Liberate the Library: From cost centre to social enterprise

I love libraries.

As a bookworm and bibliophile, libraries, especially those housed in beautiful old buildings are akin to heaven.

We’ve all heard about and felt the impact of cuts to funding. In 2013, the Guardian asked: Are social enterprises the future for libraries?

I ask:

  • How can libraries move from cost centres to sustainable community social enterprises?
  • How can they become organisations that can pay a living wage to library professionals and not rely on, but continue to include volunteers?
  • How can they be sustainbly commercial but remain the heart of the community

Now, I don’t have the answers, nor do I have library expertise but I do have some suggestions based on what I’d like to see as a library fan.

Space and location as an asset

Central staircase, Central Libary, Leeds

Leeds central library is housed in a beautiful building in the heart of Leeds. It’s open at convenient times.

Leeds Central Library Opening Times
Monday 09:00 19:00
Tuesday 09:00 19:00
Wednesday 09:00 19:00
Thursday 09:00 18:00
Friday 09:00 17:00
Saturday 10:00 17:00
Sunday 11:00 15:00

How can Leeds central library make more of it’s opening times, space and convenient, central location?

Here’s some ideas based on the lesser known services offered.

1. Book out the space.

Rooms for meetings, events and workshops crop up regularly on Twitter: Leeds Meeting Room Twitter Search. Leeds is a city for incubating ideas and innovating, we need a range of spaces to meet, mingle and make the magic happen.
Make it easy to find, book and use.

2. Be the experts on business.

Leeds central library already has all the expertise in place. The Business & IP Centre Leeds is a hugely valuable resource business and intellectual property expertise. Make more out of the consultancy, workshops and events for entrepreneurs and start-ups.
Make it the go-to place for business advice.

3. Bring all the folks to your yard.

Integrate an on-site bookshop with an on-line presence. I like to buy as well as borrow books, so it’s a no-brainer to do both in the same place. If you’re concerned about staffing a sales desk, might I suggest you steal like an artist? Consider automated supply chain. Maybe an Amazon Locker approach to click and collect? And once people are at your location, provide them with experiences that delight, enlighten and brings them back to the library.
Make it the enhanced library for more than borrowing.

4. Be the place to hang out.

And not just in the gorgeous tiled hall. Tie 3 in with book groups, coffee evenings, writing events, literary festivals, meet the author nights, starting points for tours of Leeds and guided tours around the beautiful building itself.
Make it the heart of the Leeds community.

Most importantly: Try things out → review → rinse and repeat.

Liberate the Library: From cost centre to social enterprise by Edafe Onerhime is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at

Header image: Showing the strain by Brian Smithson

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