Three years ago, community groups took over running 22 libraries, joining nine already under volunteer management.
Eleven libraries remain under county council management, supported by volunteers. Our libraries and Stronger Communities teams have supported those who stepped forward. We trained volunteers and continue to provide professional staff support, new books and IT. Community libraries have stepped out in new directions to ensure they are a focal point for their communities. Following the Covid-19 lockdown, they are returning to serve their public. We speak to a handful – both community-run and county council-managed – about what it’s like to be back.
Newby and Scalby Library and Information Centre has welcomed back customers with book bundles for collection and, more recently, a return to browsing to borrow books.
But one regret is that it hasn’t been able to take advantage of its new garden, which was created last year thanks to a Lottery grant.
Chair of Trustees Isobel Nixon says: “This would have been our first summer and we had events planned. We already had school groups using it. But it has been blooming in isolation so that has been a big sadness. We have a team of gardening volunteers, who have looked after it beautifully. As we go into the autumn, we hope some people will sit out there.”
The garden was only possible thanks to local support.
Isobel says: “We needed lots and lots of votes to get the money and our library community swung in behind it, so that was a real boost to our morale and sense of purpose.”
Now that the library is open again, the trustees and volunteers are concentrating on creating a safe, welcoming environment.
“The public have been so pleased to see us,” says Isobel. “They have been particularly appreciative of the book bundles. We are going to keep that going for the time being, so that people who are anxious will see other people browsing when they pop in to collect their bag of books and might be enticed to stay.”
Volunteers have been invaluable in enabling the library to reopen. Some have been unable to return yet because of their circumstances, but others have done extra shifts and four more people have recently registered an interest in volunteering.
The library also has the services of a county council library supervisor, Jacquie Cole, for seven hours a week, and an outreach librarian, Sharon Houghton, who also works with other libraries in the area.
Settle Community Library reopened in July, having restarted its fortnightly home delivery service for people unable to visit the branch the same month.
“Customers have been delighted the library is open and are saying so,” said Ian Tennant, chairman of the library’s management committee. “We are having a steady stream of people coming back and are hopeful that as time goes on more will feel safe to come back.”
The library made changes to open safely. It has been deep-cleaned and all returned books are quarantined.
“We had 1,500 books out on issue when we closed down, so those are coming back,” said Ian. “Because we have had regular deliveries from the county council, we have a very high book stock before the quarantined books are put back on the shelves.”
About half the library’s volunteers have returned to date, as others are taking precautions because of their age or circumstances, but Ian is confident all will return when they can.
He was complimentary about the support from the county library service.
“I have been loud in my praise of the help we have had, both from senior people and locally from librarians John Frankland, Catherine Barlow, Karen Allsopp and Judith Whiteley,” he said.
“I think it is an excellent working relationship and I’m very glad to be able to turn to Skipton library, for example, if we need help with particular problems.”
Bilton and Woodfield Community Library, which was among the first in the county to see a community group take over its management, back in 2012, reopened for browsing and borrowing several weeks ago – and customers are glad to have it back.
“Everybody is delighted that we are open,” said Greta Knight, chair of the steering group and trustees. “It is wonderful to see so many old friends coming back to join us. We’ve been closed for a long time, but we can wait to welcome them back again.
“One customer who is disabled came in for the first time. We put a chair for her to sit and select her books and check them out for her. She said: ‘it’s wonderful to see you, I can’t explain how lovely it is to come out again’.
“We have a big banner that goes up outside and when we are open we put that out: if the flag is flying, we’re there.”
Some of the library’s volunteers have not yet returned for safety reasons, but those who have are enjoying it.
“They have been so thrilled to be back,” says Greta. “We have a lot of people who live on their own, so coming back to the library has been company for them, as well, and a sense of normality. It is also that sense of being able to help other people, as well.”
Greta adds: “We work closely with the county service. We have been delighted that the county library service sent screens for the admin pods and free-standing sanitiser for the entrance.
“Although we are responsible for our funding, North Yorkshire provides all our books and in the last two weeks our response from customers is that they are delighted they are able to restart reserving books again.”
Volunteers are essential to the continued success of libraries, whether as part of the community teams or supporting professional staff in the 11 county council-managed libraries.
Whitby library, which is managed by the county council, reopened to customers towards the end of July, but that wouldn’t have been possible without its dedicated volunteers.
Twenty-one volunteers, about three quarters of the total, are back.
“Reopening is going really well,” says library supervisor Sara Johnson. “We have been really lucky in that the majority of our volunteers have felt able to come back straight away.”
Colleague Jacquie Cole adds: “We made the decision to involve them right from the beginning. We did the induction training and set the library out as it would look, so they got a really good feel of what it would be like to come back, then they learnt along with us. We thought that would be the best way to do it, because we’re all in it together.
“We couldn’t do it without the volunteers, especially at the moment, because it is so much more labour-intensive than it was. They are doing a really important job in helping us to keep things going.
Customers have been excited to be able to go back to the library to borrow books again.
Sara says: “The best comment was on the first day that we were doing browsing, I’d explained to a customer that she would have about 20 minutes to browse and she said ‘ooh, 20 minutes, this is like a trolley dash!’”