Cornwall Council was concerned about the library service provided locally to some of its rural communities. What it sought was a solution that was both cost-effective and offered a quality service for users. Using existing facilities within village schools has provided one answer.
Given resource constraints, providing library services to the smaller and more isolated rural communities in the county was a significant challenge. One option was simply to continue with mobile library provision. The Council saw these as having an important role to play, but it also recognised that meant not offering the opening hours or the range of services that would be possible with a static branch library.
Cornwall Council has managed to extend the reach of its library service into smaller rural communities by opening up three branch libraries within village primary schools. These are located at Upton Cross near Bodmin Moor, at St Dennis north of St Austell and at St Keverne on the Lizard peninsular.
Much of the initiative for this came from the schools, which were keen to support local services and willing to host the public library facilities. These three libraries have become dual-use, continuing to act as a facility for their schools and now additionally being open to the general public at certain times.
A professional librarian from the Council’s Library Service is present for two hours on three days each week, at which times the facilities are open to the public.
Any concerns there may have been about safeguarding children were mitigated by having a separate entrance to the library buildings for the public and by having a librarian present during the public opening hours. The separate entrances also enable the public libraries to remain open during holiday periods when the schools would otherwise be closed.
The first of the three library branches to open in a school (in 1999) was that at Upton Cross Primary School, north of Liskeard and on the edge of Bodmin Moor. It was inspired by the head teacher, who was anxious to see improvements made in service provision in the Minions Moor area. This static library facility replaced rather infrequent mobile provision in the village. Local residents now benefit by having access to their library during three days per week.
The layout of each of the dual-use library rooms was agreed in consultation with their respective schools. In general, the public books are placed on separate shelves, though books for young readers can be mixed in with the school library stock since they have separate cataloguing systems which will identify them.
It is recognised that retaining more local libraries doesn’t necessarily make them accessible to everyone. Volunteers from the WRVS offer a home delivery service from these village libraries to those who are housebound.
Although no longer used in these three villages, Cornwall Library Service still operates five mobile libraries, including one which is soon to be used for hamlets in the clay mining area where provision remains an issue.
Benefits and outcomes
Co-locating branch libraries with village schools has been a cost-effective way to deliver fixed library service provision, with all of its advantages, in some of Cornwall’s smaller rural communities. Beforehand, these three communities only had local access to a mobile library service, which would typically make a short stop once a fortnight. Now the libraries are open to the public for six hours per week (spread across three days).
The range of services on offer has also improved. With the mobiles reserving a book meant creating a paper-based request. Now, in the school facilities, the County’s library catalogue can be viewed and requests made online. The static libraries have People’s Network terminals providing internet access for users, not least for those who do not have their own home connection.
In the 2010/11 financial year almost 10,000 visits were made by members of the public to these three village libraries, showing clear evidence that they are much valued by local residents.
Co-location also ensures that better use is made of building facilities that already existed at the primary schools, but which were little used by those schools at certain times.
The set up costs were relatively modest, not least because the building space already existed in the primary schools. In two of the three schools the Council’s Library Service had to pay for new shelving to be installed and in all three cases they provided the public access computers.
Running costs are similarly kept down by the fact that the accommodation costs, such as heating and lighting, are covered by the schools. Additional costs that fall to the Library Service are the salaries of their part-time librarians and any IT running costs.
In one respect, at least, this is more cost-effective than the previous mobile provision. Book requests on the mobiles were dealt with by filling out a paper form which was taken back to the central library for processing. In the schools book requests are managed online.
Lessons for others
The Cornwall Library Service thinks that it benefits by having librarians who have local connections working in these three co-located facilities. In one case the librarian also has a child at the school and in another the librarian formally worked at the village shop. They get to know what sort of books and services are sought by their communities.
It also notes the importance of proper line management for these librarians and having them fully engaged in things like development meetings or staff training opportunities. It is anxious that they do not become isolated and feel part of the Library Service team.
Cornwall Council has just embarked on a major review of its library service provision to rural communities. This will start by gathering evidence and consulting with local communities to understand their views. Although financial resources are tight, it says there may be better ways that it could meet community needs, something which could include further co-location with other service outlets.