There’s a ton of imaginative stuff going on in libraries, if one pushes past the heavy curtain of budget cuts.  My thanks to St Helen’s libraries for sending me details of their Arts in Libraries project, which was brought to my attention after a piece written on the need for more theatre in libraries.  The boss of their service tweeted me saying they’re already doing a ton of stuff … and indeed they are. The thing is, of course, that these things are now never dependent on internal resources: ideas have to be free (see the fantastic Hovermark idea below), cost very little or have the capacity for commercial sponsorship (I have hopes for Awesome Boxes in that regard), receive outside funding (like St Helen’s) or require partnership (see this excellent US article). There’s more stuff going on as well: a conference in Edinburgh next month will be covering innovations and I’m including further details about this today: I’m going so I hope to see you there and would love to hear from you about what is going on in your service.


  • Hertfordshire – (Clarification from council) – £2.5 million cut in library service per year expected to be reached by third year (£1m cut each Year 1 and Year 2, £500k cut Year 3).


  • Awesome boxes – Customer puts the library book they loved in a special box when returned in branch or online.
  • Hovermarks – Downloadable copyright-free bookmark that points towards the spine, not cover, allowing the bookmark to be read when books is shelved and not on display.
  • “Play stations” at story times – Provide toys, with play activities and “play tips”, integral to programme.

Arts in Libraries – St. Helen’s case study

Since 2011, St.Helens Council’s Arts and Libraries services have been working together to programme high-quality arts participation projects and performances. The Cultural Hubs programme, funded through The National Lottery and distributed through Arts Council England’s Grants For The Arts (Libraries) fund, began in 2013. It has enabled a programme of performances, plays, gigs, workshops, courses, events and exhibitions in all 13 libraries within the borough of St Helens.

The Vacuum Cleaner performs his autobiographical one man show Mental. (copyright Karen Thornburn)

The Vacuum Cleaner performs his autobiographical one man show Mental. (copyright Karen Thornburn)

The majority of the work of Cultural Hubs has been chosen in partnership with steering groups drawn from the community. The programmes are targeted specifically at Families, Young People or People accessing, or on the verge of needing to access, Adult Social Care and Health services. Performers have included: Cardboard Citizens, 20 Stories High, The Vacuum Cleaner, Tourettes Hero, Ballet In Small Spaces, Wizard Presents and Dommy B, as well as performances by local theatre companies. Exhibitions have also formed part of the project and have included Jam Jar Fairies by The McGuires, Tight Modern curated by Creative Futures and Body Trail by Willi Dorner & Michael Palm.

An innovative area has been the commissions delivered by digital arts organisation Re-Dock, who developed four different digital arts projects, including a stop-motion project bringing our libraries to life (see Youtube panel below). And artist Benedict Phillips has created possibly the world’s first digital microfiche to explore memories of WW1. Additionally, there have been two projects aimed at supporting people suffering with mental health issues: The Comedy Trust was able to secure funding from Time To Change to deliver a project using drama and comedy to improve quality of life for mental health sufferers. This has resulted in several comedy performances.  Secondly, Collective Encounters received funding from Public Health to deliver and develop a theatre company to give mental health sufferers a powerful voice.

Arts and Libraries work together extremely well to develop strategic partnerships. Cultural Hubs has enabled the library service to expand their offer to the public, breaking down the stereotypes associated with libraries.  The arts service benefits because libraries offer the opportunity to engage with new audiences, providing a safe and trusted place for all. For many of those hardest to reach in our communities, a gallery or theatre is often seen as “not for them”.

Overall, the attendance figures confirm that there is a demand for a high quality arts programme in libraries. In the first phase of Cultural Hubs, 2,145 people attended live performances or events; 1,244 actively took part in various projects; and 37%  – or 1253 – of this total had not used libraries in the past year. In addition, 3454 people attended exhibitions. Statistics for libraries are also on the up. Arts Council England is supporting the second phase of the Cultural Hubs project, from 2015 to  2017, with  a further Grants for the Arts award of nearly £100,000.

On the 19th March, St.Helens is hosting a conference to share the programme of Cultural Hubs to date.  Places for this conference are free and can be booked via this link. Click here to view the most recent Cultural Hubs Brochure

“‘In these modern times that we live in, it is really important that libraries diversify and modernise the offer for our communities.  Cultural Hubs is an amazing programme of work to have in St.Helens, which enables us to utilise our 13 library spaces in new and innovative ways. I’ve been to many of the performances and events as part of Cultural Hubs and have been really impressed by the quality of the work shown. Performers such as The Vacuum Cleaner and Tourettes Hero have been especially inspiring and powerful and not only improve the arts offer in our libraries but also increase the quality of the cultural fabric of St.Helens as a whole.” Cllr Andy Bowden, St.Helens Council’s Portfolio Holder For Public Health and Wellbeing, Sport and Culture


  • Creativity and culture not open to all, review finds – Guardian / Culture. “Direct spend on arts, culture, museums and libraries, the report notes, is about 0.3% of the total public spend.”
  • Deputy Minister pledges commitment to quality library services – Welsh Government. “Wales is ahead of the game in modernising and co-locating services to make libraries more sustainable and user-friendly. In the past year the Welsh Government has committed almost £1.7million to modernise libraries across Wales and develop services. This includes creating hubs within libraries, offering a range of local authority services and meeting rooms, as well as the traditional library services. Wales is also leading the way in the UK on the roll-out of e-services on a national level.”
  • Let’s play at the library: 3 activities to enhance early years literacy – CILIP. “Through a couple of generous grants, we were able to develop Read, Play, Grow!, an early literacy curriculum of simple play activities using everyday household objects and materials. At their existing baby and toddler story time programmes, library staff set up ‘play stations’ with interactive play activities for little ones and their parents to explore. At each station, ‘play tips’ are displayed with suggestions for parents on things they can say to promote language development. “
  • Literary jobs ‘the most desirable’ – BookSeller. “A YouGov poll has found that the top three most desirable jobs to have in Britain today are author, librarian and academic. The literary jobs came out on top of a survey that asked 14,294 people what professions they would or would not like to do for a living, including roles such as MP, Olympic athlete, astronaut, model and Formula 1 driver.”
  • Library of the year – BookSeller. Last chance to submit an entry for the UK Library of the Year award. “This aims to find the best library in Britain, to spotlight the individual librarians that make it such a success and to celebrate the vital role that libraries play in encouraging reading. In 2015, we are looking especially for the individuals that have contributed to the library’s success.” … “Entries from library authorities must include details of specific library success not just the authority as a whole. Although the award is given to the library or authority, the judges will want to see the role of individual librarians being given as much emphasis as physical, or financial, improvements. “

EDGE conference

Councils across the UK set their 15/16 budgets last week, and although the Library & Information Service of City of Edinburgh Council has a reduced budget to start the next financial year with, the ebullient service is again polishing the profile of public libraries with its yearly EDGE conference (Edinburgh Thursday 5 and Friday 6 March).

Barbara Shack from Libraries without Borders has recently agreed to speak on Thursday 5 March about their Ideas Box. The Ideas Box provides individuals and communities isolated by disaster the tools to read, write, create and communicate. Each box unfolds to create a customized library and media center, with internet access and its own power source. Easily transportable, sturdy, and simple to set up, the Ideas Box empowers communities to construct an informed civil society and to pave the way for a self-reliant future. To hear more about this soul stirring programme, book your place at EDGE2015.

We are delighted that the Scottish Government believes it is vital that adequate library services are in place across Scotland. Libraries offer crucial support to help people themselves – to support literacy, digital participation, learning, employability, health, culture & leisure – they can improve the quality of people’s lives and support them to engage in the democratic process. We are fully aware of the commitment that local authorities have to maintaining good quality, innovative library services and Edinburgh City Council is at the forefront of this, having developed the EDGE conference as an opportunity to share good practice and discuss future developments.

Contact Grainne Crawford grainne.crawford@edinburgh.gov.uk or call 0131 529 77910131 529 7791 for more information about EDGE2015″


  • “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Techsoup for LIbraries (USA). “Together, staff from the library and the Chamber of Commerce decided that they wanted to offer hands-on classes for small business owners that would teach them about social media tools to market and grow their businesses. The library provided the instructors, computer lab, and laptops while the Chamber of Commerce funded the materials. Each small business owner who attended the class developed a social media marketing campaign. “Some of them didn’t even have a Facebook account when they started the class,” said Gauthier. “They certainly did when they left.” Includes strategic plans.
  • Hovermarks – “Highlight collections, in place, using bookmarks that face the spine instead of the cover. They’re free and easy to make. Print one of the templates below. Fold, cut, trim, and place in a book just like you would a normal bookmark.”
  • Kentucky libraries loan record 30 million items in 2013-14 – WLKY (USA). “The agency says the figure includes circulation of more than 2 million electronic books. The number of e-books that were checked out surpassed the number of items checked out from bookmobiles for the first time.” [The whole of the UK issued 2.3 million books in 2013/14 according to CIPFA. The UK population is twelve times that of Kentucky – Ed.]
  • Sometimes things are Awesome – Awesome Box (USA). “Returning items to an Awesome Box requires no extra work from your users. To vote for an item, they simply return it to one spot instead of the other. This is one of the easiest ways to keep the dialogue open with your community. Kids, teens and adults can all easily share what they like with both the library and the rest of the community.”

UK news by authority

  • Bristol – Plans announced for school in Bristol Museum – Bristol 24/7. Parody of the move of a free school into Bristol Central Library. “The mayor played down the link on Twitter, adding: “I’m a strong supporter of the museum service, but not of a campaign that puts museum artefacts before Bristol kids’ education”, like it was some kind of bleedin’ binary choice. “
  • Camden – Volunteer-run Primrose Hill Community Library celebrates National Libraries Day – Camden New Journal. “Newbie writers Roz Davies and Stephen Oram shared their experiences of tackling the world of self-publishing on Saturday as volunteers from Primrose Hill Community Library celebrated National Libraries Day 2015.”
  • Cornwall – Cornwall Council agrees 1.97% council tax increase – West Briton. “Fiona Ferguson, leader of the Conservative group, said she could not support a budget which was “cutting services” including funding for libraries, youth services and leisure services.”
  • Coventry – Coventry council to press ahead with unprecedented cuts to services – Coventry Observer. “Labour councillors, who have a huge majority at the Council House, are to press on with their ‘City Centre First’ three-year plan to close most council services in most communities – including libraries, youth clubs, children’s centres, community centres, adult education centres and more … Willenhall is the latest of four Coventry communities to petition against the threat of library closures, while town hall trade unions and Socialists have led wider protests against the cuts.”
  • Coventry – Residents stage Save Walsgrave Road library protest on Valentine’s Day – Coventry Telegraph. “Residents rallied round on Valentine’s Day to show how much they love their local library. Gosford Park Residents’ Association organised the protest on Saturday at Stoke Library in Walsgrave Road which is under threat of closure. People turned up to the 100-year-old library to show their support after it was announced that Stoke Library could be affected by the possible closure of most of the city’s 17 libraries as part of annual budget cuts.”
  • Leicestershire – Call to keep rural libraries council-run – Nuneaton News. “Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council representatives, councillor Mathew Hulbert of Barwell ward, and councillor Michael Mullaney of Trinity ward, went along to Hinckley Library to be part of National Libraries Day. The event celebrates the role libraries play in communities up and down the Country.”.  Notes that many libraries in county will soon by run by volunteers.
  • Lincolnshire – Department for Culture will probe complaint over Lincolnshire libraries cuts – Lincolnshire Echo. “The Government is considering if a comprehensive and efficient library service is being provided by Lincolnshire County Council. This investigation will help Culture Secretary Sajid Javid determine if a local inquiry is needed in response to a complaint from retired chief librarian Maurice Nauta.” … “Mr Nauta, a member of Save Lincolnshire Libraries, said: “We are very pleased with the response from DCMS. “It is not late for a re-think by the county council.” A local inquiry could result in the Secretary of State stepping in. The council says it is confident its plan is legally sound.” see also Department for Culture will probe complaint over Lincolnshire libraries cuts – Lincolnshire Echo.

“Presentations of library petitions (from 9  library towns) were made to Julie Blaisdale Assistant Director Library and Community Services North Yorkshire County Council. Thursday 5th February at 12 noon in Whitby Library. Photos Johnson Press (Whitby). The presentations by two groups of library campaigners were arranged by the petition volunteers for Whitby’s own library , whose submission stated:

1. ‘Petition against the changes/cutbacks and proposed cutbacks of professional staff at Whitby Library’ This campaign raised 1652 signatures.

2. The  petition  by ‘Save North Yorkshire Libraries ’was also presented. This was signed in nine representative towns with libraries across North Yorkshire. “We the undersigned petition North Yorkshire County Council to adjust their proposals to reduce drastically or remove paid staff from our public libraries. We suggest that at least 1 paid member of staff be retained in each library and at least 2 in ‘hybrid’ libraries”This campaign had requested help from a Whitby writer to the local newspaper. Independently that person raised a group which collected  497 signatures for the cross North Yorkshire Campaign, whose figures are given: Easingwold (with Stillington) 192; Helmsley 221; Kirkbymoorside 309; Malton and Norton 161 ; Pickering 318 Scarborough 144; Thirsk 341; Whitby 497. This petition  raised  2183+ signatures.

The petitions were presented in the presence of the two groups of campaigners (including coastal and inland areas mentioned above) within  busy Whitby Library. We  hope that we have made a constructive contribution to the Consultation process.” Save North Yorkshire Libraries