a limited version of the Library Management System (LMS)
- People’s Network public computers with internet access
- computers for administrative use
- training and support during ‘take over’ including a period of staff working alongside volunteers
- weekly van delivery service to facilitate circulation of stock (return anywhere)
Gloucestershire library members are able to use their membership cards across all the libraries in the county, including those that are community run, and they are able to access all the online resources provided by GCC.
As detailed in the Service Level Agreement, the community library had to provide:
- book loan services free of charge to anyone living, working or studying in Gloucestershire
- free access to the internet for members of the public via People’s Network PCs with respective monitoring of its use
- free self-service online reservations for library items
- adopt and implement policies relating to safeguarding (children and adults), health and safety, equal opportunities and volunteers working conditions
- repair and maintenance to the building
The community libraries retain the fines and fees collected for all items administered through the LMS (Alto) but these must be in accordance with GCC’s library charges.
Development of working practices
Since 2012 the council and communities running libraries have agreed:
- not to include in the reservation system, new books that the communities had purchased
- a 6 monthly forum facilitated by the community libraries support officer, which enables communities to learn from each other
- to circulate stock within the group of 8 community libraries
- to expand the use of the library for other community activities
- that the library service will provide Books on Prescription collections
- that all community libraries have the option to run and pay for the Summer Reading Challenge and the library service provides the training
Communities undertake a self-assessment using a GCC form which the library service part completes. The purpose of this is to assess that the communities are continuing to meet the terms of the agreement before they receive the annual grant. For performance, communities provide visitor figures and the library service provides issue figures (this information goes in the CIPFA return). Recently, an evaluation questionnaire was issued, asking what had helped and what support was still required by the authority. The feedback will inform an action plan.
The revenue grant agreements were for 5 years – the county will be will be discussing the ongoing support that will be needed for them to continue to run successful libraries into the future
Lessons learnt / future plans
Ongoing support from the community libraries support officer is essential to ensure the community run libraries are kept up to date with changing processes and service developments.
Some community run libraries have used part of their grant to pay a member of staff to manage the library.
The 8 community libraries are now established as part of Gloucestershire’s “family of libraries” and make up 5% of visits to all libraries in Gloucestershire (there are 31 council run libraries). They provide:
- access to books and reading
- activities and events tailored to local needs
- a space for people to work or study (with free WiFi)
- a safe, social space
- a sustainable library in small communities
For further information: Gloucestershire County Council libraries website