[Editor’s note: Rachel Heydecker from Carnegie UK Trust and Wakefield libraries’ Andy Wright who has been working with both Carnegie UK Trust and the Wellcome Trust on the Engaging Libraries programme introduce the programme, share news of a couple of projects and describe the support network]
Engaging Libraries is a new partnership between the Carnegie UK Trust and Wellcome to encourage public libraries to engage local people in imaginative and interactive projects exploring health and wellbeing.
The Engaging Libraries projects hit the ground running in October. Soon after their selection, representatives from all 14 projects came together at the Wellcome Trust offices in London for a Kickstarter Day. The purpose of the day was to share their hopes and fears for their projects, explore the Wellcome Collection Reading Room to see public engagement facilitation in action, and discuss how they would capture learning and outcomes from their activities.
Wellcome as connector
Wellcome have helped to connect projects with their networks. For example, the project leads from Oldham’s Comics and Cosplay project met with Wellcome’s Engagement Fellow Sara Kenney, the broadcaster and comic creator to share their ideas and identify a graphic artist to illustrate their comic. They were also able to view the zines and health graphic novel collection at the Wellcome Library for inspiration.
Projects in Redbridge and City of London
Redbridge Libraries’ The Final Party – Celebrating Death through Celebrations of Life project caught the attention of the selection committee by using the library as a trusted, relaxed space to discuss a subject often seen as taboo. Redbridge have already held a number of ‘death cafés’, where people can discuss anything in relation to death and dying, life and living in a confidential and supportive space. Their next death café in March will draw on the theme of Women’s History Month, and the project team are planning a series of events in May around Dying Matters Awareness Week.
The City of London libraries are unique within the Engaging Libraries programme, serving a transient city worker population of around 350,000 people who travel in and out each day. As part of their Release the Pressure project, Shoe Lane Library and a range of partners will host a fortnightly Dragon Café in the City from February offering activities, events and workshops aimed at promoting mental wellbeing. The team at Shoe Lane Library have recently presented with partners Mental Fight Club at the Thrive LDN Mental Health Culture event, speaking about how collaborative working led to their Dragon Café in the City project.
Support network takes shape
The Engaging Libraries programme also involves an online network, which each of the project leads are part of. The aims of this network are to:
- act as a supportive community of mutual interest
- share inspiration, advice, problems and solutions
- keep everyone updated about progress
- build a body of evidence of success for feeding back to the public library sector
Members of the group can post updates, articles, or photos at any time, seeking questions and comments from their peers. In addition to this, monthly chats on specific topics have been organised, and we’re about to begin a cycle of presentations where each project outlines the progress of their work and how they’re engaging with the public. What we've found is that the group has generated a positive spirit of support and a genuine interest and passion for each other’s projects.
One of the aims of Engaging Libraries is to evaluate whether these pilot projects are easily replicable and scalable in other locations, and where possible try to make some of that a reality. One of the unintended but extremely positive consequences of providing the projects with a forum where they can build relationships is, even in the early stages of the programme, watching the "we could do that" light bulbs appear when people see the possibilities.
When you put passionate and committed staff in a room – or a virtual room – together, then great things can happen. Our dream is that Engaging Libraries can be a catalyst for a whole range of health related engagement in public libraries across the country.
Please note, this is a guest blog. Views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of DCMS or the Libraries Taskforce