Starting Again

When the coronavirus lockdown came into force in March OnFife Libraries were just about to launch their PLIF project ‘Libraries Aspiring Learners with Children’s University Scotland’.

The Public Library Improvement Fund – which is administered by SLIC on behalf of the Scottish Government - supports creative and innovative library projects throughout Scotland.

Months of planning had gone into the OnFife Libraries project, which aims to encourage more people to use libraries for family learning activities.

But by pulling together as a team and quickly adapting to the new situation, the library service has not only managed to continue their innovative project but improve it – making it even more sustainable for the future.

OnFife Service Development Team Leader Maggie Gray explained: “When the lockdown took place, we had just spent months creating a vision of how everything was going to work. We had our information sharing agreement in place, we had trained staff and then a week before our trial was due to start the world stopped turning.

“What we had planned in six months had to be totally changed within one week, but my team were amazing. Within days we had formulated a plan and just seven days later we hit the ground running.”

Working with Partners

A Librarian in Inverlcyde shooting a videoOne of the main aims of the project was to encourage wide use of libraries as a family and learning destination through developing a partnership with Children’s University Scotland. The organisation helps children recognise and celebrate voluntary learning which takes places outside of school lesson time. Children would be able to sign up for both this year’s Summer Reading Challenge and the CU’s celebrated Aspire Programme in selected Fife Libraries, being rewarded with CU credits for all their hard work.

However, with the Covid-19 pandemic temporarily closing all of Scotland’s public libraries Maggie and her team had to quickly think of an alternative way of achieving their project aims.

Maggie said: “We looked at the principal aims of the project – family learning, library use, partnership and digital inclusion - and discovered that we could still meet all of these if we just turned the project on its head. 

A Librarian in Inverclyde getting ready for a video session“So, we started all over again and made further changes to the Aspire platform, took a fresh look at joining procedures and redrafted our way ahead.

"Instead of children coming to the library to join the Summer Reading Challenge and gain CU credits – we changed the online process of signing up for CU to include library membership and joining our Summer Reading Challenge - this by consequence opened a window on the much wider offer now available from CU and OnFife Libraries online.

“We established a clear online children’s channel as the focus for our summer activity and so Virtual LibrarYAY was launched only a week after lockdown began. From initial thinking we were aware that much of our existing library activity could translate nicely online if staff were willing to create it which happily, they were.

We now have daily Bookbug sessions, story times, Code Club, and our regular Kids’ Dens Clubs with Junk Modelling; Lego Challenges, Baking and even British Sign Language for Kids - all created locally as well as the best curated content from the rest of the internet.”

Developing the Project

A librarian in Inverclyde shooting a craft videoBoth the library service and Children’s University Scotland also successfully applied to the Scottish Government Wellbeing Fund to support family wellbeing and children’s mental health. This enabled the CU to develop Wonderboxes – activity packs which don’t depend on online access but still accredited to their Aspire course.

As well as stickers, badges and pencils, the packs contain 35 laminated cards full of inexpensive activities children can enjoy at home as well as information on the Summer Reading Challenge and borrowing books online. The library service now has 500 Wonderboxes to distribute to Fife schools. 

Maggie said: “We have a very good working relationship with Children’s University Scotland, and we were both very willing to tackle problems head on and make it work. By working together, and confronting the challenges thrown at us we’ve developed a project which is so much richer than we first anticipated.

“We have steadily developed digital sessions, made it easier for children to join online and really opened up more possibilities. When libraries start to physically open again, having a strong digital presence will strengthen all that we offer.”

She added: “I have a fantastic team and we really support one another. We’re open and honest and over the last few weeks we have really pulled together to share ideas and create content. It has been a learning curve for many of us, myself included, but we have embraced it and now have a digital presence that we would not have had otherwise.”