Margaret Adjaye is Co-Director of Upper Norwood Library Hub – a vibrant library hub located in Crystal Palace. Ahead of the Community-Managed Libraries Conference on Tuesday 20th March, she talks to Library of Things Co-Director Rebecca Trevalyan about how community-managed libraries are working with local people and councils to offer books plus an exciting range of community-powered activities.
Margaret, what's your story – how did you end up working for a Community Managed Library?
I was working for Locality, a national membership organisation supporting community businesses like community-led pubs, libraries, parks, arts centres, renewable energy, cafes and more. In 2016, following redundancy, I decided to do something very different – work in the community, work closer to home and take on projects that align with my strengths and passions. I saw the opportunity to be a Hub Director of Upper Norwood Library Hub in my local newspaper – and I went for it!
So what is a community-managed library?
Today we are seeing many local people stepping up to make sure their libraries are open and thriving both now and into the future. This shouldn't overshadow the important role that traditional libraries have always played – and continue to play – in their communities.
'Community Managed Libraries are community-led and largely community delivered, rarely with paid staff, but often with professional support and some form of ongoing local authority support' (definition taken from this report).
Upper Norwood Library Hub is a social enterprise with charitable status, and has the following characteristics:
Local authority support. Lambeth and Croydon Council support us. Lambeth Library Services provide a professional library service.
Community-led. Trustees, staff and decision makers are largely from the community and take an active role in managing and developing the organisation.
Activities are largely delivered by the community. Local people mobilise themselves to deliver activities like free digital inclusion classes, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), book clubs, wellbeing workshops and more.
Income generation to maintain the building and services. I like the idea of a social enterprise that takes on and runs a community building and offers an array of useful services. At the heart of this should remain a professional book library service, in our case it is provided by a professional team from Lambeth Library Services.
Whilst a number of community-managed libraries are volunteer-led, Upper Norwood Library Hub has paid staff and we work closely with Lambeth Library Services. As much as possible we try to generate our own income, so that we can reinvest that money back into the community.
Which of these Community Managed Libraries inspire you most?
I am absolutely inspired by the Archibald Corbett Community Library, Arts and Heritage Centre managed by 60 volunteers and an inspiring leader call Peter Rankin, someone I knew from my Locality days.
When I walked in, I was greeted with storytelling and singing and met a wonderful gentleman helping a local resident to fill in some forms. He spoke about his work with such passion.
This got me thinking about how we mobilise volunteers at Upper Norwood Library Hub.
There are many of these libraries eg Garden Suburb Community Library, Primrose Hill Community Library and more, all involved in the Community Managed Libraries Peer Network which UNLH coordinates. Like all libraries up and down the country they inspire a passion for books and learning and offer invaluable services to their local communities.
At UNLH, we have people like Wendy. She has a part-time job in publishing, but comes in every Tuesday to support our beginner English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) course. Classes are attended by a whole mix of people – refugees who’ve just arrived in the country, people who want to improve their English speaking skills in order to secure/change their jobs, parents who want to spend more time supporting their children at home – we’ve even had an actor who was looking to improve their English.. Wendy is warm, patient and genuinely loves what she’s doing.
Every time I walk into Upper Norwood Library Hub, I see a diverse mix of people doing all sorts of activities. The place feels alive! What are you doing to bring so many people through the doors?
Well, we have a coffee shop at the front of the library run by a local woman called Pett. Monday nights we have ballet classes, Tuesdays we have activities for parents and children, Wednesdays and Thursdays we have Homework Club for young people, we have book clubs, mindfulness classes, art classes – nearly all run by local people. Sometimes you pay a small fee to join, but many are free.
There’s a Dementia Club for people with dementia and their carers. Caring for others can be isolating sometimes, and having a Dementia Club creates space for carers, providers and service users to network, chat and share their experiences!
Soon you’ll be able to borrow a bike for the day too, cycle around the park, even form a bike club.
And Library of Things is opening on 21st April! Our community partner, Crystal Palace Transition Town, led a crowdfunding campaign to make it happen. It has really energised the community here. Interestingly we will be the first Library nationally to have a Library of Things in our Library Hub - exciting!
So now you can come into our Library Hub to borrow books, bikes, drills, sewing machines, ukuleles and more, have a coffee, meet your friends and neighbours, dance, sing, learn, draw… It’s about books and more!
I would love to have an electric car charging facility in the library hub so you can charge your electric car! Watch this space.
What challenges are community-managed libraries facing?
Funding, time and capacity and is one, volunteer retention can be another.
At Upper Norwood Library Hub, my Co-Director Emily and I always try to come up with some big ideas, write fundraising bids to make them happen, and then implement them. We’re supposed to work 3 days a week, but the reality is that we work 7 days a week! We need to bring in more hands, and for that we need more income.
Like some Victorian buildings, it can cost a huge amount to maintain the building - it has a huge heating bill during the winter.
It will be great to have a leadership programme designed specifically for Community Managed libraries. The programme will also help us to build a pipeline of local people ready to replace volunteers that move on.
By the way, I hear you have your first Community-Managed Libraries Conference taking place on 20th March. Tell me more……..
Upper Norwood Library Hub coordinates the Community Managed Libraries (CML) Peer Network in partnership with Locality, the Society for Chief Librarians and the Libraries Taskforce.
Established in 2016, the CML Peer Network covers the full spectrum of CMLs from independently funded to those who receive local authority support. We currently have 210 members.
On 20th March, we are hosting our first national conference – a conference for these libraries to support each other to thrive. We have around 90 people attending.
The conference creates space for CMLs to network, share their experiences, learn from each other and people from other sectors. There will be workshops, surgeries, a visit to a community-managed library and table discussions.
We will publish a blog and report following the conference. You can access the CML blog pages here: https://communitylibrariesnetwork.wordpress.com/ It is full of resources, case studies and shared learning opportunities.
Crystal Palace Library of Things will be opening in Upper Norwood Library Hub on 21st April 2018, in partnership with Crystal Palace Transition Town. Sign up here to hear more.