Supporting sustainable library transfer
The approach that local authorities take when engaging with the community on library service transfer will have a direct influence on the proposals and viability of the community libraries. Although there is not magic recipe to ensure transferred libraries will be sustainable and effective, the following characteristics are likely to result in more viable solutions.
Time to develop proposals, assess feasibility and develop business plans is vital. Feasibility studies and viable business plans cannot be created overnight, and are reliant upon thorough research, planning and development work.
There is logic in the mantra “invest to save”. We know that effective start-up support can influence whether a new community venture succeeds or fails. Local Authorities should signpost communities and look to link start-up revenue to appropriate support. Support may be needed to address various legal, asset and enterprise related issues.
Where councils are seeking to out-source library service management, it is reasonable that they should contribute revenue finance for ongoing library service provision.
Anyone developing a business plan or service needs access to information about the asset and/or service they are taking on. Local Authorities can help encourage quality proposals by being pro-active in providing the information communities will need to assess current demand and forecast running costs.
Asset transfer can open up new opportunities for financing capital improvements – helping to bring under-used and under-invested assets back to life. A partnership approach and an openness to discussing capital investment can make the difference between a community asset and a liability.
Supporting integration into a Local Authority’s library management system, book stocking and inter-library loans can be vitally important and potentially differentiates a vibrant community library from a room full of poor quality books!
Local Authorities are well-placed to provide training and guidance in the use of their own systems for organisations new to delivering library services and should plan for this to enable successful transitions.
Ongoing professional staff support, or access to peripatetic library staff, can help ensure quality of service and prevent community run libraries becoming a second rate service.
Asset transfer policies should be clear and provide opportunities for community organisations to take ownership of assets on appropriate terms that enable flexible asset development. For further information, or to download a model strategy, visit the ATU legal toolkit and strategy guidance.
Service Level Agreements with flexible outputs and conditions allow for more enterprising and sustainable business models. Remember – community organisations need the ability to respond to changing local needs and demands over time.
Local Authorities should view library transfer as the start of a partnership – a beginning and not the end. Opportunities for engaging community organisations in the provision of related services, or renting back space to house other services can help sustain community libraries.