This week Rachel Heydecker, Policy and Development Officer with Carnegie UK talks about their Engaging Libraries programme which focused on public engagement with research. Four Scottish public library services took part in the programme: Glasgow, Fife, West Lothian and the Western Isles.
“Since taking part [in Sharing Stories] I have signed up the boys for library cards and have changed the direction of my career. I will now be studying, doing a BA in children's development.” (Member of the public, Glasgow)
Between 2016-2021, Carnegie UK ran the Engaging Libraries programme in partnership with Wellcome, and the Wolfson Foundation from 2019. Engaging Libraries supported public libraries across the UK to develop and deliver public engagement activities on health, society and culture. From 2019, the Engaging Libraries programme focused on public engagement with research, with public libraries partnering with universities to deliver a range of public engagement activities.
Four Scottish library services took part in the Engaging Libraries programme: Glasgow, Fife, West Lothian and Western Isles. Some library services partnered with universities nearby, such as West Lothian and Heriot Watt University, and others formed partnerships further afield, such as Fife and Bristol University. The Covid-19 pandemic meant that a significant amount of project delivery moved online, however the projects adapted their plans and delivered a range of activities which brought the public into contact with new ideas and perspectives.
An independent evaluation of the whole Engaging Libraries programme demonstrated how public engagement projects can make a significant positive impact on the public and the library sector.
Engaging Libraries projects across the UK helped people learn something new and brought new audiences to libraries:
- 84% of members of the public who took part in public engagement activities agreed that it had made them more curious and 89% said it had made them think differently about a topic.
- A quarter (24%) of participants in Engaging Libraries activities were non-library members.
They helped public libraries explore their civic role, articulate their value and feel more confident in partnerships:
- Three quarters (75%) of those who took part in Engaging Libraries activities agreed they felt more comfortable exploring topics in a ‘library held space’ than elsewhere.
- 88% of staff who took part in Engaging Libraries activities reported they feel better equipped to articulate the value of their library service as a direct result of the programme.
Engaging Libraries projects also delivered benefits for higher education partners:
- 93% of academic partners who responded to the evaluation survey either strongly agreed or agreed that working with public libraries has helped them to reach new audiences.
- 93% of academic partners who responded to the evaluation survey either strongly agreed or agreed that the Engaging Libraries project has helped them strengthen their relationship with the community in some way.
In order to highlight these benefits for library services, higher education institutions and the public, and to help libraries develop public engagement activities in partnership with universities, an online toolkit, Engaging the public with research: a toolkit for higher education and library partnerships has been created.
Public engagement can help libraries to fulfil the strategic priorities set out in Forward: Scotland's Public Library Strategy, and the toolkit provides case studies to demonstrate this. Fife Libraries’ project on the menopause demonstrates how libraries helped members of the community gain confidence to seek out help when experiencing the menopause.
The Western Isles Libraries’ project significantly raised the library service’s profile in the community and helped the public to understand that libraries are involved with other areas and activities. Staff at West Lothian Libraries formed a strong relationship with Heriot-Watt University which will feed into the ongoing library offer.
As well as case studies, the toolkit includes a 3-step guide to starting public engagement activities in libraries and details of Higher Education Institutions who are interested in partnering with libraries.