England & Wales Communities and society, Culture, sport and tourism

Viewpoint: Libraries change lives


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2016 will mark a quarter of a century of the CILIP Libraries Change Lives Award, the highest national accolade a library service can win. It is clear that recent winning and shortlisted entries all have a deep understanding of their local population and the knowhow to develop services that are responsive to local needs.

Opportunity, skills, employment

Public libraries are ideally placed to support and develop local people, bringing them opportunities to learn, work, create and prosper.

North Ayrshire region is characterised by economic deprivation, with low employment opportunity and poor attainment levels amongst teenage school-leavers. 2015 winner North Ayrshire Libraries developed a service to intervene to the benefit of young families, creating a safe online environment and creative digital and learning opportunities through the use of modern technologies.

Northamptonshire Library and Information Service developed the ‘Enterprise Hubs’ initiative in partnership with a local enterprise body to help and encourage people in the region to start up new businesses. Their service has accounted for successful new business start-ups, new jobs and many local people taking control of their own futures.

Leeds Central Library developed a targeted service for members of the city’s young BME community, many of whom experienced poor formal education and were long-term unemployed, providing them with training, opportunities and employment in the creative industries.

Public health and wellbeing

Public libraries reduce the burden on the NHS every day, supporting mental health conditions and helping individuals take better control of their diet, health and wellbeing and providing important spaces for social integration.

Effective health-based initiatives are developed by public libraries. Life-changing libraries have offered Reminiscence Kits for dementia sufferers in Norfolk, bibliotherapy for a range of mental health conditions in Kirklees and dedicated support for sufferers and survivors of domestic abuse in Surrey.

Adults accessing or at risk of needing access to social care are supported across St Helens Libraries, through an arts-based programme that is supporting cohesion, wellbeing and community.

Vulnerable groups

Portsmouth City Libraries offer a comprehensive service for blind and partially sighted people to enable them to live more independent, equal lives – from Braille translation services and assistive technologies to large print books and a helpline, as well as strong links into the community to ensure better representation in the planning and delivery of other local services.

Library Services in Leeds and Bradford have made a difference for adults with learning difficulties, whilst ‘Kidshub’ Library sessions in Hertfordshire are there for with children with severe and multiple learning difficulties and their families.

A collective of London libraries pooled their expertise to develop a targeted offering to welcome and connect refugees arriving in the UK with information, help and support to help them start their lives in London and the UK.

Deeply digital

Public libraries are equally home to digital and print. A growing number of initiatives entered for the award reflect the deep understanding of the digital environment held by public library staff, who are trained to exploit the opportunities afforded by information and technology to develop people, and to help tackle social injustices through online connectivity and information based services.

Great examples are the Studio 12: Writing Leeds project by Leeds Central Library, North Ayrshire’s ‘Appiness’, The Digital Bazaar at Lambeth Libraries and Archives, The Bradford Care Trust Libraries Partnership Project, and Nunny TV by Nunsthorpe Libraries.

All of the remarkable winning or shortlisted services were provided free of charge, have enjoyed great success in engaging their target audience and have provided a lifeline for the adults and children that have directly engaged with them, as well as making their communities better places to live.

Public libraries are a statutory public service, and with the support and collaboration of local government, delivery partners and their communities, they have the power to change lives and make an incredible difference to life in their communities.

Entries for the year’s award are open until 2nd May – find out how to enter at www.cilip.org.uk/lcla.

Cat Cooper is Communications and Campaigns Manager at CILIP.