Planning your Common Library – organising the space you have available to best effect

Planning your Common Library – organising the space you have to best effect
St Botolph's Waiting Room

Before setting up a Common Library, you will need to decide where to house it in your building. Plan carefully to ensure you’re able to provide the right type of space, one which encourages people to come in and get involved, buy the right equipment, keep costs to a minimum and run an efficient social enterprise. Additional considerations include: policy and regulatory frameworks; legal and financial issues; senior management or Trustee support.

The Common Libraries Tool-Kit is designed to enable organisations to develop and manage an integrated library-hack-maker space. This fact-sheet will help you organise the space you have to best effect, and because this is intended as a practical guide, there are key questions for you to consider. NB: if you are a community-led project starting out without a building, you can access advice and support from the My Community Rights Support Service nationally, or talk in the first instance to your Council for Voluntary Services.

Key Questions to Consider

  • What is your building / space like?
  • What space would be most appropriate for hacking and/or making activities?
  • What opportunities and resources could the organisation offer to people who might be interested in using the space?

Types of Spaces

Ideally, a Common Library should offer the local community a place or places for making and hacking, for informal educational events and for knowledge exchange. The size and availability of the space will dictate how big and messy your activity can get – as will any constraints imposed by your Estates Department or landlord – and, this is usually dictated by whether it’s necessary to clear up and pack away after use when hosted in a multifunction rather than dedicated space.

It is not always possible to offer WorkshopWeekendseparate spaces for each of these activities. So, if the building itself restricts what is possible, choose the best fit – a space that offers as much flexibility as possible to accommodate the hacking and making events that are of interest to your community, individual making and the sale of materials, kits and products.

A Neutral Area

Because different people experience space differently, consider allocating a neutrally decorated area for the Common Library. Public spaces matter: those that are easy to use and accessible for all encourage local community members to use them in different ways and for different types of activity. A neutral space also allows for flexibility as the space evolves.

Workshop Space

Make the most of what the building offers. The workshop space and tools it contains will vary in response to the differing interests and needs of users, the resources available and the requirements of health and safety (and public safety). Here is an example: Nottingham Hack / Makerspace

How much space should I allocate for the Common Library?

This is entirely dependant on the type of building that you have. At the Waiting Room, there are a series of separate spaces in the building: a main informal event and education space, workshop space and small cubicle-style selling spaces. As a minimum, though, we recommend you identify enough space to be able to hack / make small objects and accommodate a shelving unit for knowledge exchange.

What kind of tools should we buy?

The tools you opt to purchase will depend upon the interests of your local community. In some instances, you might find that you already have the tools needed to set up your project. You might decide to purchase others and could ask the local community to help fundraise for them (e.g. via a crowd-funding or voluntary donation scheme).

What are the insurance implications of setting up a Common Library?

You will need comprehensive public liability insurance in order to establish a Common Library and provide your organisation with cover for events and making activities with the general public. You should speak to your insurers once you are clear about the type of activities you will be promoting.

You will also need:

  • A Risk Assessment;
  • A Fire Assessment;
  • A Health and Safety Policy;
  • Parental Permission Forms, a Working with Children Policy and CRB checks as appropriate; and
  • Induction processes/forms for members who want to use the space unsupervised.

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