Community library in Doncaster celebrates ten years of being volunteer-led

This March Balby Community Library celebrates ten years of being volunteer led, although its history stems much further back than that.

Wednesday, 23rd February 2022, 4:17 pm

The library originally started as a reading room in a house in Wellington Street in 1898 offering newspapers and magazines including the Manchester Guardian and the Doncaster Gazette for people to read free of charge.

In 1907 the reading room was moved to the upstairs of the corporation baths in Carr House Road where readers could expect temperatures of up to 85 degrees Fahrenheit due to the proximity of the boiler.

A more promising move came in 1921 when the ‘Branch Library’ of 500 books and the first branch library in Doncaster was opened in the upper room of the police station in the Old Toll House on the High Road.

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Just some of the merry band of volunteers

In 1927 the rooms were refurbished, and the stock increased to 1,500 books. Within two weeks of opening there were 300 members and the library had been visited by more than 1,000 people.

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The success and popularity of the lending library meant that a bigger building was needed and in 1959 a new site pretty much across the road from the Old Toll House was agreed. This purpose-built library is the current site and opened with 8,000 books for adults and 2,500 books for children.

The grand opening on January 31, 1966, was performed by Mayor Alderman H Culshaw and the prefabricated building with its underfloor heating, car parking spaces, an accessible ramp, room for bicycles and a garden was the first purpose built public library in Doncaster since the Central Library in 1887.

Balby Community Library

The new building which cost £12,000 was overseen by Chief Librarian Gerald Selby who described it as “a very attractive little library” and was three times the size of the old Toll House. Its running was managed by Miss J Sisman and her assistant.

For many years the Balby Library has continued to be part of the community providing activities for children, a place for groups to meet, computer access, printing and of course books.

At the 100th anniversary in 1998 the library reported its most popular books were Roald Dahl for children, Catherine Cookson for the ladies and westerns for the men. The library had also started to offer a wide range of audio books and music on tape cassette and videos for members to borrow. Quite a change from the original reading room.

In contrast to many other council areas, most of the branch libraries in Doncaster, rather than closing, in 2012 became volunteer-led.

Plenty of books of all genres are available

Doncaster Council said it would support the library by owning and maintaining the buildings and cover running costs, but the day-to-day work would be done by volunteers. After initial nervousness, this agreement proved to be a successful partnership.

Today, at Balby Community Library the ten volunteers manage the library with incredible commitment and enthusiasm. Often described as “very friendly and helpful” by customers. John Nadolny the lead volunteer said: “Merry band of volunteers do an amazing job” and “we are planning to open for longer hours so new volunteers are also very welcome”.

Even in today’s digital world there is a still a strong need for the social aspect of the library and after the recent pandemic it is starting to get busy again.

Just some of the crafting carried out by youngsters at the library

As well as being able to borrow books, members can join a craft group, enjoy a book or poetry group, or even gain access to a computer. The volunteers themselves gain friendship from each other and a sense of pride and achievement from volunteering while helping others and providing a much-needed service.

On March 12 Balby Community Library will be celebrating its 10th birthday with a tea party from 11am-2pm.

Library members and locals are welcome to pop along and celebrate with them and perhaps share their memories of the library over the years.

If you would like to share your library memories, or you are interested in being a volunteer please contact the library via [email protected] or 01302 853656. The library is open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 10am to 2pm.

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.