Thriving Charlbury Library - a great model for the future

Facility bucking the national trend

It may only be eight months after the grand opening of Charlbury’s library in the town’s new £2.5 million community centre, but already more people than ever are joining up and borrowing books.

Gone are the days of dog-eared dusty tomes, cramped spaces and librarians shushing anyone making more than a loud whisper that was the norm in many public libraries.

Oxfordshire’s 43 libraries now offer a rich variety of activities and services that make them vibrant community spaces, accessible to wider audiences and used by citizens in different life-enhancing ways.

And Charlbury is proving to be leading the way – not only in terms of borrowing, but also as a great example of can-do community spirit and engagement.

Latest figures show membership levels in the town’s new facility went up by 20 per cent in 2017-18* while more than 4,000 extra books were issued in the year up to April, bucking a national trend of a decline in borrowing.

Julie Ward, Library Manager, runs the facility with assistant Ceri Osborne, and in conjunction with a band of 24 trusted community volunteers recruited by the Friends of Charlbury Library.

Together they keep the shelves organised, process and shelve stock, assist customers and keep the library smoothly running when paid staff are not present.

Julie said: “I’m really enjoying looking after this library and feeling part of the community. The fact that this library is under the same roof as a well-equipped sports hall, meeting room and great café means that this space is always lively and there’s always a good reason for customers to visit.”

The library with its new stock and spacious layout – more than double the size of the town’s previous facility - is an integral part of the new community centre at The Spendlove Centre, Enstone Road, a building with an amazing sports facility, dance studio, café and meeting spaces – all run by the charitable Thomas Gifford Trust.

Plans for a combined building had been over 20 years in the making. Now its visitors can keep well-read, refreshed and fit – all under one roof.

At the centre of the community

 Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Cultural Services, Lorraine Lindsay Gale, said: “Charlbury is a fantastic library and a great model for the future of our network in Oxfordshire. Libraries are so much more than books these day. It is our policy to see that they are at the centre of their communities and it’s great that people are finding them so much more accessible and that borrowing and library members are on an upward trend.

“Charlbury shows can-do community spirit and engagement. We are now working to deliver a similar facility at Barton and will be part of the new development at Botley. We are keen to take opportunities to co-locate with other services such as the new Sports Centre at Neithrop in Banbury. These are great examples of the direction we want our library service to go.”

Sue Terry, a trustee of the Thomas Gifford who has with responsibility for the library, said: It was very sad to leave our much-loved library but the new, larger and open plan space has been a great success, allowing young families, those with restricted mobility, teenagers and busy working adults to all access the library when they want to.

“The ‘cross fertilisation’ between all users of the community centre has been particularly exciting. The library feels vibrant and busy, a real asset to the community.

Jill Judson, Chair of The Friends of Charlbury Library, which contributed funds raised previously in a campaign to save Charlbury’s old library from potential closure, continues to assist in organising events and as a volunteer on the monthly rota organised by Rosalind Scott, the Secretary of the Friends group.

Jill said: "To have gone from the threat of closure to the establishment of an exciting modern space for our library is a testament to the community’s determination to maintain and develop its facilities for the benefit of all. Particular thanks go to the Thomas Gifford Trust for championing the development of a new library within the community centre, and to all our volunteers for keeping the library open.’’

Planning your visit

The library is open seven days a week and staffed on Mondays (9.30am-noon and 2-5pm), Wednesdays (2-5pm and 5.30-7pm), Fridays (9.30am-noon and 2-5pm) and Saturday mornings (9.30am to noon). But there is a self-service machine allowing customers to borrow, return or renew items even when there are no staff present.

A Home Library Service is also thriving at Charlbury with four volunteers who select and deliver books to infirm or housebound customers – so, if you are eligible, there’s never a reason not to keep up with favourite authors and good reads.

Visitors can also have free use of wi-fi and can access three People’s Network computers for research, study, or just catching up on emails. There’s also printing and photocopying facilities.

The library and community centre has also proved to be a valuable resource for families with an attractive and accessible children’s reading area with bean bags and comfy seating for adults. In the library, parents and carers can find weekly rhyme time sessions run by local volunteers.

While in the community centre there is :

  • Well-Baby Clinic,

  • Bump-to-One Group, Stay & Play,

  • Toddler Gym,

  • After-school clubs on Thursdays and

  • Youth Club on Friday evenings.

And for grown-ups there’s a host of sporting and social activities - from walking football, netball, badminton and volleyball to pilates, boxercise, yoga, quiz, comedy and film nights. ( Visit www.charlburycommunitycentre.org.uk/events/ for the latest)

Useful info

Home Library Service: The Home Library Service is offered in partnership with Age UK to people who are unable to visit the library themselves through frailty, infirmity or a disability and have no other means of getting access to reading materials. Full-time carers and those who might need the service on a short-term basis following debilitating illness or hospitalisation can apply too. To register or for further information call 01865 810259 or email homelibraryservice@oxfordshire.gov.uk.

Charlbury Library: Find it at: Charlbury Community Centre, The Spendlove Centre, Enstone Road, Charlbury, OX7 3PQ

Tel: 01608 811104 (nearest car park is in Enstone Road - three minutes away)

24-hours renewal: 0845 1202811 - PIN required


Friends of Charlbury Library: Charlbury Library is supported by the Friends of Charlbury Library. In addition to raising the profile of the library, the Friends provide volunteer support, and would like to hear from anyone who is interested in volunteering. For more information on the Friends group or becoming a volunteer, please ask at the library.