Enterprising communities help save libraries and call for “more influence over commissioning”
Locality’s Enterprising Community Libraries event on 5 March at the Idea Store in Whitechapel brought together over 125 representatives from library authorities and community libraries from across the UK.
Established community libraries are now giving inspiration to others trying to save their local library in the midst of cuts and transform them into fit-for-purpose facilities for the 21st century.
Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture, and Don Foster MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government, took part in a question session, with community libraries calling for greater involvement in the commissioning of library services to maintain this vitally important service for future generations.
Annemarie Naylor, Head of Assets at Locality, said: “This is the largest ever gathering of community libraries and has helped grow Locality’s national network for sharing learning and innovation among community enterprise practitioners.
“We’re seeing libraries being co-located with a broad range of other services in community owned assets, for example, cafes, arts activities and children’s centres. In order to make these community enterprises viable for the long term, there needs to be a “presumption of partnership” with local authorities where library service transformation is concerned, and a greater say over commissioning efforts to underpin genuine co-production of this immensely important service.”
The event showcased some of the most innovative approaches to income generation used by existing community enterprises to help community library start-ups – with technology recycling explored by Eco Computers, the introduction of a community cinema to augment the library service by Fresh Horizons in Yorkshire, and others still involved in the co-location of contemporary hacker and maker spaces with independent creative industry libraries.
It also highlighted some of the challenges encountered by communities endeavouring to take responsibility for library assets and services – whether in relation to business planning, the initial set-up phase, establishing access to library management and other IT systems, or more generally ensuring the sustainability of community libraries now and in the future.
There are a range of free resources to help communities who want to take control of their local library asset and/or service: for example, the My Community Rights advice service offers support in relation to community asset transfer, use of the Community Right to Bid and Right to Challenge, as well as signposting to relevant grants , whilst the Libraries Community Knowledge Hub facilitates online peer networking for councils and communities through the provision of resources being used around the country and the promotion of good practice.