32 examples of UK public libraries working together

This is all about councils sharing aspects, or all, of their library provision.  Uniting libraries from two or more councils into one unit can save money by reducing number of managers and backroom staff while benefiting from other economies of scale.  It also allows users greater access to services between boroughs.  Councils considering sharing services tend to be of the same political party but not always and those on less politically important subjects like reader development are more likely to be across party divides.  This move very much chimes in with current Government policy – “Merging services across three boroughs is vastly preferable to library closures and I hope that other local authorities will come up with their own forward-looking plans for keeping libraries open.” (Ed Vaizey, Libraries Minister).  The Future Libraries Report (p.12) claims merging back room services “may save 5 to 10%” of costs” while merging all services may save “10 to 25%”.  The Report goes on to emphasise that merging library services needs a strong political will and a commitment to open-ness and fairness (for example, one council may already have cut more than the other before the merger and this should be taken into account).  There are also employment law implications (e.g. TUPE).

This list includes every example known to me: do please email on ianlibrarian@live.co.uk if you know of any more that need to be added.

The public seems to be in favour of merging services, with a Tri-Borough survey showing “of 1,500 residents who took part in a telephone survey in February, said the three authorities should share as much as possible. 34 per cent said there should be some sharing of services. Only 13% of people were opposed to sharing services” (ConservativeHome).

Councils necessarily lose some control over the service and it may be problematic to disengage if one council decides to go back to entirely running its own service or switches political allegiance. Different systems in different councils can cause problems when joining up different libraries, including different ways of gathering and analysing data. Also local pride, for example in the case of Cornwall linking with Devon, may cause some unpopularity.  In the case of Bromley, the Bromley Cuts Concern lobby group, said: “The merger will mean unaccountable Bexley staff and councillors having a say in how our local services are run”. Merging services is not easy and there should be a project manager assigned to the task.

  • Bexley and Bromley have merged library services instead of closing libraries at a loss of 35 jobs.  Bromley expect this and cutting hours to save £350,000.
  • Bournemouth Christchurch PoolePoole combined their library service with Bournemouth: combined saving of £566k expected by 2019/20
  • Carillion runs the library services in four boroughs (Hounslow, Ealing, Croydon and Harrow)
  • Central Buying Consortium (CBC) – Book buying consortium, headed by West Sussex, manages stock purchasing for several library authorities mainly in the South of England. “The organisation exists to maximise the value to its members of the products which they purchase. We achieve this by working with each other and with suppliers to reduce the variety of products and services consolidate the amount purchased by the member authorities.”
  • Cheshire West and Chester and Cheshire East share Bibliographic Services, library management system, stock (reservable across both boroughs) and education library service.
  • Derby and Nottingham Library card of either city valid in the other. (October 2017) to aid commuters between the two cities.
  • EMMA (East Midlands and Mid Anglia) Stock Consortium. Nottinghamshire, Derby, Derbyshire, Leicester, Leicestershire, Nottingham, Cambridgeshire, Peterborough and Rutland (site accessed 1 January 2024).
  • Essex, Southend and Thurrock had a joint library management system and shared catalogue of stock with Essex providing bibliographic services to the other two. Southend left this arrangement to join SELMS (2018).
  • GLL runs the library services in Bromley, Greenwich, Dudley, Lincolnshire and Wandsworth.
  • Greater ManchesterBolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford and Wigan – Move towards having one library card for all member authorities.  Shared back service.  [Blackburn is also included – info received by email – Ed.]
  • Herefordshire and Shropshire“library services partnership board” to be set up.
  • Imagination – “ImagiNation is a reading and arts activity for 11-18yr olds running in 10 library authorities across the East: Bedford Borough, Cambridgeshire, Central Bedfordshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Luton, Norfolk, Peterborough, Southend and Thurrock. ImagiNation is now in its second year. Young people have been involved in all stages of the development of this project: they invented the name, developed the logo, designed this blog and planned the activity; with the help of artists and designers chosen by the young people themselves. In 2014 they also co-produced a series of arts workshops in libraries around the region.”
  • LibrariesWest –  (Existing) Consortium of Bath and NE Somerset, Bristol, North Somerset, Somerset and South Gloucestershire – joint library card, behind-the-scenes. Dorset and Poole also joined the consortium in July 2015. Services include single library management system, helpdesk, functionality. Customers can borrow and return to any library in consortium. LibrariesWest app, social media, ebooks, e-audio and online resources. 5 out of 7 members shared bibliographic services (procurement, contract management, acquisition, processing and delivery). Information/enquiry service for some consortium members [Source – email from LibrariesWest, March 2017].
  • LIEM (Libraries and Information East Midlands) – “LIEM is a membership organisation that provides a strategic voice for library / information services across the region, with a long tradition of promoting partnership and co-operation:  across the library and information domain in the East Midlands region; with partners in museums and archives;nationally, with other library development agencies and strategic bodies”.  Public library members include Derby, Derbyshire, Leicester, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, Rutland, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Peterborough and Suffolk. (July 2015)
  • “Lincolnshire” group – Lincolnshire, Rutland, Cambridgeshire, North East Lincolnshire and Peterborough councils – “memorandum of understanding” regarding suppliers (including volunteers).
  • The Libraries Consortium (previously known as the London Libraries Consortium).  Barking & Dagenham, Brent, Bromley, Croydon, Ealing, Enfield, Essex, Hackney, Haringey, Harrow, Havering, Hounslow, Kingston, Lewisham, Merton, Newham, Redbridge, Surrey, Thurrock, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest.  Bexley, Richmond and Wandsworth have left.  Shared library catalogue.
  • Manchester – Combined catalogue and membership for Manchester, Bolton, Oldham , Rochdale, Salford, Stockport and Trafford Libraries, with Tameside joining later. 2.8 million books available.
  • Northern IrelandLibraries NI is one authority looking after all the province.  However, it has decided on big cuts this year and has received much criticism for its failure to be responsive to local needs.  It also appears to treat Belfast Central Library as a branch library (without even a reference librarian) rather than as a hub for the province.
  • Mid Anglian book purchasing consortium – Leicestershire, Rutland, Cambridgeshire, Peterborough and Lincolnshire.  Claimed buying in bulk has saved Leicestershire alone £70,000 in 2011.
  • NEPO – North East Procurement Organisation Provision of library books to Durham County Council, Newcastle City Council, Darlington Borough Council , Gateshead Council, Stockton Borough Council, Middlesbrough Borough Council, Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council, Hartlepool Borough Council, Sunderland City Council, North Tyneside Council and South Tyneside Council.
  • North East Wales Schools Library Service – a joint authority funded service for Flintshire,  Denbighshire, Wrexham and Conwy councils.
  • North West and Yorkshire Libraries Book Consortium.
  • Sandwell Library management system shared with Sandwell College and Education Library Service, joint stock procurement with other Black Country libraries.
  • Scottish Consortium of Public Libraries (SCoPL) – Angus, Perth & Kinross, Aberdeenshire, North Ayrshire, Aberdeen City and the High Life Highland
  • SELMS – Library management system/best practice/sharing resources – Brighton & Hove, Buckinghamshire, Camden, Hertfordshire, Kent, Medway, Milton Keynes, Reading, Richmond, Windsor & Maidenhead, Slough, Southend-on-Sea, Southwark and West Berkshire (updated June 2024).
  • SEPSIG – South East Performance Sets Interloans Group, set up in 2005.  A group of library authorities in the South East, whose members currently are (Bracknell Forest, East Sussex, Essex, Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Kent, Milton Keynes, Oxford, Portsmouth, Southampton, Surrey
    West Berkshire, Wokingham). Each member pays an annual subscription, and this money is then used to buy music sets which are housed in the top three lending authorities. Lend performance sets (music and drama) to each other for free (ie no BL numbers or UnityUK charges), and share advice and knowledge.  Meet twice a year, once for the AGM and once to decide what music to buy with the funds.
  • Libraries Connected (previously Society of Chief Librarians) – “Libraries Connected is a charity that will build on our previous work as Society of Chief Librarians (SCL). We are now partly funded by Arts Council England as the Sector Support Organisation for libraries. This funding provides increased capacity with a new team of staff and trustees to work alongside our members. However, we are proud to remain a membership organisation, made up of every library service in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.”
  • Southwest Peninsula Library Partnership – Cornwall/Devon/Plymouth/Torbay – Aiming for shared library catalogue/ordering/supply. “4 to 15%” savings made.
  • SPINE (Shared Partnership in the East) – A partnership of library authorities comprising Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk, focused on sharing back office services built on a shared library management system platform.
  • Upper Norwood Library – A 111-year old joint venture between Croydon and Lambeth, this library is unique and successful.  See this analysis by Timothy Godfrey (on the lower half of the article). However, Croydon is considering withdrawing funding, drawing its future into doubt.
  • “Tri-borough” – Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea, Hammersmith & Fulham.  These three councils shared one libraries chief.  “In June 2011 the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, theRoyal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster CityCouncils agreed the Tri-borough proposal to create an integratedlibraries and archives service.  This is about maintaining andimproving libraries whilst making savings by organising themanagement and administration of the service across a widergeographic area.” … In 2017, the tri-borough broke up as Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea/Westminster mutually accused eachother of lack of faith.  It’s worth noting that Hammersmith has become Labour in 2014 while the other two remained Conservative (March 2017). It is now a “bi-borough”.

“What’s more, we’ve proven that tri-borough working can actually improve services for local people. Our residents can now borrow books from any library across the three boroughs, expanding their choice to more than one million books, including specialist collections like the Westminster music library and the fashion collection at Chelsea library.” One year on, does sharing services work? – Guardian (20/6/12).

West Midlands Reader’s Network


  • “Services shared: costs spared?”– Local Government Association, August 2012.  Analysis of financial and non-financial benefits of sharing services.
  • Shared Services – Unison Scotland 2013.  A critical look at the process including high costs of starting the process, job losses, higher tax rates, centralisation and loss of personal service.

  • #1 written by Jenny Bowen
    about 8 years ago

    Current membership of the London Libraries Consortium is:
    Barking & Dagenham, Bexley, Brent, Bromley, Ealing, Enfield, Hackney, Harrow, Havering, Kingston, Lewisham, Merton, Newham, Redbridge, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest.
    Richmond and Wandsworth have left and Harrow is now a member.

  • #2 written by Trevor Jones
    about 6 years ago

    By cutting back room staff, authorities are making it nigh well impossible for music services to continue with any ethical integrity. Orchestras nationwide borrow orchestral sets for their rehearsals and concerts, yet reduced staff time means that they are under strain to check sets when they arrive back. As a composer, I cannot even donate orchestral sets of my own music because of the apparent associated costs and lack of staff time. Cutting music library staff is disastrous.

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