Community Library Services

Community organisations taking on libraries may end up delivering a range of services. This topic highlights some of the key elements of developing a core library service relating to the lending of books and printed matter. Community organisations taking over library buildings or services may be seeking to deliver a book lending service to a greater or lesser extent, but the following issues need to be considered in any instance.

Professional advice should be sought to advise on the running of a library. If transferring from an authority they may be able to offer training to provide any volunteers and staff with an introduction to important tasks, processes and considerations.

A key consideration which will affect many decisions about the service will be whether or not the service is part of the library authorities statutory library service, this is explained in more detail here:

If your library is to be considered a part of the Public Library Service it would be reasonable to expect support with this through the Library Authorities existing network which is likely to include a central stock buying function, access to the library information management system, and inter-library loans. If operating independently, an organisation will need to think through how it will function effectively without the authorities support.

Purchasing Books

Local authorities benefit from large buying power to get bulk discounts on book purchases. Many authorities are also collaborating with others through buying consortia to increase their buying power and bring down costs. Being part of such a scheme can be beneficial and can also be linked to book selection support. A library authority may choose to purchase and retain ownership of books help in a community library as this will aid integration with the wider service. This arrangement also means that the community organisations don’t need to budget for or purchase its own stock.
There are some libraries that operate independently sourcing their own books from a range of sources including donations and purchases. Although such an arrangement lacks buying power, the flexibility to shop around means that book buying isn’t always more expensive, but it is likely to be labour intensive. In this arrangement the organisation will need to have a source of income to fund the purchasing of books.
Community libraries can also purchase books direct through specialist book wholesalers. Although unlikely to benefit from the buying power of local authority consortiums special discounts may be able to be negotiated for community led and charitable organisations. Independent community libraries may also be able to establish buying consortia with other community libraries to bring down costs.

Stock Selection

Ensuring a suitably diverse and appropriate range of materials is something that needs careful consideration as it will have a direct impact on the number and type of users and book issues you achieve. In a local authority, this function is usually performed by a qualified librarian, often working centrally to serve several different libraries in an area. Community organisations seeking to take responsibility for their own stock selection should seek professional advice and support to ensure that their collections are suitable and appropriate for the communities they are based in. It may be possible to buy in professional support to assist with this.

Book Donations

Many community libraries receive a significant amount of donated stock. As well as donations from local residents, it may be possible to secure regular bulk donations from a range of sources, e.g. surplus / removed stock from other libraries (public, private or academic) or donations from book suppliers.
It is worth noting that relying on book donations alone is unlikely to result in a well-balanced selection of books, or new releases. If a current, varied and high quality book selection is required then donated stock will need to be supplemented by purchased stock. Surplus donated stock can be sold to generate income so an “accept everything” policy is adopted in some libraries, even if it doesn’t end up on the shelves for loan.

All stock obtained for the purpose of lending will need processing to prepare it for lending. Traditionally a tickets and stamps were used to track books, but most libraries now use electronic databases to manage stock. This involves generating and printing bar codes for all new stock to add onto the system. Depending on your book stocking arrangement it could arrive shelf ready, or it could require a significant amount of time to process before it is ready for lending.

Library Management Systems

A Library Management System (LMS), or an Integrated Library System (ILS), is the software interface and database that library services use to manage data relating to collections and users. There are many different systems in operation across different authority boundaries.
It is important for community organisations and local authorities to consider how a community managed library will integrate with the public library information management service. Each authority will take a different view on issues such as network security and data protection which will have an impact on the level of integration possible with a community run library. In some examples, community organisations have been granted full access to systems; in others access has been restricted to basic functions to enable the checking in and out of books, but restricting access to other functions such as the ability to register new users. Other authorities may restrict access to the system to community organisations altogether.
Licensing arrangements may mean that there are revenue implications related to the provision of access to the system. It is therefore important that both community organisations and local authorities are clear who will be responsible for any related fees or charges.

Inter-Library Loans

An important consideration for community organisations and authorities is how the library may relate to others in terms of inter-library loans on both a local, regional, and national scale. This is likely to be particularly important for small community libraries that have limited capacity to hold stock.
Lending Rights
All community libraries should satisfy themselves that they are not in breach of copyright by lending or renting materials to the public. The Department for Culture Media and Sport have published some guidance on the public lending rights and how they apply in community libraries.

IT and Equipment

Unless you have an agreement with your local authority or some other library provider, your organisation will be responsible for providing all the necessary equipment to run your library. Remember this includes both hardware (computers, printers, and scanners) and software such as stock management systems.
There are specialist retailers for these kinds of materials and there are also some forms of ‘Open Source’ free software available on-line. It is important to look at the costs and availability of such things before committing to running any kind of service.


All libraries will require some on site presence to ensure security, check books in and out, and, perhaps most importantly provide accessible information and advice to users.  Community libraries need to give careful consideration to staffing and volunteer issues. Effective customer relationships are absolutely critical for a community library. Many libraries now have self-check out machines, which although expensive can help free up staff and volunteer time and may save money in the longer term.
Managing staff and volunteers is referred to later in this guide:

Supporting Functions

In addition to such technological infrastructure you will also need to consider what systemic infrastructure lies behind the library such as cataloguing, book delivery, Human Resource (HR) management and other administrative functions. While you may not need to operate at the scale of the existing library, or in the same manner, the basic elements of all of these tasks will need to be done by someone. You should begin planning how this will be done as early as possible to allow time for creative solutions to develop

Beyond the basic availability of stock and its procurement you’ll also need to consider the resources required for sorting, cleaning, shelving, classifying, cataloguing, and issuing materials; and then managing borrowers’ accounts e.g. sending reminder notes etc. How you manage the details of borrowers’ accounts will also have to fall within the regulations of the Data Protection Act 1998 and other legislation such as the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003. See the ICO featured link for further information.



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