How community hubs can help reinvigorate library services

Placing libraries in community hubs can help reinvigorate their services, a new series of reports by the Arts Council England has found.

The reports, which were published earlier this month, looked at how libraries can contribute to place-shaping, help with the wellbeing of older people and work in community hubs.

The reports found that by moving into community hubs, many people felt their library service had been reinvigorated, with longer opening hours, new spaces and an ‘overall refresh’.

It cites the example of the Blakelaw library in Newcastle, which is now located in in the Blakelaw Centre, which is run by the Blakelaw Ward Community Partnership.

According to the report, the centre wanted to be ‘welcoming and open’ to children and young people, so helped foster a new relationship between the library and the local primary school and also made improvements to the centre’s children’s play area at the same time.

‘Before, children weren’t welcome in the centre or the library. There was no youth provision. It was mainly used by a bingo group three nights a week. Now we have an average of 3,500 visits per week. It became a hub unintentionally. We listened to residents, partners, schools, recruited a youth worker and tried to do things for the right reasons,’ said an anonymous staff member in the report.

The report also found the libraries were able to partner with other organisations in the community hubs to hold activities, events and festivals, with different services promoting each other’s work.

Again, it cites the example of the Blakelaw Centre, where the reception has clear signs to all the services in the building, including the library.

In terms of place-shaping, the reports looked at several examples, including the Ramsey library community hub in Cambridgeshire.

The library was opened in 2011 and sits in a prime position on the high street and is part of the county council’s plan that libraries should serve as community hubs.

Various advisory and healthcare organisations, along with Citizens Advice use the library to meet residents face-to-face. Library staff are also trained to respond to issues from health and wellbeing to helping people with their ‘blue badge’ parking permit applications.

‘Bringing services together has achieved a lot more than convenience and efficiency, it is enabling Ramsey as a community and a local economy to remain sustainable and self-reliant,’ the report states.

‘It contributes to economic vibrancy, which is key to Ramsey’s future economic success, and it provides support in practical ways with some of the town’s main socioeconomic challenges.’

The reports also claimed libraries can contribute significantly to the wellbeing of older people.

More than one in three people over 75 uses a public library and the report shows how Wakefield’s dementia friendly library organises high-quality socialising activities and Kent’s digital independence service plays a role in delivering adult social care.

‘We commissioned this series of reports to research, test and emphasise the role of libraries in their communities and in people’s lives,’ said Arts Council chief executive, Darren Henley.

‘They show the important contribution libraries make to a range of national and local policy areas, including place-shaping and the wellbeing of older people. I hope these reports will be used by both library services and our partners to inform decisions and inspire future work.’


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