Libraries at Night

April 26, 2019

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by Emma Hubbard, Bexley Libraries

Emma Hubbard from Bexley Libraries is one of our Carnegie Library Lab Partners. Her project, Libraries at Night, delivers an innovative cultural programme that animates public library buildings at times they would normally be closed to the public. The night-time use of buildings is a testing ground for different operational and financial models, to help inform and develop a business case for a longer-term approach to utilising libraries as evening venues with curated programming.

In February 2019 Bexley Libraries held their first ‘Libraries at Night’ festival which was made possible by the Carnegie Library Lab Programme.

Libraries at Night aimed to use our libraries as venues for a wide range of cultural and entertainment events. Over a two-week period we held live music events, a murder mystery evening, an instrument making workshop, a motivational talk, a pop up games café and an escape room. All of these events were put on by professional companies using our libraries as venues outside of library opening hours. We had already done some preparatory work to make our libraries ready by putting the shelving in our two largest libraries onto wheels, to allow us to open up our libraries so that there was a performance space.

Our libraries were surprisingly versatile and worked well as venues for our events. Our first event was a rock night at our Central Library which was really well received. The bands had never played in a library before and were very keen to try it out. The bands and audience were impressed by the acoustics in our library.

During ‘Libraries at Night’ there were four music events in our libraries, a rock night, a Jazz evening, Music from the Movies (played by an orchestra) and an evening with a charity who work with young people to write and produce their own music – which put on an event that had a wide range of music styles.

The most challenging event that we held was the murder mystery evening as this event involved three separate companies – a mobile bar, the actors and a catering company who were providing a three course served buffet. If any of the three companies had not arrived, then the evening would not have worked. Luckily for us it all went without a hitch and an amazing night was had by all.

Our Libraries at Night programme closed with a comedy night provided by Comedy Knights. We had been advised previously that new comedy evenings can take a long time to take off.  As it was our first comedy night, I would have been pleased with 50 people attending. We sold 93 tickets and 89 people attended the evening. The evening was a roaring success and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

Although all of our events were well attended and the feedback received was positive, there were a few hurdles to overcome. One provider pulled out just as we were finalising our promotional booklet, and luckily I was able to source another provider and slot them in just before our booklet went to print. This led to the booklet going out a little later than planned but social media helped us to really push our events and reach people who may not be library users.

Libraries at Night surprised us by appealing to those looking for a good night out, but also those regular library users who view libraries as a safe place to try things and attend events that they would not usually go to. We sold lots of single tickets and the feedback received noted that these people would not usually attend events in the town centre in an evening. We also had a different group of people attend than was expected. Our town centre caters well to younger people looking for a good night out and these were the people we expected to attend out events. However, we found that our events really appealed to those aged 40-70, who were not interested in going to pubs or clubs but still wanted a fun evening of entertainment.

Overall the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and has provided some really good data that we hope to use to be able to develop Libraries at Night into a sustainable project. This will not only bring in extra revenues to our libraries, making use of a valuable asset after opening hours, but also allow our libraries to continue doing what they do best; bringing the community together.

To see photos from all of our events visit www.bexleylibrariesatnight.com

Photo credit thanks to Bexley Libraries.