Why you should join your library friends group
The Friends of Watlington Library is a registered charity that exists to protect, support and promote our community library here in Watlington.
It was created over 20 years ago at a time when many small local libraries were at risk of closure – and during the ensuing years the Friends have faced and overcome a diverse number of challenges, culminating in our current robust situation where we have a thriving community library at the heart of our town. This is due in no small part to the tireless efforts of our group over many years, generating funds when required and doggedly advocating the importance in having local access to a library for the people of our town. In all that we do, we aim to promote our library as the wonderful resource that it is; a social, cultural and educational hub of value to all members of our community. Whether you are an avid reader, like to peruse the local paper, borrow jigsaws, use the computers or just browse the cookery books, the events of the past year have once again served to highlight just how important our community library is to Watlington and we will continue to champion it as best we can in the post Covid world.
Our members help to keep our library fully staffed and operational by contributing annually to librarian costs and we also provide financial assistance where necessary for things that the library may need. Our financial commitment to Oxfordshire libraries means that one focus needs to be on generating the necessary funds to fulfil our agreement. But our remit goes much further than that. At the core of what we do is to encourage the value of reading and books in all forms. That is why our Family Activities Group is so important in inspiring a love of all things literary as early as possible. We run regular Storytimes and also host local children’s authors. Throughout the Covid lockdowns, from March 2020 – June 2021, these continued to take place every fortnight on our Facebook page. We were then delighted to be able to hold some outdoor Storytimes over the past summer, in the fervent hope that regular Storytimes will soon be back in the library itself. In days of old, we also subsidised events such as children’s theatre; bringing the opportunity to experience live performance to all the children in our community. In addition, the provision of story sacks, poem trails, teddy bear sleepovers and town bear hunts are all activities that have inspired our young readers and are things we hope to bring to the library once again when restrictions ease. Fostering a relationship with books and by extension the library amongst our children is hopefully something that will stay with them as they grow into adulthood, with the habit of going to the library already engrained and cherished.
We are fortunate in Watlington to have a good size Children’s area and some mobile bookshelves, which allow us the space to host the activities described and also to have fund-raising events. In the time before Covid we ran a series of ticketed author talks in the library every year, some promoting local authors and others showcasing individuals of note and interest to our community. These would take place in the library following a small drinks reception with canapes made by our culinary Trustees. On occasion we would endeavour to hold a major talk held in the local church as a significant fundraising event, such as our evening with Sir Philip Pullman in 2019. These events help to consolidate the library as a focal point of activity, discussion and interest within our town and were our main source of income before the pandemic. Whilst talks can and have been held on Zoom, it is not quite the same. There is no denying that we are longing to be able to resume these ventures in person when we can and get people back inside our library once more.
For the past three years, we have also run a photography competition to generate a calendar for the town; thereby encouraging another different group of people to connect with the library. The calendars and the ensuing exhibitions and notecards created have proved very popular and have also turned into a valuable fund-raising tool, particularly in the current circumstances.
We are also mindful of the library as a community space and in recent years have collaborated increasingly with local artists to host exhibitions in the library, particularly with the Watlington ArtWeeks team. These bring people into the library for something specific to see – and then allows them to become aware of all the other services that it can provide whilst they are there. We are lucky enough to have a talented artist, Jen Skene, as a Trustee – and enjoy her wonderful drawings on our library windows many times throughout the year. These proved to be a powerful connection to the community in the many weeks that we were closed during the pandemic.
Watlington library has another particular and unusual community function. It houses the replica of the Watlington Hoard, a hugely significant collection of Viking treasures discovered just outside Watlington some years ago. Whilst the original resides in the Ashmolean in Oxford, our library displays a replica set of the most noteworthy pieces on behalf of the town. Our Friends group has collaborated with a number of agencies such as the Ashmolean, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Oxfordshire Museum services to generate events centred round the Hoard. These have included a Viking Adventure day, the opportunity to create and animate a film on the Hoard Discovery and this year a collaboration with the Chiltern Heritage Festival to open the library for a private viewing of the Hoard.
In short, our Friends group, whilst fundamentally seeking to preserve our library, in doing so also seeks to encourage all our community to discover the breadth of its value and continue to explore the possibilities that it affords us.
What makes a good Friends group? Dedicated individuals who believe passionately in the intrinsic importance of the written word in all its forms and the value of shared access to it. Creative, supportive individuals who are willing to listen, develop and adapt as the world changes. Like-minded people from all parts of the community with a common goal – protecting our library resource and developing what it can provide to enrich the lives of Watlington residents. Throughout its existence, FOWL has been full of people passionate about the importance of Watlington library to and for our community. Our library has always had a great team in its corner and I am proud to be a part of the current cohort.
Kennington is another example of a ‘community library’ with a friends group.
FOKL holds free monthly author talks and welcome non- members from anywhere. Like most friends groups they run regular story and rhyme time activities for under five’s and summer read events for primary school children. This picture is from their last Arts Festival. Most ‘community ‘libraries have to raise money to survive.