Case study

Community managed libraries: Gargrave and Malhamdale library, North Yorkshire

Case study to support the research report: Exploring the service effectiveness and sustainability of community managed libraries in England

Gargrave and Malhamdale library
Gargrave and Malhamdale library. Photo credit: Gargrave and Malhamdale library

This case study is one of nine created by SERIO as part of their research into the service effectiveness and sustainability of community managed libraries in England. SERIO is an applied research unit at Plymouth University.

Background

Situated south of the Yorkshire Dales, Gargrave and Malhamdale community library is based in the centre of the village of Gargrave, which has a population of approximately 1,700. Amidst a savings review by North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) in 2012, the library was set for closure unless a suitable organisation agreed to provide the building and finance; in return, NYCC would provide in kind support. The local authority run library was originally based in a rented room in the local village hall. As such, the volunteer committee who now manage the community library entered into an agreement with the village hall committee to continue renting the room. The library initially closed for a matter of weeks, whilst it underwent building works, and on 5 May 2012, the library reopened as a community library, with charitable status.

Finance

For the library’s first 3 years of operation as a community library, the local parish council paid the rent on the premises in the village hall. This support ceased in 2016, however; since then the library has made sufficient annual income to cover the cost of rent.

Other support

NYCC provide the library with in kind support such as:

  • book stock
  • access to the Library Management System
  • 2 computers
  • a self-issue terminal
  • photocopiers
  • a scanner
  • a telephone system

In addition, from 2016, the library was also able to offer free wifi due to the Libraries Taskforce securing funding to roll out free wifi in public libraries across England. NYCC also offers support from dedicated paid staff who provide technical support and training.

Relationship with stakeholders

Gargrave and Malhamdale library has a formal service level agreement with NYCC whereby the library must deliver an agreed core service and meet certain targets. The library meets with a representative from NYCC at least once a month to cover any issues the library is having, although the library highlights how major issues are currently dealt with directly via email with NYCC rather than waiting for the monthly meeting.

The library believes it has a good relationship with NYCC and it understands the complex nature of the role that NYCC play. Moving forward, it sees this relationship continuing as NYCC work together with the libraries which will be run by volunteers as of April 2017.

As far as I’m concerned our relationship with North Yorkshire County Council is good. I get on very well with my contact at the council, and we appreciate that sometimes the restrictions that are placed on [council] employees and we can’t always get a straight answer and I think over years we’ve come to accept this.

(Gargrave and Malhamdale community library representative)

User profile

Most registered users at the library come from the village of Gargrave as well as the surrounding Dales villages. However the library also serves a minority of users from outside of the immediate resident community area. For example, one family who regularly use the library live outside North Yorkshire; however they often come to Gargrave for ballet lessons in the village hall, and subsequently use the library when they visit the area.

We do have one family registered with us who don’t even live in North Yorkshire. But because their daughter comes to ballet lessons in the village hall, they’ve registered with us because they like the little library and the parents come and chose their books whilst their daughter is in the lesson, and then after the lesson, the daughter comes in and chooses hers.

(Gargrave and Malhamdale community library representative)

The library describes the make-up of its users to be “across the board” with regards to those who are more disadvantaged or affluent. Its adult members are predominantly over the age of 50, mostly female; and junior members again are mostly female.

In order to maintain user satisfaction, Gargrave and Malhamdale library believe that the friendliness, willingness and helpfulness of volunteers is fundamental. Users recognise that volunteers try their best to help them and understand that they are not professional librarians.

Furthermore, users are appreciative that volunteers have kept the library running when otherwise it would have closed.

Library volunteers

Gargrave and Malhamdale community library currently has around 20 volunteers; around 80% are over the age of 60, and 20% are aged between 25 and 59. The number of volunteers has remained fairly static over the 3 three years. The library comments on how occasionally volunteers leave due to other commitments or because they move away from the area, but it is able to quickly recruit new volunteers as and when this happens.

From April 2017, the library will be responsible for a home delivery service, delivering books to people unable to get to the library, and is actively seeking more volunteers who will help with this. However, in general, the library envisages maintaining the current number of volunteers, mostly because it opens for 12 hours per week and only requires 2 volunteers for each 3 hour shift. If the library recruit too many volunteers, this would reduce the amount of times each volunteer can complete a shift, and as such may lose interest

Currently, volunteers receive in house training on information / database control, use of internet resources, and training on the Library Management System. Initially, this programme of training was delivered by NYCC, however the library now feels it has the experience to manage this training itself. The library currently provides new volunteers with a training manual, but perceives on-the-job training with more experienced members of the team as much more effective. As such, the library does not have any additional formal training needs for their volunteers.

When any new volunteer comes, there’s a training manual, and my belief is that you learn far better when you’re doing the job. So I encourage new volunteers to go on duty with the more experienced volunteers, because they learn as they go along. There’s a handbook there so if they come across a problem, that will show them what to do. We don’t have any specific training needs because on-hand experience is worth far more than a training session and we feel it’s a model that works.

(Gargrave and Malhamdale community library representative)

The library feels that the largest challenge in managing volunteers relates to training. When it holds specific in-house training sessions, arranging for all volunteers to be present at the same time is particularly difficult, and as such it tends to need to hold multiple sessions to accommodate all of the volunteers’ needs. Moreover, ensuring there are enough volunteers to cover the required opening hours and guarantee that the library stays open can be challenge. The library reports that as the majority of volunteers are retired and sometimes have other commitments, this can be problematic at times.

The library maintains volunteer satisfaction by creating a friendly atmosphere to work in and having an appointed person to speak to about any problems, should they ever need to.

If they have any problems they know I’m always available to help them. They also know if I can’t resolve the issue, I’ll find someone who can. It’s a very friendly atmosphere amongst volunteers and borrowers alike.

(Gargrave and Malhamdale community library representative)

Service delivery

Gargrave and Malhamdale library offers the full range of core services:

  • book loans
  • newspapers / magazines available in library
  • inter-library loan service
  • national programmes for example the Summer Reading Challenge, Quick Reads and Books on Prescription
  • DVD / CD loans
  • photocopying / printing
  • wifi
  • computer access

Additionally, the library offers the following enhanced services:

  • digital skills classes or training
  • e-book loans
  • e-magazines / e-newspapers
  • community events
  • database research (such as genealogy databases)

The library considers the most successful aspect of the services it delivers to be simply keeping the library running, and delivering a service that people value, when otherwise it would be closed.

I do feel people value having a library. If it wasn’t in this village, people would have to travel into Skipton, and library use would probably decrease because people would have to go a lot further out of their way to borrow and return books, which would probably deter a lot of people.

(Gargrave and Malhamdale community library representative)

Additional, less tangible benefits cited by the library include bringing a sense of community to the village and surrounding area. Furthermore, the library feels it provides volunteers with a sense of purpose, as well as social contact for those who may be isolated.

It’s nice to have a sense of purpose for the volunteers, knowing you’re providing a service that people value. Also if people come and borrow a book, they might have had a chat with someone, when they might have not had any contact with anyone else that day. Also, because we have a home service that runs from the library, some of the people who benefit from that service may not have any other contact other than the person delivering those books, which is a social benefit.

(Gargrave and Malhamdale community library representative)

Due to the library being particularly small, the range of services it can provide is currently restricted. The library feels it has maximised use of the space it has at present, and as such does not feel it can improve on its current offer.

Sustainability

Gargrave and Malhamdale library believes that the in kind support they receive from NYCC will continue. It has a new service level agreement which started in April 2017, however the council has not indicated that there will be any notable changes to the support it will provide.

With regards to paid for services, the library currently generates income from photocopying, printing, and charges for requesting books and audio books. This income has remained approximately the same over the last 3 years because charges are currently determined by NYCC which has kept them as they were.

When the library first opened as a community managed library, the management committee wrote to every household in the resident area asking if they would be willing to contribute to the running of the library. This initially raised over £5,000. Since then, the library has held a number of fundraising events such as film nights, talks, and a coffee morning once a year. This activity has increased the library’s income by £1,500 in the last 3 years.

The library also has a “100 Club”, where people pay £2.50 a month to be entered into a monthly draw where they can win a variety of different prizes. Currently, there are 107 people who belong to the club; prizes are controlled by the Charity Commission and the library is obliged to offer a certain amount of the income raised in prizes. Overall, income from fundraising has significantly increased over the last 3 years, predominantly because of the 100 Club, but also because the film nights are particularly popular.

The film nights have become very popular. In 2015, when the Tour de France came through our village, we held a special film night. Instead of having seats in rows, we set it in the style of a cafe with tables and chairs and people brought their own refreshments, which makes it a very social evening and the film we watched was very popular in the village.

(Gargrave and Malhamdale community library representative)

The library considers both the 100 Club and film nights to provide the library with the most benefit in terms of future sustainability. The 100 Club provides “a reliable income” which can cover rent and service charges such as heating, lighting and cleaning. Moreover, although the income from film nights fluctuates depending on the weather and type of film the library is showing, they generally raise around £200 after hiring the village hall. In addition, the library often runs a raffle at the film nights, with prizes contributed from the community, which can generate around £50-80 over the evening.

Gargrave and Malhamdale library describes itself as “very confident” in raising income from paid for services and fundraising due to the continued support from the local community.

We’re very confident because of the ambience of whole village; people support things, all things that go on in the village. We have members of the 100 Club who don’t use the library, and we have people who come to the film nights who don’t use the library, but they know how valuable the library is to other people, so they’re willing to come and support us and they get a good evening out.

(Gargrave and Malhamdale community library representative)

The library states that the only barrier to securing such income would be if it were unable to hire the films. An external organisation which also relies on funding currently provides the films, and if this relationship were to cease, the library recognises that income would decrease. However, it also believes that if this were to happen, it could easily devise another income generating activity. Gargrave and Malhamdale perceives other sources of income, other than that provided by NYCC as “very important” to the future sustainability of the library, and is “reasonably comfortable” with income generating activity.

It’s a shame we have to fundraise. It would be better if it were funded as it used to be funded, and it feels like you’re taxing people to have a library. But it is what it is, and we just get on with it. The majority of us feel that it’s something that’s been landed on us but because our belief in having libraries is so great, that’s why we do it.

(Gargrave and Malhamdale community library representative)

Future direction and support

Although Gargrave and Malhamdale library has not received any financial support from NYCC to date, the council has recently confirmed it has will cover a proportion of the library’s rent and service charges in the future. In addition, NYCC announced in December 2016, that it has also allocated £4,000 for the financial year 2017/18, which can be used to cover costs for decorating and furniture. However, the library is currently unaware whether it will need to tender for this funding or if there will be any restrictions on what the funding can be spent on. Moreover, it is unsure whether funding will be available in future years.

Barriers to growth identified by the library include funding and building restrictions; although the library has a children’s section, it feels it would be beneficial to have an area where they could run ‘Storytime’ for children. Furthermore, the library feels it would benefit from generally having more room to offer a wider range of books; however because of the limited space in the library at present, this is not feasible without considerable financial input to adapt the premises.

We wouldn’t mind a bigger building. We’d like to extend the building if funds became available. There are plans that have already been drawn up but we would need to raise an awful lot of money in order to do that. We could have a drive to get funding, but in this day and age people’s pockets have a bottom and when so many cuts are being made for other services, it’s a low priority.

(Gargrave and Malhamdale community library representative)

With regards to any additional support need to undertake income generation, the library reports that this is dependent on the amount of funding it receives from NYCC. This will dictate how much it needs to rely upon fundraising and other income generating activity. However, currently the library believes it does not need any additional support in this area.

Although the library believes it has the support it needs, Gargrave and Malhamdale library highlights the importance of paid employees and the breadth of knowledge and expertise they have which it feels is not easily transferrable to volunteers. The library suggests that there could be national support in further training for volunteers to expand their knowledge, however it feels that training volunteers as qualified librarians is unrealistic.

When we had paid librarians, when you returned books, they would say “oh we’ve got a new book, this would suit you” whereas volunteers don’t necessarily, they possibly read what they’re interested in, but librarians have the breadth of knowledge and would know immediately where to go or other authors to suggest.

(Gargrave and Malhamdale community library representative)

Overall, the library is “very confident” about its sustainability for the future. Regardless of the increase in use of electronic devices to access books, the library’s experience tells it that people still “like to have a book in their hand”.

The views and opinions expressed in these case studies are those of the community libraries and do not represent those of SERIO, the Libraries Taskforce or DCMS.

Published 5 September 2017