November 10, 2015

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In times of public sector spending reviews and with many services facing cuts, the importance of ensuring that these services are highly-valued, needs-led and adaptable cannot be overstated. Having leaders with vision, energy, and the range of requisite skills in public organisations is vital. Public libraries are no exception to this and with this in mind, the Carnegie UK Trust created ‘Carnegie Library Lab’:  a programme  aimed at supporting library staff in the UK and Ireland to deliver an innovative project, whilst developing their leadership potential through a package of online learning, mentoring and peer support.

Blake Stevenson Ltd, a social research and organisational development company based in Edinburgh has had the pleasure of working alongside the Trust, the participants (known as Carnegie Partners) and their mentors to evaluate the impact of this programme.

Since meeting the first cohort of seven Partners in the inspiring Library of Birmingham earlier this year, to hear about their projects and get to know them, we have followed them as they have progressed through the programme.

The projects range from Library Bikes to Digital Toyboxes and the participants themselves operate at differing levels in library services, and in a range of capacities. Learning from each other is an important additional benefit of the programme.

We have worked with Partners to develop self-evaluation frameworks and plans and recently undertook in-depth interviews with Partners and their mentors to measure their progress to date. Although only at the half-way stage, all are making good progress, with some in particular having made real in-roads into influencing the library services delivered in their area.

That is not to say that some have not encountered challenges – after all hiccups are an important part of the learning process. These challenges have ranged from working against a backdrop of service redesign and changes in line manager, to navigating complex and slow procurement processes, to developing relationships with new organisations. Challenging themselves to work differently and try new approaches has also been an important part of the learning process. Tools provided by the online learning resource, mentors and senior staff from within their service have variously helped Partners work through these challenges.  Critically, Partners have been encouraged to work with senior staff in their own library service, and with external partners, to develop projects which integrate with other work going on.

The format of the programme has worked well so far, with a mix of face-to-face and distance learning, alongside the practical project implementation. All of the Partners have rated the content and format of the online learning platform highly – although finding time to dedicate to it is often challenging.

Mentors have also been a vital element of the support package offered to the Partners. The Trust’s Library Lab Advisory Group carefully selected mentors who had experience directly relevant to the individual projects funded and signs so far suggest that these have been a good match. Without exception, Partners have spoken highly of the input from their mentors – with mentor input fundamentally changing elements of some projects.

Important lessons have already been learned for moving forward. Some projects are becoming well embedded in their library service, and buy-in and support from senior management is certainly critical to this. This is likely to bring benefits in projects being sustained beyond the Library Lab programme. Again, Partners found the Library Lab application process easy to navigate, but some tweaks and fine-tuning are being made to make the application materials clearer for staff and services who want to get involved.

For Blake Stevenson staff, evaluating the impact of the programme so far has been a pleasure. We look forward to continuing to work with current Partners and further evaluating their progress ahead of our final report on Cohort 1 next spring. This final report, in addition to getting to know the second cohort of partners will make 2016 a busy year for the programme and for us.

To find out more about how to apply for the second round of Carnegie Library Lab please click here.