Just under two years ago, I wrote this post about “A day in the life of a Sling Librarian”- to show you all what we get up to.
This month is Sling Library Appreciation Month– a new awareness raising and celebration month to promote what Sling Libraries do, how they work, how they help families and much more.
Week one happens to be “A day in the life of a Sling Librarian”, so I thought it might be time to write another blog post about what it is we do!
How we operate:
Bracknell Sling Library is co-owned by Clare & Gemma- here’s a photo of our best sides.
We’re local working parents who run the library in our “spare time” with the help of around 10 active volunteers who do a range of different jobs to assist us keeping the library running. We are an unincorporated association, with a constitution, a bank account and AGM meetings to make the bigger decisions about how we run.
Here’s a few of our super volunteers (some have sneakily avoided photos!):
We have a library session every fortnight for 90 mins (every other Friday 12:30-2 if you’re interested in popping along). Whilst 3 hours a month doesn’t sound like much, I’m sure you can imagine that a lot more work goes in than that!
Like many sling libraries, social media is our main tool to spread the word of what services we offer.
We have a facebook page which is public facing (which can be found here) and in addition we have a closed “chat” group (you can request membership here). Both these take some management from keeping on top of local, national and international campaigns and information, to moderating discussion, second hand sales, library session information and general chit chat about carriers. We also have this blog which we try to keep up to date with relevant information, and an email account where most our enquiries end up.
We take regular stock takes to ensure that we know where all our slings are, to check for damage, cleaning needs, general wear and tear and alongside that we try to keep abreast of the market. New slings come onto the market regularly, and we always want our stock to accurately reflect what is currently available in the shops, and what is popular. As a consequence, last year we retired 14 of our carriers and purchased 21 new carriers. The stock currently stands at 106, which has fluctuated a lot over the past 3.5 years that the library has been running. It started with a very small selection and as the hire money came in, we were able to afford to buy a few more bits.
Speaking of buying new stock- one of our very important jobs is keeping track of all our finances. We are very lucky that we have a super deal on our room hire and so our outgoings are very low: room hire, training, stock and insurance are our main outgoings. With the help of one of our brill volunteers Jenny, we have a great google docs system in place that the three of us can access. We keep a float for the library session and count everything in and out. Everything is accounted for- from donations, to sling purchases to out of hours returns fees. We try to keep things as simple as possible but accountable, so keeping track of our finances takes a significant amount of volunteer time.
After each sling meet we count up the cash and record it on our spreadsheet (ensuring that it adds up to what it should). We then prepare the float for the next session, check if we need change or to deposit some cash at the bank and carry out those tasks. We also have to pay the invoices for our room hire, check our paypal payments, follow up invoices for purchases etc.
Volunteer recruitment, training and management:
We are run entirely by volunteers, and the recruitment, training, CPD and management of staffing the library sessions is an ongoing task. We check regularly which volunteers are available for upcoming meets (bar illness etc), ensure they have appropriate training available to them and generally keep in communication.
We are always looking for new volunteers as many of ours move on when their children reach school age, or sometimes they up or change their work hours or even get a new job which means they can’t help any more. We couldn’t run without our volunteers, so we urge you to get in touch if you might be interested in helping out.
Whilst most of our promo and comms is done via social media, we also have to ensure we have a presence elsewhere. Recently we purchased a couple of pull up banners, and we have logo-ed material such as flyers for events we attend.
The paperwork is a bit boring but also important. Before sling meet we need to ensure that we have enough hire forms, Terms and Conditions and TICKS safety guidelines. We also have a list of the slings due back (all the customers receive an email reminder too), and we’ll need a new cover sheet where we record all slings that go on hire that meet.
To comply with GDPR we try to not keep anyone’s personal details uneccessarily, and so we have a system where our paperwork is stored in a locked file store and only the three admins have access to any personal data.
After each sling meet we check the hire forms are complete and check the cover sheet is correct. Then we add any new names to our GDPR compliant database, and see if there’s any overdue slings. We contact each of the customers to let them know their sling is overdue and communicate the options (rehire/ our of hours return) and follow up over the proceeding week updating the paperwork to reflect the outcome. We also transfer all the new hires onto our “due back” sheets for the upcoming sling meets.
Out of Hours hires:
We try to be flexible to the modern working parent- turns out not everyone is free 12:30-2pm on a Friday- who would have thought! We do offer out of hours hires/ returns where we can facilitate, and whilst sometimes we go months without, we often find that just before the school holidays there’s a deluge of these and we can do 2-3 a week. It can be tricky to fit in around work and parenting but we find out customers are very understanding and it all tends to work out in the end!
Chasing lost slings:
I’ve slipped this in the middle as this is our least favourite job by far. Whilst we always send reminder emails that slings are due back, it’s not fun when we completely loose communication from a customer. Whether they’re embarrassed that they don’t have the rehire fee, forgot to bring it back, lost it or have something much more complex going on in their lives, all we ask from our customers is that they’re honest and stay in touch. We have only had to seriously follow up on two “lost” slings over the past 3.5 years and the hours of admin time and stress that caused was significant. We’re a very understanding and kind bunch, we just don’t take kindly to people lying. We run this out of the goodness of our hearts and are here to help.
Back to a more positive note! We have run a number of parties over the years- notably birthday parties to celebrate another successful year of Bracknell Sling Library, and summer or Christmas parties. These are a HUGE job to organise- getting vendors along and creating floor plans, organising a photographer, collecting prizes for and then running a raffle, advertising the event and getting people to come along- through to organising the happy chaos on the day. We’ve raised over £680 for charity over the past two years- now THAT’S something we’re proud of!
Goodness what else? Sometimes it feels never ending!
Sometimes we attend events for other organisations- i.e Calmwaves Hynobirthing have invited us to their summer parties to have a stall. We need to arrange our insurance, field enquiries, think about how we manage our money (do we need a card reader, can we accept cheques etc), field emails from manufacturers, retailers and customers… the list goes on. We have quieter weeks and busier weeks. We all appreciate that volunteering is exactly that- home life & paid work come first, and the wonderful work all our volunteers do is in their own time and is much appreciated.
So what about this DAY IN THE LIFE OF?
Well- we may operate a bit differently to other libraries, some of whom also retail slings or run paid consultancy work alongside their library sessions so it’s possible our view is a little different. But sling library day looks like this:
- Check over paperwork/ chase slings due back/ send emails/ check stock
- Arrive at the venue, greet other volunteers & set up chairs and tables, plus toys for the children and get the stock, paperwork and pull up banners out.
- Chat to volunteers about any special events coming up/ new slings training
- Customers arrive- hurrah! Whirlwind 90 minutes of demonstrating, adjusting & fitting, then filling out the relevant paperwork and taking payments.
- Tidy up time! All hands to deck to get tidied up before the volunteers often have to go and pick their own children up from school or childcare.
- Come home and count money (cross fingers it all adds up).
- Check over all paperwork & chase up any non-returned items
- Sort float, change & bank trips. Print out extra paperwork
- Field enquiries, post on social media & chase up any overdue items. Arrange out of hours returns and collections.
- Glass of wine and early bed!