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New research explores community involvement in library services in England

  • Date: 22 January 2013
  • Area: National
Community libraries research 2013 front cover

Community libraries - guiding principles for local authorities.

Arts Council England and the Local Government Association (LGA) have published new research into communities' involvement in library service delivery and management.

The report, Community libraries - Learning from experience: guiding principles for local authorities, provides a snapshot of the various ways communities are involved in library services in England.

It has been produced in partnership with  the Cabinet Office, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Society of Chief Librarians.

Soon 12 per cent of public libraries will have some element of community involvement

There has been rapid growth in community involvement between January 2011 until July 2012 as local authorities and library services have responded to changing times.

The research indicates that in July 2012, five per cent of public libraries had some element of community involvement, and the findings indicate this figure could rise to around 12 per cent in the near future.

The research also shows that 95 per cent of current community managed libraries are operating in partnership with their local authorities, and remain part of their local statutory provision.

No one size fits all approach

There is a broad spectrum of community involvement in library service provision, and no two local authorities have followed exactly the same approach. The report recognises that the best approach to community involvement is one which is most appropriate to a community's needs, capacity for involvement, and interest.

Guiding principles

Out of this national picture, Arts Council England and the LGA have developed guiding principles which will assist local authorities who are considering reviewing the delivery of their library services to work with their communities.

Some of these guiding principles include: the importance of local authorities taking a strategic view across their whole library service; that there is no one model recommended for community involvement - locally appropriate solutions usually work best; and that community libraries are testing new approaches to library service delivery. More information on the guiding principles can be found in the report.

Alan Davey, Chief Executive, Arts Council England, said:

'What this research illustrates is that community involvement, when coupled with support from local authorities, does not mean a poorer library service. However, there is still work to do. Together with our research partners, we need to work to ensure that this professional support continues, for the benefit of library users today, and tomorrow.'

The future of community libraries

The picture of community libraries that the report paints is one that is rapidly evolving. Since the research took place in July 2012, the number of operating community libraries has risen from 178 to 254. In addition, new approaches and models have emerged such as the first public service mutual in library and archive services.

In order to capture these developments, it is anticipated that further research will be commissioned in Spring 2013, updating the picture of the level of community involvement in library service provision, and addressing challenges and opportunities specific to rural communities.

The Arts Council and libraries

This research is one part of the Arts Council's work with libraries. Together with Envisioning the library of the future (due to be published in Spring 2013), the Arts Council's programme of research and debate on what the library of the future could and should look like, this latest research will help to define the Arts Council's long term strategy for libraries.

More details on the Arts Council's work with libraries, including the Libraries development initiative, which is a partnership with LGA, can be found here.