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Creating Connections East

By Benjamin Meunier, on 30 April 2015

I participated yesterday in the third “Creating Connections East” event, organised jointly by UCL, UCLU and UEL at Stratford Public Library. There were students and colleagues from UCL (Public & Cultural Engagement, Institute of Education (their Pro-Director Academic was on my group), DIS and other academic departments), UEL and local authorities and groups. I was facilitating one of the group discussions – our table theme was “Libraries and Communities” which provided some valuable early insights to help develop the vision for our future public academic library at UCL East.

 

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Topics from my outline presentation of the UCL plans (based on my previous post) which resonated particularly with the group were:

  • Providing exhibition space for local artists as well as UCL Special Collections and Museums. Residents and London Borough of Newham participants noted a particular shortage of exhibition space in the area, and this would be of great interest. Some local groups have recently bid, and unfortunately failed, to gain funding to create a cultural/exhibition area in  the borough. I described the excellent “Treasures from the east” project from 2012 (looking farther east than Stratford), which UCL Special Collections’ Tabitha Tuckett and Gill Furlong were heavily involved in. This was hailed, particularly by colleagues from local councils, as a type of project which there is great appetite for in East London.
  • Engaging with local communities from the earliest stages of design to get input. There is a sense amongst residents that the Olympic Park is “for posh people”, so special effort is required to attract East Londoners from less affluent households. The team at Stratford Public Library is starting work on this with their users, for instance with tours of the Olympic Park. But this is certainly an area which requires more work and we discussed some ideas to try and ensure that we truly are accessible to the communities.
  • Initiating a programme of outreach to local schools and community centres. The experience of one particular charity based in Newham was that people are territorial, and it would be essential to start creating links between UCL and the communities. Another suggestion was to host guided visits of UCL for interested students/pupils (and possibly their parents)
  • Using the library as a base for “Citizen science” projects with space to enable these. One local organisation provides facilities for bio-hacking and other sorts of hacking (ranging from coding to carpentry). Given UCL’s plans to base Design research and education on the new campus, could this be a facility UCL could host close to the Library?

 

The Wellcome Library was noted as an example of great practice, as a “fantastic interactive space”.

At UEL, TimeBank and SkillBanks have been set up, where members donate time or skills in exchange for sharing their own time/skills with others.

A particular challenge identified was how to find routes into local communities? Other than faith, language/literacy and education were identified as relevant to all community groups. In the group I was leading, there were plenty of examples of successful initiatives where organisations support local communities: the public library runs language classes, one local organisation offers workshops in e-Literacy (to create websites) and another uses drama and the arts to help increase the confidence of disadvantaged young people. By partnering with local organisations, we could form a broad information literacy programme, incorporating our own expertise in identifying and making accessible resources to support research and education.

 

It was an enjoyable evening, very well organised by colleagues in PACE and UCLU. I thoroughly recommend it for any library colleagues who are interested in plans to develop our presence in East London or in outreach generally, as a place to talk to a wide-ranging group of people and to discover opportunities for new initiatives. To find out more, visit the Creating Connections webpage.

If you have any ideas or comments, please post them below!

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