Case study

Community library: Harbury, Warwickshire

Overview of a community library from the perspective of the community

Harbury Village Library logo, based on a piece of stained glass artwork created by one of the library volunteeers, Tony Estick
Harbury Village Library logo, based on a piece of stained glass artwork created by one of the library volunteeers, Tony Estick

Community library model and governance

In 2010 Harbury Village Library was one of 17 libraries that was going to be closed as part of Warwickshire County Council’s (WCC) spending cuts. Led by the local county councillor and the chair of Harbury Parish Council, a pro-active consultation process began with WCC, for the village to take over responsibility for the service as a community library. A local meeting held in March 2010, was attended by 100 people and a survey in the summer of 2011 confirmed that 80% of respondents supported the continued presence of a library in the village. Harbury Village Library now operates as a charitable trust.

Agreement with the local council / funding

Through an agreement with WCC, Harbury Village Library receives:

  • new stock and help with stock selection, supply and delivery
  • access to the local authority catalogue, book stock and interlibrary loans
  • 4 desktop computers and minimal IT support to maintain the library network
  • £500 to cover the broadband costs
  • existing fixtures and fittings
  • training for volunteers
  • a procedure manual and telephone helpline
  • quarterly visits from a library officer
  • network meetings for updates, training and good practice

Other funding resources

WCC had set up a £100,000 fund in association with the Big Society Fund to establish a number of community libraries. Harbury library secured £7,000 for cafe equipment after a successful bid. A further grant for approximately £15,000 was awarded by the Community Libraries Capital Fund for the cost of adapting the building to include a cafe. Another successful bid was made to the Community Grants Fund for £3,000 to cover the costs of internet and computer related costs such as a new printer.

An existing village environmental group, the Harbury Energy Initiative successfully applied for a substantial insulation grant from the Local Environment Action Fund which has reduced heating costs. (Gas and electricity are still the largest ongoing costs at £2,500.)

The building is owned by the parochial church council which WCC leased from the church in 1973. Under the terms of the lease WCC had to renovate the fabric of the building before it left. This has resulted in essential building work taking place (at a cost in the region of 6 figures). This work included:

  • a new roof
  • new guttering
  • a new outside fence
  • the installation of a new floor

The parish council have underwritten the first 3 years of operation.

Since the opening, the library also received funding from:

  • Biblio’s cafe
  • one-off payments from developers of new local housing schemes
  • on-going local art exhibitions
  • hiring charges

Role of the community

A committee of 4 people was formed to put together a business case, this included the chair of the parish council. The skills range of the committee included volunteers with business expertise and librarian experience. An additional member had extensive catering experience and this was useful as they intended to set up a volunteer run internet cafe to help fund the community library.

Volunteers

After extensive refurbishment the library reopened in May 2012. Initial IT expertise was provided by local people who set up the computers and the (Book Cat) system for the Harbury collection. Another volunteer built the cafe counter.

There are currently 50 regular volunteers for the issue desk and 40 volunteers for cafe baking and counter duties. The cafe is open in the mornings from Wednesday to Saturday all year round.

Opening hours

The library was previously open for 2 days per week and is now open for 5 full weekdays and a half day on Saturday.

Events and activities

The library has worked hard to encourage usage by local children and in addition to holiday book schemes initiated by the county library service, they have organised “Tunes and Tales” which has brought in families with babies and toddlers. Other activities include:

  • regular class visits from primary school children supported by the local head teacher which are arranged to help children with their project topics and what Harbury library has to offer
  • a monthly cafe for people with a diagnosis of dementia and their carers
  • weekly sewing classes organised by Village Sewing Bee

Villagers can hire the facilities for regular meetings, such as a book group and a writing group. The building has also been used for talks by local authors, art exhibitions, a tea party and antique valuation sessions, all of which encourages community engagement. There have also been displays of local interest such as information about the recent land slip in the railway cutting and a model of the proposed memorial garden in the church.

Popular activities include:

  • access to e-services such as Ancestry and British Newspaper Archive
  • donated board games in the library to play or borrow

Lessons learnt / outcomes

A major factor in the success of Harbury Village Library has been the 3,100 books donated by villagers or purchased through the library’s Buy a Book Scheme. These books are administered by a separate computer system (Book Cat) which allows them to be kept within the library. This process has added to the quantity and quality of books available locally and over 800 people, a third of the village have signed up to the Village Library Blue Label Collection. A stock of foreign language books previously donated by a twinned town has also been added to and local history stock. A book exchange scheme for books not suitable for library stocks is also well utilised.

Harbury library is an important community asset with its provision of resources to the village including computers, free WiFi, printing and books, as well as the impact of having the social meeting space of the cafe.

Harbury library has acted as an important role model and learning resource for other communities experiencing similar changes to their library services and have received visits and enquiries.

Challenges / future plans

Income generation is essential for community libraries and the Biblio’s cafe has been a real asset in terms of the social and community benefits and the income generated which is approximately £10,000 per year. This money is used to pay the running costs and provide a surplus profit which can be re-invested in new cafe, library and IT equipment as required.

For further information: Harbury Village Library’s website, Facebook page and AGM documents.

Published 17 June 2016