Crowdfunding and public libraries: the record so far


A list is below of spotted public library crowdfunders. Fees by crowdfunding company are normally 5 to 8%. With some schemes, no money is made if the target is not reached, with others funds are received.

York Explore try to fund Summer Reading Challenge, May/June 2018

A very interesting experiment has taken in place in York. The library trust there, Explore, launched a crowdfunding campaign to pay for its summer reading challenge. At the end of the two month campaigning time, the service had reached its goal and raised very slightly more than its £11,117 target. On the face of it, this shows the success of the campaign and, I am sure, would encourage many others to think about going down the same route next year, even for something as fundamental as the main annual promotional push. However, crowd-funders allow one to look at who is donating unless they specifically ask to be anonymous so we can see where the money came from. Which is what I did:

  • £7350 – the vast bulk was one anonymous donation Friday before Monday deadline. I understand it was not from the council.
  • £2850 – 3 library friends group donations. This money would presumably have gone to the library service in any case for other projects.
  • £315 – 3 York Council employees (inc. £300 from the officer in charge of outsourcing: he clearly believes in what he’s doing).
  • £291 – 23 named donations, of which a quick google search comes up with no York Explore or council connections.
  • £290 – 13 anonymous donations, untraceable.
  • £239 – 8 York Explore employee donations inc. £160 from three very senior posts.
  • £50 – 1 donation from local children’s activity magazine
  • £20 – 1 donation from York bookshop

It’s clear from this that there’s no large number of small donors out there who funded the campaign, with the number of total donations being only 50 in total. Moreover, just 4 donations accounting for 10/11ths and one alone accounting for three quarters. Without that one big donation and, discounting the friends groups funding which would have gone to the library service anyway, the total amount raised would have been £1205, barely one-tenth of the total, with half of that coming from York Explore or council employees. So, the message if one digs deeper, for library services wanting to go down this route is that funding is not guaranteed and will come from a relatively small number of people.

Let’s be clear on this. I’m not attacking York Explore for trying crowdfunding. They’re actually doing well compared with many library services, having closed no libraries and this new library of theirs at Burnholme looks rather nice. No rather I see this as a test to see if there is widespread public support for this sort of funding in the ever harder financial environment that library services find themselves in. With budgets constantly being cut, it was only a matter of time before someone tried this and, in many ways, others will benefit from this experiment if it is learnt from. No, what I want to do is for the right lessons to be learnt. From my analysis, it’s clear that crowdfunding is not an easy answer and will result in small numbers of funders. It’s also rather high risk, which is what was discovered in an earlier experiment in Dundee, where a crowdfunder for £948k for a library expansion raised just £200 from a grand total of four donors. So, if you’re looking for non-traditional funding possibilities for what the public sees as fairly core services, it may be one should look elsewhere.

However, if anyone knows who donated that £7k, do let me now … I have a proposal for funding a news website on public libraries I’d like to talk to them about.

2017 – “Bringing a Library & Hub back to the Community” Stratton St Margaret Parish Council (Swindon)

5 donors- £100 raised from husband and wife of Friends Group (3 donations). £10 from parish clerk, £25 from anonymous, £250 from funeral services company.

Hoped to raise £10,000actually raised £385.

2017 – The Broughty Ferry Library Expansion – Leisure and Culture Dundee.

£879,500 sought. Actually raised £200 from 4 donations.



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