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Are community-managed libraries effective?

Michael John Cavanagh (Department of Information Studies, Aberystwyth University, Aberystwyth, UK)

Library Management

ISSN: 0143-5124

Article publication date: 13 June 2017




The purpose of this paper is to explore the effectiveness of community-managed libraries (CMLs) in England. It traces their history and considers the evidence base in respect of their effectiveness.


Through quantitative research (web surveys) with volunteers and chief librarians, the study establishes: the range of services being delivered; the perceived need for and extent of training given to volunteers; the criteria through which public library effectiveness can be measured, and the extent to which CMLs are able to deliver against these criteria.


The study found widespread variation in the range of services offered and the extent of training received. Further, it found significant differences of opinion and priorities between the research groups in respect of the relative importance of various effectiveness criteria and the ability of CMLs to deliver against these criteria. The evidence from this study points to a fragmented and inconsistent network of volunteer delivered libraries. A key reason is the variation in approach and level of support from local authorities. The paper concludes that the lack of national standards and consistently applied professional advice could be contributing to this variation and points to the Welsh Public Libraries approach, based on their standards framework, as a model that could be replicated.


These findings have implications for policy makers in respect of the case made for the reintroduction of a standard/quality framework to reduce service variability. The findings will also be of value to local authorities that are considering implementing a community-managed library model.



The research for this paper was financially supported by Lincolnshire County Council Library Service. An early version of this paper was made available online on Leon’s Library Blog in 2014.


Cavanagh, M.J. (2017), "Are community-managed libraries effective?", Library Management, Vol. 38 No. 4/5, pp. 226-236.



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