Learning from experience: Testing approaches to income generation for public libraries

Learning from experience: Testing approaches to income generation for public libraries

Posted by Anton Schultz  |  17th Jun 2015
Locality is pleased to have been supported with funding from Arts Council England to follow up on our earlier work to trial approaches to income generation to support public libraries.

View the full report here

From August 2014, we have worked with five library service providers to explore the viability of different ideas, stimulate debate about opportunities, and share the learning gained from the process.
We are now pleased to publish a range of resources from the programme which we hope will encourage others to explore the role that income generation may have in supporting sustainable resilient library services, by developing new services and products to support.
You can read the full report, including the five case studies and summary of learning here.
We have also published a series of webinars related to the programme.

Developing retail income and applying visual merchandising techniques to your library, presented by Ellie Kidson of Metamorphosis

Digital opportunities for income generation in public libraries, presented by Annemarie naylor - Common Futures

Legal issues, finding the right form, overcoming barriers, presented by David Alcock - Anthony Collins Solicitors

Developing and enterprising team, presented by Mike McCusker - Fresh Horizons

Whist we know that significant transformation is underway across most public library services in England with many opportunities identified, there is much more to do if significant levels of income generation are to support more resilient, independent library services.

Our earlier research showed that most of those involved library service delivery saw income generation as an essential component of developing resilient fit for purpose modern library services. However, despite this, the Total income generated from library services in the financial year ending 2014 represented just 8.3% of total expenditure, a figure that has changed very little over the past 5 years consistently hovering around 8% (CIPFA, 2014 ) despite declines in funding. We hope that this work marks the beginning of a growth in income for public libraries, inspiring services to establish complimentary services that meet local needs.

Five participants were selected to take part following an open call for applications. Each of the case studies can be accessed by clicking on the participant name below, and also appear in full in the main report.

Nottingham City Council: Development of a performing arts hub
Carillion Community Solutions Ltd: Creative work spaces in public libraries
Gateshead Council: Holiday kids clubs, and co-producing income generation with community libraries
Upper Norwood Library Trust (Lambeth):  Income diversification through social enterprise
Poole Council: A strategic approach to income diversification for public libraries


Each participant benefitted from the support of an enterprise mentor to help them develop and test their ideas, a programme of learning activities including webinars, peers learning sessions and workshops at Locality’s annual convention, and access to specialist support.
The top themes identified and explored as key issues for income generation in libraries are:

1. An organisational cultural change is a prerequisite to significant transformation. Hallmarks of a more entrepreneurial culture are a willingness to take risks and respond quickly to opportunities, clear transparency and shared vision, agile teams, and a participatory and innovative environment

2. Consideration of the most appropriate vehicle to undertake income generation is an important factor.

3. Making the most of existing assets and exploiting underused resources including both staff, spaces, and collections provide an excellent starting point to establishing new income strands.

4. Agile service design: starting small, committing a little resource, testing the reaction of the audience and developing ideas, co-designing with customers is a lower risk, and effective approach to income generation.

5. Libraries have already have unique selling points and strengths. Services that build on these and have direct synergies with existing library services are most likely to be successful.

This pilot programme has, over a period of six months, identified some practical ideas for income generation, but, more importantly, points toward approaches and processes that can be applied elsewhere to take this agenda forward.
Throughout this programme and earlier phases of research, the sharing of information and ideas has encouraged people to explore this agenda proactively. We hope that this continues in years to come as library services explore new operating models and income generating opportunities.

We would be keen to see further work on this agenda, including:
• Longer term programmes and opportunities to support the development and testing of income generation for public libraries and to share the learning from this.
• Efforts to coordinate resources and support at a national level to develop skills, knowledge and capacity and embed more entrepreneurial working practices within the sector.
• National coordination to enable library authorities to capitalise on contracting opportunities that may be inaccessible otherwise, e.g. national contracts relating to digital inclusion and broader service integration.
• Further research into the impact of delivery vehicles on library service performance, and income generation.
• More detailed information and data in relation to emerging trends in income generation for libraries.


Income Generation for Public Libraries – Pilot Projec Report June 2015:

Enabling Enterprise in Libraries – Research Paper - March 2014
Income Generation for Public Libraries – Guidance Note: - June 2014



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