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New government-funded support for library service mutuals

Updated: Apr 6, 2021

“The best part of setting up a library service mutual is being able to design the service you’ve always wanted, rather than managing decline” Alison Wheeler, Suffolk Libraries (Registered Society)

Mutual Ventures have been working with four library service mutuals to run a series of events for library staff who are considering how  their service can become sustainable. The focus of the events was very much on the practicalities of establishing public service mutuals and other types of alternative delivery models e.g. council-owned trading companies.

libraires consortium

The MV team also collaborated with library service colleagues to produce a toolkit – a how to guide for anyone thinking about an alternative delivery model. The tool kit includes the basics of carrying out an options appraisals for a new delivery model through to advice and guidance on implementation. The work, which was funded by the Department for Culture Media and Sport, has received a very positive response from the sector with many service leads now thinking seriously about how a new model could be right for them.

The two events were held in London (24th March) and in York (28th March – hosted by York Explore, one of our partners) and both were both fully booked. Minister for Civil Society Rob Wilson sent a video message encouraging attendees to think entrepreneurially. He also spoke about the broader strategy for encouraging public sector mutuals which the government is due to publish shortly. You can watch him here.

During the events, we addressed questions such as:

  1. Why would you consider an alternative delivery model for your library service?

  2. What models are available?

  3. What are the benefits and risks?

  4. What is the process of exploring an alternative model?

Attendees benefited from the lived experience of the four library mutual chief executives and also from the technical expertise of the Mutual Ventures team, who had supported the development of two of the mutuals. We discussed how vital it was to start with a robust library strategy which all key stakeholders are bought into, maintain an overriding focus on customers’ needs, and to clearly establish what the service is aiming to do before looking at structures and legal forms. The sessions also looked at the different stages of exploration and set-up. See the toolkit for more detail.

There was definitely a buzz of excitement amongst the attendees. Library services face considerable challenges, including reducing budgets and the challenge of digital advances meaning information is now more readily available to people than ever before. The idea of transforming libraries into community hubs with a wider remit than a traditional library service was high on the agenda.  Inspire in Nottinghamshire, another one of our partners for this work, have done this by incorporating wider culture and adult learning services into their new organisation.

So there are certainly exciting opportunities ahead for library services who are prepared to consider a new approach – and also some central government funding to support this.

Get in touch with us at if you would like to know more.


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