Public Libraries: A Route to Wellbeing

August 5, 2019

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by Jenny Peachey, Senior Policy and Development Officer, Carnegie UK Trust

This Sunday, 11 August, marks 100 years since the death of our founder, the great Scottish-American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. In recognition of this historical landmark we are publishing a special blog series this week, with a new article every day, explaining how the Trust is continuing Carnegie’s legacy, 100 years since his passing. Today Jenny Peachey writes about our work on libraries.


“A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.”  Andrew Carnegie

As safe spaces free at the point of access and open to all, public libraries are uniquely positioned to enhance our wellbeing across key policy areas: education, employment, health, community/society and culture. Our legacy aside, it’s the vital role public libraries play in improving individual and community wellbeing that provides the impetus for the Carnegie UK Trust to work with the public library sector in 2019.

Today, as an operational Trust,  we focus our efforts on adding value to the public library sector by helping to  provide space and opportunity for thought and reflection on the one hand, and by supporting new and potentially risky ideas and projects on the other. We take this approach to both provide  support for the highly important work that public libraries do, while also recognising the opportunity for libraries to provide as a lens onto some of the broader social issues that the Trust is working on – such as the role of kindness in public services, the relationship between academic research and practical action, or the impact of the digital revolution.

In terms of providing space and opportunity to reflect and think, we work in the policy sphere in various ways. For example, we are currently supporting Libraries Connected and CILIP to scope the structural support that can be brought into the national operating environment for public libraries in England – with a view to supporting the long-term sustainability of the sector. Alongside Arts Council England we are  supporting the British Library to scope what a UK-wide digital transformation programme for libraries might look like. In the past we have done things like support the development of Scotland’s first national strategy for public libraries and develop an advocacy resource that outlines how public libraries contribute to key policy goals.

In relation to our practical work, we run a leadership and innovation programme for public library staff (Carnegie Library Lab) that supports individuals through providing a learning programme, mentoring and funding to trial innovative projects in their library. We also run Engaging Libraries, a partnership programme with Wolfson Foundation and Wellcome Trust, that provides public libraries with the opportunity to run public engagement projects on research in health, society and culture. We have worked with CILIP and Newcastle Libraries to produce a guide to privacy for public libraries. The guide has been designed to help library staff consider the kind of data they collate, hold and share about those who engage with their services and how ‘privacy friendly’ their systems and resources are.

To help us navigate where to focus our efforts we take an evidence based approach and our primary research guides the areas we engage in. We also make our evidence and data sets available to all so that others can mine and explore what we find. Please get in touch if you would like to access this!

Anniversaries of any kind provide an opportunity for reflection – for looking back at the past and towards future possibilities. When we look back we are proud of our rich library heritage – and when we look ahead we are excited about the opportunity and potential of this vital service and how we can play a role in supporting it. Public libraries are incredible resources and we are passionate about supporting the outcomes that public libraries, at their best, can deliver.