The facilitating library

Phil Bradley's local library is a lively community hub - and is all the better for it!

I live in a place called Billericay in the county of Essex in the UK. If you're unfamiliar with it, locate London on a map, go due east and stop a little bit before you fall into the sea. It's a traditional commuter belt area; London can be reached in about 30 minutes on the train and has a largely middle class population of about 30,000 people. It also has a very active social media presence. There are several Facebook news groups and in fact I run one myself - Billericay dogs, with almost 3,000 members. We are also fortunate enough to still have a fully functional working public library, which is open six days a week although it only has one third of a professional librarian who covers three libraries in the general area. The library is central to a great deal that happens within the community, and as the community is active on social media, the library has a high visibility. 

The library does all of the usual things that you would expect of a community hub, such as the place that you can go to collect extra recycling bags if you've run out, you can buy your charity christmas cards there every year and it also hosts local art and so on. However, the library doesn't stop there. Billericay has a thriving local community cinema. Films are shown twice a month in the library ( on Thursday evenings and Sundays. It's a not for profit enterprise which means that it can show both popular mainstream films, but also niche specialised films as well. There is often a particular ambiance, so at a recent screening of Casablanca they had their own 'Ricks Cafe American' where they offered cocktails and had live piano playing, and for Frozen they had face painting, tattoos and colouring for the children. The role of the library is absolutely central to the success of the cinema, and the librarian is a keen and enthusiastic supporter of local community efforts.

At a recent International Games Week I approached the librarian and asked it it would be possible to host a games event at the library on a saturday morning, and he was very helpful. We had an area of the library reserved for our use, tables were put aside and board games set out. Parents and children (and sometimes just children and just adults) are able to turn up and play board games for a couple of hours. I did point out to the librarian that it wasn't going to be the quietest two hours of the week and it wasn't a problem at all; what was important was that the library was being used by the community. The library was helping to facilitate and engender a community spirit.

The library also hosts a 'zumba' class in the evenings as well. Given that I have a limited number of heartbeats and don't intend to waste them on exercise I can't tell you much directly about this, but it's another way in which the library is able to help the community. A recent initiative is 'Bark' or 'Billericay Acts of Random Kindness', which is a Facebook group for the community to do - well, acts of random kindness, but also to further bring the community together. One suggestion is to run some local First Aid courses, and there is a lot of interest in this from residents. An obvious place to hold this is of course the library.

None of these things could really be described as traditional roles or functions of the library. It's not about books, DVDs, collection building and so on, but it's absolutely crucial work, because the real value of the library is help nurture and  help the community develop. While it's a hub for the recycling bags and so on, it's far more than that - its value in supporting and helping people, with whatever they want to do, and the attitude of the librarian is crucial in this.

At ILI this year we are going to be focusing on innovation, and this means in part looking at a much wider picture, being brave enough to leave tradition behind and to embrace new and exciting developments. We're looking for speakers for all types of 'library' - traditional or not - to share stories of innovation and to celebrate the power of the librarian. If you have a story to share, let us know!

Photo by William White on Unsplash