An independent research report has just been published which investigates the current situation of community libraries and two newly established library trusts in Wales. It was commissioned by the Welsh Government as part of the recommendations (#4 and #8) of the Expert Review of Public Libraries in Wales 2014 which was published in October 2014.
The report, Independent trusts and community libraries in Wales (and which is also available in Welsh) by D Hywel E Roberts, considers the different types of community libraries currently in existence and identifies three main models: (A) community managed libraries run independently of the local authority; (B) community managed libraries benefiting from resource provision and staff support from the local authority; and (C) community managed libraries benefiting from resource provision, advice, training and paid staff in each library, direct from the local authority.
It also provides recommendations on whether community managed libraries could be considered part of a library authority’s public library statutory provision, and of significance for Wales, whether they could be included as part of an authority’s return for the Welsh Public Library Standards (the latter point to be the subject of further guidance). There are nine recommendations in the report, some of which are for the Welsh Government to consider, some for the trusts, and some for local authorities.
The report is necessarily only a snapshot of some case studies at present, given the short timescale it was set, but it will be of significant value for those interested in this topic across Wales, England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. It considers many of the common operational issue facing library services and community managed libraries and future challenges for them. And it recognises the commitment of communities to their local libraries, ensuring that they have remained open and are providing “valued, if limited, services.” (And the author records his thanks to all those who took part and provided information for the case studies.)
One of the key conclusions is that trusts, with provisos, are suitable organisations to deliver statutory library services.
On community libraries the report finds that of the three models currently in existence in Wales, “the best prospect of sustainability and viability, and a suitable emphasis on service quality” is the model which has a close and formal working relationship with the local authority library service. It also concludes that the community library model should be considered “an unrealistic option” for delivering a quality library service at larger service points, and that there should remain an element of (paid) staffing in community libraries (para 113).
The report concludes that: “Community libraries are certainly not a panacea for all the problems created by diminishing expenditure on public library provision, merely one of several options that need careful evaluation.” (Para 110). I think this report goes some way to help evaluate some of the options.