As of this month, the St Bride Foundation Library is opening without entry charge on the first Wednesday of each month, in a limited reversal of its move last year to open only on a private, paid-for basis.
The library, staffed by volunteers led by two former professional librarians, will offer opening hours of 10am to 8pm, but will charge £1 per item for materials retrieved.
The change in policy follows the departure of former St Bride Foundation chief executive Glyn Farrow at the end of December.
Farrow had decided financial constraints meant the library could not maintain its opening hours - originally one-day-a-week for all visitors, with two further days open for pre-booked appointments - and would only be able to provide paid-for, sessional access for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile its only staff member, the library manager, was made redundant.
Farrow said at the time: "We are not just a library. A lot of people think the library is the be all and end all, but we have a conference centre, theatre and bar, all sorts of activities, and they've been underwriting the cost of the library for years. We can't underwrite that loss any more. "
The library dates from 1895 and has a historic collection of printing trade and typographical materials, including the collections of master printer William Blades, type founder and historian Talbot Baines Reed, and John Southward, a technical print journalist. The chair of the Historic Libraries Forum Liam Sims warned Farrow that making the library manager redundant could put the charity's legacy at risk, an intervention Farrow rejected as "ill-timed and unhelpful."
Danielle Nagler of the interim management team at St Brides, which took over the reins of the organisation following Farrow's departure, told The Bookseller: "Since coming in as an interim team we have recognised the importance of being able to offer open access to the St Bride Collection, and looking at how we can do that in a way that is cost neutral, works for users, and is manageable. We have been working with all those who are and have been involved in St Bride Foundation and this day a month opening is the result. The intention is to continue to look at what else can be done."
Nagler added: "The library is currently being staffed by volunteers, led by two former professional librarians. We are immensely grateful for their efforts, determination and professionalism in helping us to open the doors again. Over time we hope that it will be possible to look at restoring some level of professional staffing, but there is currently no timetable around that."
A new interim general manager, Paul Jessop, is to take over the reins at the St Bride Foundation for a six-month period from the end of this month.
The Foundation said: "St Bride Foundation continues to offer a vibrant cultural space for the community that works in the City of London, and to celebrate the print heritage of the area. In the last week its world-class library has reopened for general public use, the theatre has hosted new productions and the Foundation has published its course programme for a range of printing and bookbinding courses which take place in its historic print workshop."