Reporting back: Engaging Libraries workshops

June 26, 2017

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Georgina Bowyer, Carnegie UK Trust

Last month we held three workshops for potential applicants to the Engaging Libraries scheme.  We were delighted to have an enthusiastic response to these, whilst sorry not to be able to accommodate all of the library services from across the UK and Ireland who would have liked to attend.

Attendance at the workshops is not a prerequisite for applicants, and there were no big giveaways in terms of additional information.  Everything that you need to apply is available from the webpage here.  However, we do realise that being able to hear directly from the team and discuss things with others in person, was a very helpful process for those that attended, and in this blog, we aim to share some of the workshop content and give you an insight into the feel of the day.

The workshops were designed to be experiential and participatory so the information presented from the front was kept to a minimum.  Participants were encouraged to get to know each other through ‘speed dates’ and soon moved onto some games designed to encourage good collaboration and idea generation.  In groups of 3, we were asked to share any skill that we possess and to explain how we might give each other an insight into that skill.  For example, an expert baker would cook bread with his team, encouraging them to get involved and try the method and product for themselves.  Each group then had to come up with a rough project idea making use of the three particular skills they had shared.  We were encouraged to ‘play the believing game’ and to have a positive approach to each other’s ideas, saving any critique for later down the project development line.

Activities soon became more focussed on the health and wellbeing topics and ideas suitable for rolling out in public libraries.  We played a series of games in groups of six, using dice to prompt ideas – one with a health and wellbeing topic on each side e.g. autism, end of life care, pregnancy, and another with a mode of public engagement, e.g. a picnic, a film showing, a group walk.  By rolling the two dice, we had to come up with a project idea involving those two choices.  Later, we added a third dice which was a specific audience, such as young people, or the socially isolated.  These quick fire games helped us all to think more broadly across a full range of themes and engagement activities and challenged us to think creatively about what libraries can facilitate.

In terms of the input from the front, Andy Wright, our Carnegie Associate on the project, shared his top tips for applying:

  • Remember that it’s a public engagement scheme rather than a health promotion scheme – this scheme goes beyond health promotion, to expand the library sector’s repertoire and explore new dynamic and discursive ways in which to connect people with health and wellbeing.
  • Check your calendar and make sure that you are free on Monday 16th October – anyone lucky enough to be selected to take part in the scheme needs to attend the “Kickstarter Workshop” being held on that day.
  • Think of your bid in terms of a triangular partnership between the library, the community and the collaborator – we are looking for projects that creatively and critically engage communities, projects that enable to two way process with activities like participation, conversation, interaction, and listening.
  • Refer to the case studies included in the application pack to help stimulate ideas and consider making use the information provided in the application pack to seek out potential collaborators.  You could also explore Wellcome’s website here to see examples of the work they fund or visit the Mosaic Science site here for creative ideas about how to approach topics.
  • This is a library scheme, so ensure that the library service, as well as being the lead partner, is at the heart of your bid. Wellcome have identified public libraries as an interesting sector that they want to work with, so make it clear what makes the library different to other buildings and how your idea works in that setting.

At each workshop, we also heard from six public engagement practitioners who are recipients of Wellcome funding, about the various projects that they have run.  Many of those we heard from are also featured as case studies in the application pack available on the project web page.  These varied in theme and emphasis – Lucy Duggan from LightBox in Bristol spoke about how creativity and branding has been greatly effective for engaging people; Wyn Griffiths from SmashFest described their ‘guerilla tactics’ for involving new audiences in their science events, including giving away free tickets on the street; and Sophie Collins from the Nappy Science Gang described how she has brought together Facebook groups of mums with researchers and laboratories to answer unresolved questions about cloth nappies.

Our final activity of the day was to think through a more developed project idea working from a specific brief.  Project development questions were provided as a prompt – a resource that delegates found particularly useful – you can view them here (PDF).

Some of our delegates were kind enough to chat to camera about how they found the day and what they learnt.  We will add the video below shortly.

We plan to hold a Twitter Q&A on Wednesday 12 July, 12.30pm – 1.30pm and we are also happy to answer any queries you have about the programme directly – you can also contact one of the team using the links at the bottom of the project page here.

We look forward to receiving your applications!  The closing date is Wednesday 23 August at 5pm.