Seeking inspiration and sharing innovation

May 8, 2019

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By Claire Pickering and Maria Reguera

Two of our Library Lab partners – Claire Pickering in Wakefield and Maria Reguera in Redbridge – reflect on the Libraries Connected Innovation Network Gathering at Leeds Central Library in April.

Claire Pickering:

Maria and I were delighted to have been chosen to present short talks and round table discussions about our projects at the Libraries Connected Innovation Network Gathering held in Leeds on April 3rd. It was good to be among fellow innovators who took an active interest in our projects and were full of useful questions and suggestions.  It was also great to hear from the other speakers who included Libraries Connected president Mark Freeman from Stockton Libraries and Lotta Muurinen from the ground-breaking Oodi library in Helsinki. The presenters led discussions covering diverse topics including digital makerspaces, tablet lending, wellbeing cafes, gaming and practical ‘nuts and bolts’ issues such as self-access libraries and library fines removal.

I was invited to talk about my Library Lab project Unhampered Reads, which are themed baskets bringing prose-and poetry-fuelled discussion to communities who would not normally engage with reader groups of a traditional nature. This project involves not just the resources; 16 themed hampers containing readings, pictures, sounds, smells and inspirations; but also training to upskill library staff, health partners and volunteers. Afterwards I convened a roundtable discussion on this theme and there were lots of interested colleagues who wanted to know more about the project, how it was working out and whether training was available to them too. There were also some helpful suggestions such as targeting children and schools and the potential for intergenerational work.

I really enjoyed the atmosphere of constructive questioning and curiosity, and after overcoming the challenge of presenting to a crowd of peers I found that it really helped me to identify new directions for my project and consider new angles that I had not thought of before. It also helped to hear about innovations happening elsewhere which I could translate back to the library service where I work. It was a really inspiring day and I am glad that I took the opportunity to participate.

Maria Reguera:

The invitation to give a short presentation at the Innovation Gathering was a great opportunity for me to showcase the progress of my Carnegie Library Lab Project: Reuse, Recycle…Robots.

Reuse, Recycle…Robots is a project to give young people and their families an insight into the skills needed to participate in the building of a new world of robots as they emerge into our lives. Through a series of workshops, they reuse everyday materials and by combining them with electronics like the micro:bit or the Hummingbird they transform them into robots that they then programme to perform basic tasks.

To bring the idea to life at the workshop, I brought Harriet, a dog robot built by a 10 year old girl, as well as jellyfish, flower and bee robots built during family learning workshops at Redbridge Central Library.

Using details of how Harriet the dog robot was built, I threaded a story starting from humble cardboard and milk lids and leading to an amazing robot that likes wearing bows, licking people and wagging her tail. And in good fashion during the round table discussions, participants had a chance to check out her light sensor and put in motion the winch mechanism to activate her tongue and the servo motor to move her tail.

It was great to interact with so many other library staff who are also trying to incorporate more digital making activities into their programmes –  people who are just starting and might need a little bit of reassurance to give it a go, and those with much more experience, like Explore York, who have now become my inspiration. Participants showed a keen interest in the worksheets I use the run the family workshop sessions, these are now available to download on our Lab Central Gigthub account.

I gained a lot from the Innovation Gathering: there is a world of libraries out there that are in the forefront of innovation and take advantage of new technologies and methodologies. To mention only three examples: the Tovertafel table used in Wakefield Libraries to reach new audiences; libraries in the Midlands that bring theatre to their premises through The Spark Arts for Children and librarians that are using new available tools like the Manchester colour wheel to figure out how to better help people in the community.

As Mark Freeman remarked, libraries are cradles of innovation. If you meet him, do ask him about his story of working at a library with the first turntable available in the area!