March 30, 2022

The many benefits of library and higher education partnerships for public engagement

by Katie Pekacar, Carnegie Associate and Rachel Heydecker, Carnegie UK

“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

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.

The Engaging Libraries projects’ delivery came to an end in November 2021, with a robust independent evaluation by Marge Ainsley coming together after this. With such rich learning about how public engagement projects can make a significant positive impact on the public and the library sector, we are pleased to publish today the Evaluation Findings in Brief, alongside an online toolkit for public libraries, in partnership with Libraries Connected, the sector support organisation for libraries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

Here are some of the evaluation’s key findings:

Engaging Libraries projects 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 (HEIs) and the public, and to help libraries develop public engagement activities together with HEIs, Carnegie UK and Libraries Connected created a new online toolkit aimed at people working in public libraries who are responsible for developing and delivering projects. As well as input from the Engaging Libraries project staff and the independent evaluation, the toolkit was informed by a Steering Group of library and HEI sector representatives including Arts Council England, NCCPE and Research England, and a working group of library staff not involved with the Engaging Libraries programme to ensure it is relevant and helpful to all. 

The toolkit includes:

  • Case studies 
  • A 3-step guide to starting public engagement activities in libraries
  • A map of Higher Education Institutions who are interested in partnering with libraries. 

The toolkit outlines the benefits for libraries and HEIs of public engagement with research, provides inspiration for project ideas and pointers for where to find funding, gives advice about approaching HEIs for partnership and more.

A Libraries Connected webinar on 26 April 2022 will provide an introduction to the toolkit for library services, and guidance on how to develop your own public engagement activities and partnerships. For more information please visit the Libraries Connected website