Case study

Community library: Colehill, Dorset

Overview of a community library from the perspective of the community

Colehill community library, Dorset
Colehill community library, Dorset. Photo credit: Julia Chandler/Libraries Taskforce

Community library model and governance

Colehill community library in Dorset was transferred to the community in January 2013 and receives substantial financial support from Colehill Parish Council through a Parish Precept. The library is set up as a limited company and a registered charity.

Local authority agreement / funding

Colehill community library is run by volunteers who, under the terms of a formal agreement with the county council receive the following support:

  • the community library building on a 99 year lease
  • a one-off grant of £2,000 from the county council to help in the establishment of a community managed library
  • stock collection of fiction and non-fiction for adults and children and large print books which will be at least 95% of the size of the existing collection
  • continuation of stock circulation
  • 500 new books per year for adults and children, shelf ready with Radio-Frequency IDentification (RFID) tags purchased through the local authorities procurement contract
  • all library service stock can be reserved online for collection at the community library or any other library in the local authority
  • full access to the inter library loan system
  • reading group sets, audiobooks and DVDs are available through the reservation system
  • access to e-magazines and all online resources
  • donated stock which meets the Collection Development Policy standard will be added to the system by the community library liaison officer
  • initial and ongoing training
  • ongoing support for volunteers from a community libraries liaison officer of no less than 3 hours per week
  • print consumables to cover library use based on known average use
  • broadband provision for the Library Management System (LMS) and the public computers
  • provision, maintenance and upgrades of the computer systems and RFID self service unit and the RFID staff pad for use with the LMS inline with the county council library service network
  • a printer / scanner and Voice Over IP (VOIP) phone
  • the use and support of People’s Network PCs in the community library to provide users with access to the internet and Dorset County Council’s virtual library
  • WiFi installation but the community pay the ongoing costs

Role of the community

Under the terms of the agreement the community managed library has agreed to be responsible for all operating costs and to manage the library for the benefit of the local community. In addition to complying with all the necessary licences, policies, acts and legislation, the trustees have agreed to DCC’s fees and charges.

To raise income to pay for the operating costs, a social programme has been organised. The events are held in the nearby village and church halls and, among many others, include a fish and chip supper and musical entertainment, a fashion show, the police male voice choir, and coach trips to Hampton Court and Highclere Castle.

In addition, local organisations have awarded grants and donated money to the library and subscriptions from the supporters membership also provides funds.

Volunteers

There are 7 members of the management committee including 4 directors, and approximately 100 other volunteers regularly engaged in the overall running of the library and grounds and fundraising.

Opening hours

The previous opening hours of 20 hours per week and times have been maintained and, although increasing the opening hours may be desirable in service terms, it is not feasible to overstretch the volunteer force.

More displays and a better seating area have been provided which encourages users to “drop in”. Unfortunately space prohibits the provision of the much requested coffee facilities for users. Borrowers report that they now see the library as welcoming and a hub of the community. It is believed that the library has a greater footfall because of this but maintaining meaningful and reliable statistics proved unsatisfactory.

When the library is closed the building is used for regular meetings, talks and school visits and maintenance is carried out.

Issue figures have dropped in line with the Dorset library service figures, but at certain periods, less than the service overall. The issue figures may be affected by the fact that the library does not have a DVD or talking book collection. Borrowers can request these items online and collect; they may also browse and select from another Dorset library.

Events and activities

Colehill community library seeks to encourage adults and children within the community to use the library and facilitate their participation in local and national reading and other library initiatives, eg the Summer Reading Challenge and reading groups.

An extensive range of activities and events are on offer including:

  • toddler rhyme time
  • Colour It: classes in colouring and watercolour painting, for which all the equipment is provided
  • Life on the Hill, a library community writing project which will include short stories, poems and accounts of everyday life in Colehill - related creative writing sessions are offered
  • family history sessions
  • IT help for getting started on smartphones or tablets: one-to-one half hour sessions
  • a local history group engaged in increasing and facilitating access to Colehill’s local history collection
  • one off talks on wide-ranging subjects eg dementia, the life of bees, and how to start writing

Lessons learnt / outcomes

Three years into managing a community library, experience would indicate that there are several critical points for ensuring the library’s survival:

  • continued financial and professional support of the county library service
  • continued financial support of the Parish Council
  • enthusiastic support of a significant multi-skilled, educated and largely retired volunteer body which is bolstered by teenagers involved with the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme
  • strong co-ordination of the many different activities arising from running a community library
  • acceptance that being staffed entirely by a necessarily large and variable volunteer force means that even basic training and reinforcement is a never ending task

Key achievements include:

  • undertaking refurbishment:
    • internally: redecorating throughout, new notice boards and displays, increasing shelving capacity, and introducing some flexible shelving
    • externally: painting outside of the building, laying new and replacing old pathways, new notice board, bike racks and dog posts, new frontage and double glazed front door, extensive work on the grounds achieving a Dorset Wildlife Trust wildlife friendly award
  • creating opportunities for the community to use the space by arranging special interest groups and talks
  • becoming a hub of the community and providing local volunteering opportunities as well as a welcoming and safe environment for vulnerable and lonely members of the community

Challenges/ Future Plans

The management board would like to reorganise the floorspace of the library so that there would be more room for activities. The rolling agreement is deemed as essential for future service planning.

For further information see their website: Colehill community library Or their Facebook page

Published 23 March 2016