There are over 150 sling libraries across the UK with more starting up each month. Victoria Ward explains what these libraries are and how they can help
What is a sling library? Like traditional (book) libraries and toy libraries, sling libraries’ main role is to loan out slings and carriers and to offer advice and information on babywearing. Each one is run by volunteers and they run in different ways, meeting anywhere from weekly to monthly in someone’s home, a children’s centre, community venue, play centre or library. Some run alongside Sling Meets which are more informal gatherings of sling lovers who meet to socialise and share information about their slings, carriers and experiences. Some make a small charge for attending a library session and almost all charge hire fees and a deposit. If you are new to Babywearing and keen to try different slings before you buy, a sling library can be a good option.
Who runs these sling libraries? Libraries often have trained volunteers who have attended Babywearing Peer Support training and sling library insurance. Some are run by Babywearing Consultants, who have completed more in-depth training to offer one-to-one advice to parents and to run workshops.
What happens at a sling library session? Often sling library sessions are very busy and some sling libraries operate numbering systems so that as people arrive they are given a number and ‘served’ in order. The focus of the sessions is both giving advice and hiring out slings, though a sling library session isn’t always the best place to get in-depth advice or to try something new like a back carry. You may get time to see how to use a new sling or carrier or to find one to hire that meets your needs but in a busy session you may not get more than 5 – 10 minutes of individual attention.
How do I know what slings they will have? Many sling libraries have websites and Facebook pages which may list the slings and carriers they have, although that may not mean that all are available to hire at the next session. Some operate booking systems for the most popular carriers. It’s always worth contacting them in advance if you do have a particular carrier or type in mind or you can attend a session and see what’s available.
How are sling libraries funded? Generally libraries are funded by the people running them donating their own slings to the library or using their own funds to buy library slings. If they’re lucky, they can slowly claim back the cost of the initial outlay through hire fees. A small number of libraries have received grant funding and a few are donated slings by manufacturers, although this is much more rare now that there are so many libraries. It’s worth remembering when chatting to sling library helpers that they are all volunteering their time before, during and after sessions.
What if I need more help than a library can offer? If you feel you would benefit from a one-to-one session, you could contact a local Babywearing Consultant who may visit you at home or invite you to their home to have a session geared towards your needs and those of your baby/child. Babywearing Consultants usually have a range of different types of slings and carriers that you can try and may have some available to hire. They can help you find the right choice for you, show you how to use a sling or carrier that you already own and show you how to try different carries. They may also offer workshops on topics from an Introduction to Babywearing, to Back Carrying, Toddler Carrying and more.
I would like to start a sling library, what do I need to do? You can start a sling library with no training or insurance though you may prefer to cover yourself by obtaining insurance and you may find that training with a recognised Babywearing School allows you to access special offers and discounts on slings and carriers. You need to make sure that there is demand in your area (check which sling meets, sling libraries and Babywearing Consultants are in your area at www.babywearing.co.uk/local) and think about when and where you’ll meet, how you will fund the purchase of slings to set up your library and how you’ll structure your library. Babywearing UK has a factsheet on Choosing the Right Structure for your Sling Library that may be helpful. Starting a sling library is hard work and you’re unlikely to make a profit – successful libraries invest their money to grow their stock.
Victoria Ward lives in Devon with her husband and four children and runs Babywearing UK and the School of Babywearing, which offers a range of babywearing courses.
Find a sling library near you – www.babywearing.co.uk/local