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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A year since reopening as a community-run library, Jesmond Library has shown at its first annual general meeting significant progress towards becoming the “community hub” it hopes to be.

The library was officially reopened on September 21st 2013 following closure by the council in March that year. The Friends of Jesmond Library charity, an umbrella group under which volunteers have organised, took over the running of the library from the council. The Friends have successfully attracted a number of donations and volunteers to make viable the long term goal of sustaining Jesmond Library.

Indeed, the library’s balance sheet as of March 31st 2014, submitted to Companies House, shows a healthy £53,000 for future development.

Supported by dedicated volunteers and public donations, the Friends want to give back to the community as much as possible, maintaining the free library and making the building available for public use.

It is as a venue for many events, meetings and courses that the library has found real success. The library opens three days a week and Chris Clarke, a key volunteer as secretary and treasurer of the charity, reported that “special events and room bookings play a key role in ensuring the financial sustainability of the library. We are very happy with the progress made over the last year” but would like to see the “building used for an even wider range of purposes.”

In the first six months 77 events and 55 private meetings were held, “vastly more” than when under Council management, Clarke noted.

Libraries, of course, lend books, and the key to maintaining and expanding this position in the community is membership. As of March 31st 2014, the library had 693 members who borrowed nearly 3,500 books in the previous six months – an average of five books borrowed per lender in the half year.

Analysis provided exclusively to JesmondLocal shows that more than one in 20 junior users borrowed more than 10 books in the half year to March 2014. One in 10 adult users borrowed five or more books over the same time period. Some users have borrowed upwards of 40 books over six months.

Maintaining members in Jesmond can be particularly difficult. In December 2013, Labour Cllr David Hardman told JesmondLocal that “in a four year cycle 93% of the population moves off the [electoral] register.” Clarke acknowledged the difficulty of attracting a strong membership among itinerant students in Jesmond, however said that Jesmond Library “find some students use our public access computers, and the printer/photocopier which is attached to them. We have also started a drive to attract some younger volunteers.”

Of the five libraries threatened by Newcastle City Council’s 2012 cuts, Jesmond was the first to open as a community run organisation, followed in August 2014 by High Heaton, in partnership with Newcastle College. Denton Burn is undergoing refurbishment under Council management, due to be complete in mid-November. Moorside and Dinnington Libraries closed in June 2013, with Dininngton’s collection moving to the Parish Hall.

Jesmond Library is always looking for new volunteers, who will receive full training and be accompanied by a more experienced volunteer at all times. Anyone interested should email

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