Community involvement in public libraries

The government is keen on increasing community involvement in public services. Some libararians are too.

How could this work in practice?

Friends groups could be broadened.

New community library committee/boards could be formed. These could be constructed on the lines of SACREs, the community bodies responsible for RE syllabi. Essentially this would mean drawing up a schedule of membership to ensure that all groups are represented- ethnic, age, gender, users, staff and the council.

What would the role of such a body be? Legally the council is responsible for libraries. They might be able to devolve such a role to a Board, so long as a council member was part of said board.  Or, more likely, the board could act as an oversight body, keeping both staff and councils honest.

Such a body would have a potential cost, mostly admin, and this would need to be balanced against the potential benefits. These would include (one would hope) long term vision, engagement and a real user focus.


9 Responses to Community involvement in public libraries

  1. Miriam Palfrey says:

    An additional benefit would be a ready-made network for the promotion of library services and events.

    How are group members selected though and how long would they serve on the board?

    Who ensures that conflicting interests are resolved to the benefit of the whole community?

    Staff representitives would have to do a lot of work in order to inform the entire board of relevent data regarding various groups. Would this be any better than doing the same work and visiting representitives of that group individually (as many outreach workers already do)?

    I’m sure that there are ways around all of this but it is also possible that this would exchange one layer of political complications for another.

  2. Tim says:

    There are already some very good groups. In Lambeth, the Friends of Herne Hill Carnegie library are a model. They certainly don’t cost anything- they do it because they want to- passionately.

    The problem lies in having the courage to listen to what they say.

  3. Pete says:

    That is *one* problem certainly. And not a problem limited to libraries.

    There is also the courage to balance what they say against all the other voices.

  4. Tim says:

    The truth is that the librarians and the council in Lambeth couldn’t run an egg and spoon race.

  5. Pete says:

    Well I cannot speak to that issue. Good to see that you name your local library service though. Have you told *them* what you feel? Directly?

  6. Tim says:


    They aren’t my local service– but have a look at their figures, as I have been teaching you to do.

    (And yes, I have often told them they are the worst service in England- but they don’t take any notice of me or their residents! That’s the game)

  7. Pete says:

    No? Fair enough. As a Londoner I guess you’d know something about the service from visits as well as figures.

    As for teaching, well, I have always looked at the figures. And tried to find the context. Even knowing the figures wouldn’t tell the whole story.

    I am curious- pace the Welsh league tables- what is a good loans/resident figure? Average? What is the standard against which they are measured?

    Councillors of all stripes don’t listen to their residents, I have found. Sections of their communties, perhaps, and their parties certainly.

  8. Tim says:

    No, Pete, it’s the librarians in Lambeth who resolutely won’t listen to the residents.

  9. Pete says:

    Really? What have the residents been asking for? And how? And how many residents? And how have the librarians been manifesting their refusal to listen?
    It’s not that I don’t believe you Tim, it’s just that- as you say- we need evidence.
    Oh and my question still stands- what is a good loans/resident figure?

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