What the Dickens – community library

19 January 2022
what the dickens bookshelves
‘What the Dickens’ is a community library loaning service based in Monk Fryston and Hillam Community Centre. The project was founded by Sue Woodall.

This project began with contracts for room hire, the completion of permanent and secure shelving by local craftsmen and with an initial store of around 500 books, some borrowed from the Central Library at North Yorkshire County Council, ‘What the Dickens’ was launched successfully in February 2020.

Within the first month of opening fifty members were registered! Unfortunately, like most community projects, it suffered a temporary pause during the national lockdown. But, since reopening in June 2021 they now have a register of one hundred and ten and continue to grow.

With such a rollercoaster of a start, we took some time to speak with the founder of this community project, Sue Woodall.


Sue, what did you want to do, or achieve, when you started the project?

Very simply to stimulate the love of reading from nine months to ninety years.

That sounded like a rocky start, opening up a month before a national lockdown. Did you ever feel like giving up?

Not give up but some things were daunting. Like finding the people with the right skills to help us. Setting up the structure to be able to apply for grants – having bank accounts, constitution, organisation and premises in place or lined up and convincing the Funders to back the idea.

Have you had any surprises?

How, despite the pandemic, we have become a part of some people’s lives by not only supplying books but providing regular contact and social interaction. Like friendships being formed, sometimes between people who were near neighbours but did not know each other

And finally – some kind and well-intentioned people thought we might like to take their old magazines and dog-eared books off their hands – we have learnt that what people want is a range of good quality novels by popular authors and biographies. We are not paper recyclers – we provide easy access to your door-step library and drop-in service.

We could not have done it without the generous donations of good quality books from residents, the support of our clients and the organising group.

What would you like to do next?

I would like to get more people of all ages, particularly teenagers reading books.

I would like to get members to write appraisals of books they have read which we could share via our Facebook page and get people to meet and discuss books.

Perhaps this would lead to a book club – where members could meet, share their views of a book they have all read, and socialise as well. NY Libraries would be willing to provide multiple copies of books for a group to read simultaneously.

We need to look at the room we occupy to perhaps provide a better ambience with comfortable seating and décor to encourage socialising.

The success of ‘What the Dickens’ has led to an add-on service: a permanent display of books for the under-sixes that encourages parents attending other groups using the community centre when What the Dickens is closed, to bring and swap books. It has been named Tiny Tim’s Swap Shop and is now regularly attended on a Wednesday by children from Monk Fryston Pre-school.

Further grants and generous donations from locals has enabled the community library to restock their shelves with new reading materials.

What the Dickens has achieved its goal of reaching out to all ages in the community by providing a relaxing environment in which to read and forge new friendships. As we came out of lockdown it became a major part of the fabric of our village and, as society adapts to the new restrictions imposed upon us, it is with confidence that the library and its users can look forward to an even brighter future.

Opening times Wednesday 10.30am – 12.30pm and Sunday 2pm-4pm

  • No borrowing charges
  • Light refreshments offered – tea, toast and scones at a nominal charge

For further information, head to the ‘What the Dickens’ Facebook page that offers weekly updates on opening times and book reviews of new library acquisitions.