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A New Chapter – Libraries In The 21st Century

With library funding and visitor numbers continuing to decline, how is it that a group of London libraries actually managed to increase footfall among children and families?

  • A New Chapter – Libraries In The 21st Century

Over the last six years, 343 libraries have closed, with a further 111 facing closure this year. This is a hugely significant figure, with children’s author Alan Gibbons suggesting that the public library service is facing its ‘Greatest crisis in its history’. This decline leaves us wondering what will happen to our once flourishing libraries, and whether it will have an impact on our future generation’s love for literacy.

Dr Bryony Birdi, who holds an MA in librarianship, has said: “I don’t want people to think that libraries are over, they will just look different and I think we do accept that.”

There’s no denying that libraries need to adapt their facilities in order to modernise the environment. As part of this, the government is funding a roll-out of Wi-Fi in libraries to attract more footfall – but is there more that libraries can be doing to move with the times, and appeal to the masses?

Elizabeth Elford, of the Society of Chief Librarians, said: “I think inevitably there will be fewer public libraries… but they will be better and more innovative. We are really trying to be attuned to the needs of customers, above and beyond books.”

Innovative parnerships

Cultural Community Solutions (CCS), an arm of the support services company Carillion, runs the libraries on behalf of local authorities in Croydon, Ealing, Harrow and Hounslow, and offers one example of how libraries can make the transition into the 21st century. CCS sought to address the needs of the communities served by said libraries, and innovated accordingly.

As Fiona Tarn, libraries development manager, explains, “We recognised that books are just the beginning of what we can do. We can be a platform for children’s creativity and innovation. It was back in June 2015 that we started a partnership with LEGO Education across our UK libraries, and we’ve never looked back!

“Combining the power and fun reputation of LEGO bricks with endless stories spanning all genres has been really successful. It’s not just about building models – our staff have been delivering various workshops using literacy, maths, science and technology-based resources provided by LEGO Education.”

She continues: “While many libraries are facing closure and declining visitor numbers, our footfall is increasing! It’s due to these innovative partnerships that we’re able to reach new people, and attract families. We’re now attracting an age group that traditional libraries tend to struggle with.”

Retention and engagement

The secret is not to be afraid to mix the traditional with newer, and arguably more innovative resources, giving learners the opportunity to reignite a passion for literature, as well as engaging their imagination. The children visiting CCS libraries are of course having fun ‘playing’, and while they might not realise it, they are building key skills including problem solving, collaboration and creativity. 

If you ask any teacher, they will tell you that it is often when a child is genuinely enjoying an experience or task in the classroom that their retention and engagement is at its highest. This shouldn’t be any different in the library environment, and the workshops at CCS libraries allow children to express their feelings, develop expertise, and explore their imaginations.

Fiona adds, “Libraries can be more useful than just reading books. Giving children access to hands-on resources means tasks can take on more imaginative possibilities, reinvigorating learning that may have originally been limited to a single method. Inviting children to explore these concepts in an open space in the library means they aren’t confined to the rules in the classroom, and are given the freedom to experiment and discover all kinds of possibilities.

“We’ve seen so much natural enthusiasm; the children forget where they are and become submerged in the stories they have created and built. Being able to offer hands-on workshops hasn’t just benefited visitors either; it’s provided our library staff with a whole new skill set, allowing us to really take a leap into the 21st century!”

Providing children with creative and hands-on educational resources allows them to create their own ideas and solutions to problems. In a fun environment, they’ll never feel like a task is beyond their abilities. They have the freedom to explore, and the determination to see their creations come to life.

Libraries haven’t reached the end of their time, they simply need to adapt to the evolving world. By reinventing themselves and adjusting to the changing needs of their audience, they will begin to write another chapter, instead of the conclusion.

Further information about how LEGO Education is working with CCS can be found here

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