Last week’s Creating Connections event was sponsored by The Knowledge Quarter. Dr Celia Caulcott, UCL’s Vice-Provost (Enterprise), greeted attendees with a welcome to UCL and an update on progress with developing a strategy for London to ensure that we realise the UCL 2034 Principal Theme 5 “in London, of London and for London”. The VP emphasised how UCL’s challenges and areas of strength mirror those of London as a city with special mention of architecture, culture and biomedicine (connected with London’s world-leading hospitals) as areas of excellence and London’s ubiquitous challenge of lack of space. One could easily have added libraries as an area where UCL’s strengths reflect London’s huge network of libraries and innovation in the sector: UCL’s Bloomsbury Campus is surrounded by the greatest concentration of libraries, museums and archives in Europe…
Perhaps in friendly retaliation for having booked John Braime, the organiser of the Creating Connections event from the Volunteering Services Unit in UCLU, to speak at our Library Staff Conference in July, I had been invited to facilitate the discussion on “Libraries”. As we were about to begin, I noticed that on our table were jars of Cubed Earwax and vials of Salt Made from Tears of Boredom and a tin of Escalating Panic. With more than a soupçon of trepidation as I wondered whether I would momentarily be disapparating off to Honeydukes or finding that Willy Wonka had registered late for our table, I started off a round of introductions. The group comprised colleagues from LB Newham, the British Library, Wellcome Collections, the UCL Department of Applied Health Research, government policy researchers and local community / voluntary organisations BuddyHub and the Ministry of Stories (a writing and mentoring centre for children, who had brought in the aforementioned “monster supplies”).
Discussion was lively. It was noted that there appeared to be a two-tier approach developing in the sector, with well-funded academic and research libraries on the one hand growing services around user demand and needs and establishing high-quality spaces. On the other hand, public libraries, with decreasing funding and pressure on space, seemed not to be taking into account user needs to the same extent. There should be more sharing of good practice between public and other libraries, to help with developments on a national (and indeed, international) level. Some public libraries are converting, and host activities ranging from reading groups to Zumba classes, but it was noted that many new libraries do not have fit-for-purpose space for events or do not allow posters to be placed on walls or noticeboards, hindering the ability of local communities and groups to interact. The group felt quite strongly that there needs to be space in the library, physical and digital, for people to share information, meet and make connections, and that libraries should facilitate events (for instance to support literacy or creative writing initiatives).
Space for users to post feedback or notices, such as the board used in the UCL Cruciform Hub, should be encouraged to enable users to have a say in their library services
In the spirit of “creating connections”, there was some discussion on value of having some digital space where library users could share interests, so that people with shared areas of interest could find out about each other and potentially collaborate. This prompted Nigel Spencer from the British Library to share information with me about an initiative he is leading called The Idea Spotlight: User Community, described in his words below.
“The Community is part of a project which aims to make our site at St Pancras in London one of the UK’s most open, creative and innovative public spaces for the 21st century and our initial focus will be services that we offer at our St Pancras site.
It is an ‘idea management platform’ which will enable people to submit ideas in response to specific questions and challenges to comment on other people’s ideas. Ideas will be reviewed by us periodically and a decision taken on whether to take the ideas forward. The process will be transparent and, we will give a clear explanation in the case of any ideas that we do not take forward.
This link will take you to the community website from which you can follow a simple registration process: https://blideaspotlight.wazoku.com/ccc/community
The platform will be officially launched in late-June 2016 but we are inviting people to join now and contribute prior to the main launch. The first 2 challenges we are posting are:
- ‘Making the most of your first visit to the British Library’. This will invite suggestions on how someone’s first experience of the BL could be enhanced.
- ‘Meeting people at the British Library’. This seeks to explore the assumption that people want to meet people that are researching similar topics by asking them what we can do to enable people to meeting, interact and collaborate.
This is the first time that the British Library has used this collaborative approach and we are hoping that we will get some great and unexpected ideas and know that we will learn much more about how we can develop services that users will find valuable.“
The DOK in Delft (you can follow a virtual tour here led by its charismatic founder and director Erik Boekesteijn), The Hive in Worcester and Chattanooga Library in the US were mentioned as examples of great innovative practice in the public library sector.
The Human Library where readers were encouraged to “borrow” people rather than books, was described as a project at the Wellcome which was very popular and enriching. The goal of the Human Library is to challenge prejudice through conversation, and it struck me as a great way for libraries to fulfil their place furthering equality and diversity in modern democratic society.
Following the event, I came across this write up on a recent symposium at Trinity College, Dublin on “Library Futures”. You can watch and see slides from all the talks, including Jeffrey Schnapp’s thought-provoking presentation on how libraries will survive and even thrive after 2019 when, according to a timeline created jointly by What’s Next and Future Exploration Network, libraries are due to follow in the way of the dinosaur, the dodo and affordable housing and become “extinct”. Happily, the discussion at Creating Connections concluded with a strong sense that libraries are dynamic places which are re-defining themselves and I was especially pleased to get feedback from some colleagues (who confessed that they had not placed “Libraries” as their first choice for discussion) who found that they learned some new things and were excited about the new developments which are happening in libraries.
If you want to get involved, the next Creating Connections event will be in the autumn in Stratford. If you are keen interested in The Knowledge Quarter, here is some additional information:
About The Knowledge Quarter
Creating Connections 11 was organised in partnership with The Knowledge Quarter, a consortium of 66 partner organisations of many different kinds but with one thing in common – they are all actively engaged in advancing and disseminating knowledge. KQ focuses its support on innovation, collaboration and knowledge exchange by establishing crucial connections to achieve productive partnerships, fruitful networks and creative interaction. To find out more, visit www.knowledgequarter.london/
Knowledge Quarter Partner Networking event with Central Saint Martins
The next KQ partner networking event on Friday 24th of June is in partnership with the MA Innovation Management postgraduate course at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London. Click here to register.
Camden STEAM Commission
The Knowledge Quarter in partnership with Camden Council and Wellcome Trust will launch a commission to raise aspirations and improve access to opportunities for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths (STEAM) careers within the borough. Click here for more information.