Libraries are vital community hubs with so much to offer

Ali Henderson learns about the villagers who saved their local library and made it a thriving hive of activity.

LIBRARIES of yesteryear were cherished places where we could wander, mulling over the glorious selection of delightful books at our disposal.

It seems that today’s youth may not have that privilege, as cuts mean many libraries will be lost to the communities they once served.

Here in the UK, more than 800 libraries have closed since 2010, with those remaining facing staff cuts and shortages in

Librarian Abi Skerrey wasn’t surprised when she learned that her library was next on the list for closure.

“This had happened to the five smallest libraries in the Bradford district,” she explains.

“I had already been through a job transfer and we knew the council had to save a large amount of money in 2017, and that Burley was in the next tier of libraries to close.

Village residents had other ideas, however, and formed SOLS – Save Our Library Site.

Burley Parish Council immediately campaigned to continue the library service, engaging with Bradford Council to stop the closure.

“SOLS was very active in campaigning to save the library for future generations,” Abi recalls. “They even got actor and author Alan Bennett involved and staged a touching ‘linked arms around the library’ event on a very snowy March day.

The results of all that tireless campaigning were that Bradford Council gave the library building to Burley Parish Council, with the library service transferring to the parish.

The council supports the library with books and equipment, but doesn’t pay for staff.

Abi is no longer a council librarian (her role for 13 years) but has been paid to work 12 hours a week for the parish for the last three years.

She co-ordinates a staff of 60 volunteers and runs the library within that timeframe.

There have been many positive results from the changes, however.

“There’s no shushing any more,” lead volunteer Jackie Stoddart reveals.

We don’t tell the children to be quiet. They can laugh, they can play and talk. 

“We get the young children to stamp their own books. They have fun. We offer a cup of tea or coffee to anyone who comes in. If we’re making one for ourselves, they get one, too. And there are usually biscuits on the go!”

“We’ve had so many compliments about the change in atmosphere in the library,” Abi enthuses.

“It’s a vibrant and friendly place and this is down to the volunteers. They love the library, love the village and want it to be a success. We’ve also had comments from volunteers and their friends and families that volunteering has given them a new purpose in life after retirement.”

There have been lots of laughs and a few tense moments, too, for volunteers. Jackie never lets Abi live down the fact that she left on a pre-planned holidaythe week after the library became volunteer-run.

“As soon as I went the computer system collapsed.” Abi laughs. “I came back ten days later to books everywhere as nothing could be processed!” “We muddled through until we got there,” Jackie adds.

Volunteers are a huge asset to a library

“We can do so much more now and have limitless flexibility.

“They bring unique personal and professional skills and we can benefit from and utilise their life

“I think that the skills and dedication of qualified librarians are massively under-valued by society, as are libraries in general.

“Some people may think libraries are redundant and out of date, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Libraries are vital community hubs with so much to offer.”

Burley Library is certainly a lively heart of village life.

“The place buzzes,” Abi enthuses. “It’s a hive of activity. Like all libraries, it’s the only place you can go at any age, culture, background, gender or religion and spend all day for free.

“Libraries are totally non-exclusive and judgemental. They’re a bit like the Doctor Who TARDIS – they don’t look much from the outside, but when you walk in you can be transported anywhere. The possibilities are limitless.”

Seventy-three-year-old former legal secretary Jackie agrees.

“This is one of the best things I ever did,” she maintains. “The library is just wonderful. It’s a really homely place where everyone is welcome!”

“There was a real battle to keep the library,” Peter admits.

“I was the secretary of the action group. Even when Bradford Council had given the library to Burley Parish Council there was talk of selling the site for housing.

“After two years of intensive campaigning, the parish council agreed to fund the refurbishment of the existing library building.

“Because I was so active in trying to keep the library, I naturally put myself forward as a volunteer. Well, I couldn’t fight to keep the library then not work to keep it open!

“I do two or three shifts a month; some do a bit more. We use the library system provided by Bradford City Council.

“What I like best is the interaction with the villagers who use the space. I think they’re all immensely forgiving and appreciative of the fact that, without our sometimes pretty inexpert efforts, there would be no library and hence no large, bright room for all the other activities that take place.

“One of the advantages of being a volunteer is that they can’t sack you! Although we all try to do our best, I often suspect that our long-suffering librarian, Abi, and senior volunteer Jackie wish for a more disciplined crew!

“Volunteering has worked here and the user numbers are going up all the time. Around fifty percent of the books are borrowed by children.

“That in itself is reason enough to keep libraries open. And every week we have Tuneful Tuesdays and Rhyming Thursdays for the little ones.

“We cater for so many different generations and we’ve opened on Christmas Day for the past few years for people who haven’t anywhere to go. It’s been very successful.

“It’s nice to volunteer and I shall keep doing it for as long as I can.”

“I’ve been involved since Burley became a volunteer library. I was part of the group that petitioned to keep the library,” Jan explains. “As volunteers, we all have equal status, each putting our time in. I’m also a keyholder.

“I’m now a parish councillor and chair of the library committee. We’re looking at how to make the library self-funding and working on giving it charitable status so we can fund-raise to survive in the face of further possible cuts.

“There are more than forty activities happening in the library on a regular basis. Our librarian, Abi, does a fabulous job organising it all!

“The library is essential in Burley. It’s lovely and light, right next to the park.

“The best thing about volunteering is the people you get to work with, and you meet lots of interesting folk who use the facility. I’m very lucky to be here!”