Sustainable Practices for the Belsize Community Library

Sponsor: The Winch
Sponsor Liaison: Lucy Telfer
Student Team: Sjoerd Huitema,
Isabella Makabali
Shivali Mani
Abstract: The Belsize Community Library (BCL) in Camden, London has faced new challenges serving their community after the withdrawal of government funding. This project identified opportunities for the BCL to obtain sustainable financial support and increase community engagement. We immersed ourselves in seven library activities, interviewed five community libraries and three staff members, surveyed 14 Camden residents, and conducted an analysis of BCL social media platforms. Based on our findings, we offered a series of recommendations for the BCL to generate revenue (e.g., paid events and advertising adult-oriented activities) and increase community engagement (e.g., social media presence, youth events for 11-16-year-olds, and student study space). 

Winch – Final Report (1)

Final Presentation

Executive Summary

Community libraries provide services ranging from reading programs for children to support groups for marginalized populations depending on community needs (The Winch, 2023b; READ Nepal, 2023). Despite the benefits community libraries can offer, they often struggle to provide adequate services because they lack funding. In England and Wales, community libraries’ expenses have steadily increased since March 2022. This is due to factors such as inflation and an overall rise in National Living Wage and energy costs (Davies, 2022). In England, the Localism Act of 2011 handed responsibilities from the central government to local communities on community needs. It states that councils funding community libraries must deliberate with their communities on how they are delivering services in a way that meets the needs of patrons.    

Belsize Community Library’s mission is to cater to all ages and to create an all-inclusive community space. Achieving this mission has become increasingly difficult due to financial struggles from their council’s funding reductions. The Winch, a children’s charity and youth center took the responsibility of funding and overseeing library operations in 2012. To address the library’s continued financial hardship, Belsize Community Library and The Winch developed a business plan to implement from 2019 to 2022. However, this plan did not align with the library’s need for sustainable funding, which entailed financial longevity and not a one-time profit. By the end of 2022, the library has yet to achieve a financial model with the goal of simply sustaining its operations and wishes to broaden its engagement with a wider demographic to demonstrate its value to the whole community. The library attracts 0-5-year-olds and adults, however youth aged 11-16 are less likely to attend.    

Our project’s goal was to identify strategies the Belsize Community Library can use to become economically sustainable and to determine which programs may be most valuable to their community. Our project comprised three objectives:   

  1. Determine how the community envisions the library as a resource.     
  1. Provide recommendations to increase engagement amongst 11–16-year-olds with the library.     
  1. Identify strategies for the library to generate revenue sustainably.   


To achieve these objectives, our team conducted immersion exercises, surveys, interviews, and a social media analysis. Through our fieldwork, we immersed ourselves in seven library activities as participant observers to gain insight into the value that they provide to patrons. We also used a survey conducted by Belsize Community Library amongst patrons to better understand how to increase engagement, which had 74 responses. Then, we conducted a separate survey amongst Camden locals to learn more about library familiarity, visitation, and disengagement. The survey comprised 16 questions, took three minutes to finish, and was completed by 14 community members. Next, we conducted three interviews with staff members at The Winch to inquire about their programs and plans for long-term economic sustainability. We then conducted five interviews with other community libraries in London to identify strategies they use to engage people aged 11-16, to understand how The Winch can better support the Belsize Community Library’s sustainability plan, and to identify strategies the library can use to increase revenue. Lastly, we analyzed the library’s social media across three platforms (Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok) to better understand how they engage with their online community.  



Through our methods, we garnered results on outreach and volunteerism, revenue generation, and community disengagement. Due to limited staffing capacity, the library lacks consistent community outreach. The fundraising officer revealed that outreach responsibilities are split amongst two staff, limiting the amount of time that can be devoted to newsletter and flyer creation. There is disconnect between nannies who attended children’s activities such as ‘Rhyme Time’ versus parents. Through our conversations with library volunteers and Deep Hanging Out observation, parents were more willing than nannies to donate to the library. Parents seemed to understand the impact that library activities like ‘Rhyme Time’ or ‘Stay and Play’ have on their children, making asking for donations much easier, whereas nannies were more hesitant since they are paid employees to the parents or an agency. Through interviews with staff and other community libraries, we found ways to recruit volunteers devoted to outreach assistance. Additionally, interviews with staff at The Winch allowed our team to discover opportunities for collaboration with the library to create youth programs. Most patrons use the library for library-specific activities such as reading and borrowing books. The top responses when asked what services patrons use in the library were reading, with 21% (33 responses), and loaning books, with 17% (27 responses). Apart from library operating hours, most patrons took issue with the lack of quiet within the library. When asked what prohibited patrons from visiting the library more often, 30% (31 responses) answered that it was the library’s opening hours. Next, 23% (23 responses) answered that they visit the library as much as possible already, followed by 15% (15 responses) who said that it was the lack of quiet within the library. The library already hosts activities of interest, but the community is unaware of them. 71% (5 responses) said that they would want to attend activities at the library for an older demographic such as author talks, book clubs, and discussion groups, of which the first two are already offered. Our social media analysis found the showcasing of library events to be most engaging, although there was little consistency across all three platforms. This indicated more time needed to be spent on networking and advertising library events through social media.  



Through our findings, we created a list of recommendations that Belsize Community Library can use to generate revenue sustainably and attract the 11-16-year-old demographic. To generate revenue sustainably, we recommended that Belsize Library and The Winch expand community outreach through volunteerism, more clearly communicate the library’s financial struggles to patrons, and turn current free activities into paid programs. To attract the 11-16-year-old demographic, we recommended that Belsize Library and The Winch host youth events at the library, create a quiet space for students and other library goers, and improve posting consistency and cross posting on social media.  

Through increased funding and footfall, community libraries can continue to provide the necessary social and educational support to their entire community. Our research can be further developed by focusing on the logistics and feasibility of library renovations and comparing the nuances of each mode of library advertisement. This report can be utilized as a case study for other community libraries who are facing a similar challenge of upkeeping their operations.