Speed dating and public libraries: Warrington Livewire case study

Warrington Livewire ran their first speed dating event at Orford Jubilee Neighbourhood Hub on Wednesday 13th February 2019. It was one of the few speed dating events to be held in a British public library and so represents a useful case study for the sector.  Previous speed dating events have taken place in libraries such as (successfully) in the Wirral in 2013 and Wiltshire in 2014, but are more frequent abroad such as in Belgium and the USA. So so it’s not a crazy or isolated idea.

I was delighted to be able to talk to Wendy Molyneux, LiveWire Strategic Libraries Manager, who came up with the idea for a speed dating event, afterwards in order to see what she’d suggest if other library services want to give it a try.

Why do speed dating?

The aim was not primarily to encourage library membership or reading. Rather, the role of public libraries in combatting social isolation was focused upon. Although speed dating is available commercially, this can often be intimidating for people, especially those without digital skills, and incur high prices. Public libraries are a known quantity for many people, local, and can provide the same service at low cost. Indeed, Livewire did not charge for the event.

Speed dating in libraries is surprising to many people and so can cause much publicity, both word of mouth and in local media. Warrington Livewire had recently gone through a consultation exercise that resulted in protests and so this event was a way of providing positive publicity and making people think differently about libraries.

In addition, speed dating naturally tied in with Valentine’s Day, which was a day later.

What’s needed

Loving the atmosphere

A romantic old-fashioned space is not needed. Orford simply used the ordinary library section, with tables. Some roses and petals were added to the tables.

Refreshments were provided by Amber Coffee Roasters, who Livewire have used before. They’re a micro-roastery based in nearby Liverpool who offer high quality coffee. Amber set up outside of the library proper and so took advantage of people who were using the leisure centre as well.

Staffing came from normal staffing. Livewire uses flexi time for its librarians and no extra salary costs were incurred.


There were repeated articles in the local newspapers (see Warrington Bid, Warrington Worldwide.  Warrington Worldwide again, Warrington Guardian, Warrington Guardian again, and an interview on BBC Radio Greater Manchester.

The evening

The event took place from 7pm to 9pm.

Around 30 people, almost evenly divided between men and women came on the night. The age minimum was set at 30 so there was no concern about teenagers pretending to be older. Even then, there was still a considerable age range and one attendant took the details of a “date” because she thought he would be nice for her mother.

It took 30 minutes to register everyone (some came later than others), 30 minutes for the first half with 3 minutes per “date” then a 30 minute break for refreshments which allowed for more natural conversations then a final 30 minutes of “speed dating”.

Almost everyone attending recommended the event and several further meetings were arranged between couples.

Quite a few people made comments about how they liked the idea it was in a library rather than a bar or club because they felt safe, and it was nice to meet people face to face rather than virtually.

Learning points

  • One long table was used but this caused the danger of eavesdropping. More spaced out tables will be used in future.
  • 3 minutes per date was probably too short: 4 minutes would have been better.
  • Keep a careful count of males and females to ensure the ratio is not too skewed: this was not a problem at the first event but may be so.

Future plans

Following the event, Wendy said: “There was a fantastic atmosphere in the library during the event, and everyone looked like they were having a great time.  Overwhelmingly people told us they enjoyed it and said it was a good way to meet new people, and that they hope we organise similar events in the future.

Further speed dating is planned, with the next in just one month’s time, in order to maintain momentum. A LGBT speed dating evening may be considered. Selling of alcohol may also be explored.