Library with ‘sense of place’ thrives

Volunteers at Walkley Library attended an event to recognise their work
Volunteers at Walkley Library attended an event to recognise their work
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For the past 12 months, people living in S6 have been receiving a first-class library service. As well as being able to take out books and DVDs and use the computers at Walkley Carnegie Library on South Road, they have had the chance to go along to coffee mornings, and join wool, craft and knitting groups.

Their children have been enjoying storytelling sessions, singing sessions and school class visits. The library also hosted a successful poetry performance event during the Off the Shelf literary festival. It’s a real hive of activity.

Nothing unusual about that, you might think. Except that all these services are being run not by paid council staff but by a band of 100-plus volunteers, determined to keep their library open after the council decided that it could no longer afford to run the city’s library network.

“The library closed on the Saturday at the end of one shift, and opened again run by volunteers on the Monday so it never actually closed, despite what some people think,” explains volunteer co-ordinator Clare Attrill.

“Although, sadly, there are no longer any paid staff, there are now larger numbers of volunteers, which has enabled us to expand library-based activities, but it’s hard work. We’re very much dependent on people’s good will.”

Between them the volunteers have a range of expertise, and all get stuck into whatever needs doing – working behind the counter, sorting the books, cleaning, running groups, even gardening. And inbetween these jobs, they’ve created a 2016 calendar featuring archive photos and pictures by local artists and schoolchildren.

Lucy Woolhouse joined in September. A recently qualified librarian at Sheffield University, she spends three hours every Monday afternoon putting her experience to good use. “I enjoy it,” she says. “It’s an interesting time to be involved in the library, and everyone is very welcoming.”

Novelist Gavin Extence, another local resident, has recently become a patron of Walkley Carnegie Library, and launched his second book at the venue last March. A self-confessed library geek, he spent lot of his early writing life in Sheffield libraries, reading and researching his novels while being ‘flat broke.’

“Sheffield is a city with a fantastic range of community libraries, and since moving to Walkley, and having children, that’s added a whole new dimension to my appreciation of them,” he says. “I have a three-year-old, and the library stimulates youngsters’ imaginations from an early age - the internet doesn’t compare.

“It would be a much poorer place without a library here. They’re the focal point of the community and tap into a sense of place. And they’re warm and friendly and you don’t get chucked out when you’ve finished your coffee!”

Walkley Carnegie Library is holding an open day for the public to celebrate the last 12 months on Saturday with refreshments, crafts and activities. And next Saturday, November 28, there’s a book sale on the theme of language and travel, plus ‘bite-size’ sessions in French, Italian and baby-signing. In the afternoon volunteers will run a stall at the Christmas fair at Walkley Community Centre in Fir Street.