Case study

Community libraries in Warwickshire

An overview of community libraries, from the perspective of the library service

One of Warwickshire's community libraries: Harbury.
One of Warwickshire's community libraries: Harbury. Photo credit: Julia Chandler/Libraries Taskforce

Background

In Warwickshire, the library service was part-way through a major transformation programme when, in early 2011, budget cuts were announced. The savings target was over £2 million and the service could no longer afford to run its 34 libraries. Data indicated that 90% of all library visits were to 18 of the 34 libraries. A needs analysis was carried out which looked at:

  • performance analysis for all libraries
  • population data
  • equality impact assessments for each community whose library was under threat (the 16 libraries with significantly lower use)
  • local knowledge and research

Warwickshire then published the results of the needs analysis.

Sixteen libraries were designated as ‘no longer sustainable in their present form’ and as a result, local communities were encouraged to work with the council to find ways of keeping them open. Fourteen community-managed libraries were established between January and June 2012, mainly in rural areas. The busier, predominantly urban, libraries were retained.

Warwickshire engaged with communities in a variety of ways with:

  • 25 meetings and 41 roadshows
  • 5,000 questionnaires returned
  • 500 letters and emails received
  • 15 petitions totalling 10,000 signatures
  • 2,850 visits to the consultation blog
  • 56,190 followers on twitter
  • Consultation Institute involved

Local authority support

In order to help communities take over the running of libraries, the local authority:

  • made set up funding available
  • set up special meetings and workshops
  • provided dedicated support to assist in developing a business case
  • published clear assessment criteria and guidance notes
  • extended the business case submission deadline

Practical support and technical issues

This was the first time that Warwickshire had handed over libraries to the community and it was operating to a tight timescale. A pilot transfer in January 2012 showed that additional support was needed for volunteers after the initial handover as well as access to a simplified version of the Library Management System.

Ongoing support from the local authority

Warwickshire provided ongoing support to the community libraries by providing:

  • training for volunteers
  • a procedures manual and telephone helpline
  • access to a computerised library system
  • technical support
  • stock selection, supply and delivery
  • the same level of new stock as before
  • access to full county library catalogue
  • quarterly library officer visits
  • annual review
  • extra time-limited support and dedicated telephone helpline
  • further basic training for volunteers at each community library
  • help with marketing and volunteer recruitment
  • new software to assist the transfer of stock between libraries
  • investment in new stock for community managed libraries
  • newsletter launched as a channel for communication
  • network meetings for updates, training and good practice
  • delegation of associated workload to less senior library staff

Summary

The 12 community-led libraries are still operating and they continue to receive stock and professional support. Collectively, community libraries account for 3% of library loans county wide and the council is committed to funding for ongoing support. New management models are emerging and the library service has been able to save £230,000 from the budget. The council has been able to derive an income from sales of library buildings and reduced property costs.

Lessons learnt

A number of points need to be taken into consideration:

  • recruiting and keeping volunteers
  • training and support
  • customer privacy and data protection
  • control and responsibility
  • library staff workload
  • there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach
  • localised services and community value

Outcome

Currently, the library network has been reshaped and there are 12 community-led libraries and one library run by another service. The workforce has been restructured and the savings targets achieved with library closures avoided.

For further information: Warwickshire County Council libraries website

Published 23 March 2016