Our library – now ‘managed by the community’

This week sees the beginning of a whole new regime at Blythe Bridge Library, (the local library to us in Draycott).

As soon as you walk in the building you’ll notice the changes – and that is because, for the first time for over fifty years, the county council is no longer in control.
Blythe Bridge Library is now being run by a neighbourhood-based community organisation, the ‘Care & Fun’ charity.

Community-managed

Twelve months ago, Staffordshire County Council announced proposals to shrink its library service. It told us that only the main town libraries (like Cheadle) would be fully supported.  Smaller ones (like Blythe Bridge) would need to look to community support.
Not everyone was happy about this decision; it does look suspiciously like more cuts.

However, the move seems to have worked out for us in this district, because Care & Fun – which already maintains the pre-school nursery at William Amory Primary – stepped up, and said they’d take on the library’s management.
Care & Fun is basically a local charitable organisation – with trustees etc – which backs certain local projects.  None of the trustees – not even the chairperson, Helen Bickerton – gets paid, though any professionals working for the projects (like the nursery workers) do.

Blythe Bridge Library

Blythe Bridge Library

Why did the trustees at Care & Fun think that this ‘community-managed library’ would be a good project to back?  “Because it is the open centre of this district”, says Helen. “Everybody needs to come here, sooner or later!”

Volunteers

The way the new Blythe Bridge Library ‘Centre’ will work is totally local in form, i.e. totally using volunteers from the surrounding area.  Sixteen volunteers will be needed, plus two volunteer caretakers.
It’s expected that there will be a turn-over of staff too, so training is going on for new volunteers all the time.
A professional librarian, Michelle Forrester, who is based at Leek, will be on hand to respond though, if there are major issues.

What sorts of volunteers are needed?  Specialist ones?  No, not at all.  Actually, the roles won’t be that difficult – though computer awareness would be a bonus.
“It’s no harder than working in a shop” one volunteer told us.

All the ‘complicated’ stuff will still be done by the county council:  books will still be brought in, managed and paid for by the county council, and the building and its computers still belong to the council, though Care & Fun do pay a ‘peppercorn rent’.

New ideas for use

Because all the boring stuff is taken care of by the council, it means the new centre can start to think about new initiatives.   And because Care & Fun doesn’t have restrictions on it like the county council did, it can invite sponsorship for special events or for special mini-projects.  It has also more freedom on whom it can encourage to use the library – for example, small theatre events could be put on.

Certainly the charity is wanting to hear from local people and organisations who could use the spaces in the centre – whether for meetings or art-displays … or, well, whatever!
Already the ‘Toy Library’, which used to be in Forsbrook, is relocating to the centre.

In fact Care & Fun have to be congratulated on the fact that Blythe Bridge is the only library in the Moorlands so far to negotiate successfully for some adult-education classes.  Leek College Outreach is putting on two classes at the library, both starting this week.

Future

However, as everything has happened very quickly, there are still some fiddly things to sort out.
What is a ‘fair’ hire-charge for rooms, for example? Will the new centre, which has to stay solvent, be able to be as generous as the county council were?
What about the labour-intensive tasks, like taking books to housebound people?
Will free story-telling sessions be able to continue?

The only way for us to influence the answers to these questions is for us all to make a habit of dropping in to the new ‘library-centre’ now and again, and keep checking out what’s going on.
Helen Bickerton is clear: “Please keep using the library-centre… In a very real sense, it is now a project for everyone – almost more than ever.”

If you would like to volunteer, just drop in some time and have a chat (for opening times, click here), or drop an email to careandfun@live.co.uk.  (It’s the same email address for any other questions).
Even if you had your doubts when the policy of ‘volunteer-libraries’ was first suggested, you may want to drop in and take a look at how things are changing.  In this instance we do have a truly local initiative; and that aspect of the project alone must surely give it the benefit of the doubt!

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For your diary, at Blythe Bridge Library Centre
Every third Monday is ‘Job Club’
The ‘Altered Books’ craft class runs for five Saturdays (10-12) from 16th April – £45
Spanish For Holidays runs for nine Wednesdays (7pm-9pm) from 13th April – £81
For details on these last two adult education classes, see: blc.ac.uk courses
Care & fun

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