UK Libraries to Engage Public on Major Health Issues

October 11, 2017

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  • Fourteen innovative public library projects across the UK have been funded to inspire conversations, curiosity and debate within their communities
  • The £200k programme will help libraries use creative methods to bring people together, using ‘selfies’, comic books and teddy bears, to explore ideas related to health and wellbeing
  • An additional four projects and £85k has been awarded due to the high standard of applications received

Public libraries across England, Scotland and Wales are to receive new funding to help their communities explore major health and wellbeing issues including stress, obesity, body image and even death in new ways.

The ‘Engaging Libraries’ funding, announced today by the Carnegie UK Trust and global charitable foundation Wellcome, will support libraries to engage local people in imaginative and interactive projects exploring health and wellbeing.

Activities that libraries will deliver to explore local health and wellbeing will include the development of graphic novels; teddy bear picnics; theatre performances; vlogs and podcasts; and a ‘travelling happiness bar’ that will visit local communities delivering a series of pop up events.

A total of 14 projects from Somerset to Dundee will receive funding.  The one-year pilot projects will support local libraries to experiment with facilitating discussions on issues relating to health and wellbeing. The vision of the programme is to inspire curiosity, spark debate and create conversation on a national scale.

Martyn Evans, Chief Executive, Carnegie UK Trust said: “Public libraries are unique, trusted places at the heart of local communities. The Engaging Libraries programme gives libraries the opportunity to engage with the public on a range of complex health and wellbeing issues, providing a safe space for debate, discussion, interaction and learning.

“We were delighted to receive 120 thought provoking applications to the programme and we are very excited about the range and quality of the winning entries. We’re looking forward to seeing these projects come to fruition and we hope that they will be a source of inspiration and learning for the public library sector.”

Simon Chaplin, Director of Culture and Society, Wellcome said: “Public libraries are a place where people can connect with and create ideas as well as discover information. This funding will help libraries discover how they can help their communities explore ideas related to health. As an organisation dedicated to improving health Wellcome is delighted to be supporting these projects.”

The winning projects were selected with the input of an expert Advisory Group including representatives from the Society of Chief Librarians, CILIP The Library and Information Association, Arts Council England, Scottish Library and Information Council, Welsh Government, the Local Government Management Agency in the Republic of Ireland and Libraries NI.

As a result of the high standard of entries to take part in the programme, additional funding was provided by Wellcome to allow a further four projects to take part in the pilot initiative. All participating projects will be invited to be part of a new, national online network to share learning and best practice.

The impact of the Engaging Libraries programme is to be independently evaluated by social research company Blake Stevenson Ltd.

For more information about Engaging Libraries please click here.



The projects that will be participating in the Engaging Libraries programme are:

  • Release the Pressure:” working with partners including Mental Fight Club, the City of London libraries will spark discussion on mental health through creating a mental wellbeing sanctuary featuring talks, film screenings and performance workshops, specifically targeted at males working in the City.
  • No Filter”: Essex County Council library service will encourage children and young people to share blogs, vlogs and podcasts about their everyday life, how they manage stress and how they improve their wellbeing. Working with expert partners the library will hold media and video workshops which will provide the opportunity to enable two-way engagement and debate about wellbeing.
  • Empathy Day”: in an innovative collaboration between four library services, Essex Libraries, St Helens Libraries, Libraries Unlimited (Devon) and Sheffield Libraries will develop projects to explore the concept of empathy through public engagement activities and support emotional skills, culminating in interactive library activities on Empathy Day in June 2018.
  • The Final Party – Celebrating Death through Celebrations of Life”: Redbridge Libraries will use their position as a safe and trusted space in the community to engage residents in conversations about end of life; removing fear and barriers and normalising discussions about death and dying.
  • Body, Image and Mind”: Using a variety of Leeds Central Library’s unique spaces and resources, Leeds Library Service will explore body image and its impact on people’s self-confidence, mental health and wellbeing through arts, exhibitions and various media forms.
  • Brainworks”: Libraries in East Dunbartonshire will engage with young and older people to explore brain development at different stages in life, and use the celebration the Year of Young People to work with young people and make intergenerational links.
  • Talking ‘Bout Teddies”: Dundee libraries will work with Dr Zeedyk to highlight the importance of teddies to children’s wellbeing, by recording and screening stories and short films of children and adults talking about their teddies and hosting a public lecture on attachment as part of the Dundee Science Festival.
  • Great Minds!”: Lancashire Libraries have chosen two library locations to host a library festival curated and created by young people. The project will enable young people to discuss and debate wellbeing issues and will be documented throughout the year with local film-makers, and will complement the Lancashire Book of the Year competition which is judged solely by young people in the county.
  • The Travelling Happiness Bar”: the service in Bolton will create a Happiness Bar which will deliver a series of pop up events across the area, enabling people to discuss, debate and explore the theme of ‘Being Human’.
  • Comics and Cosplay; Caring for Young Minds”: Oldham Libraries will use comic characters and stories to engage with young people about their mental health through theatre performances, creative workshops and the production of a graphic novel. Oldham Libraries will host a themed Comic Con to provide a platform to celebrate the creativity of the young people and allow their findings to be shared.
  • Slipper Talk”: Torfaen libraries will use the idea of “slipper swaps” to encourage conversations between older and younger residents about arthritis, balance and cultural perceptions around the ageing process, and to foster respect and support between the generations.
  • Teddy Bears Picnic”: With an aim to tackle obesity in the London Borough of Bexley, the library service will work with partners Apples and Snakes to inspire pre-school children and their parents through song, dance and spoken word to get them thinking and curious about healthy food choices.
  • Library Takeovers: Creating a Space for All”: Somerset Library service aim to create a more inclusive library service by involving participants with learning disabilities in library ‘takeovers,’ and creating a model of the re-designed library as a legacy. The project will be captured on film to create the opportunity for broader public engagement on learning disabilities.
  • You Can’t Judge a Book by its Cover”: Working in partnership with students from the University of East Anglia and the Science Art and Writing Trust, Norfolk libraries will host workshops to allow individuals to discuss and debate mental health and wellbeing issues by creating personalised front covers and back cover biographies which are aspirational, fictional or reality. These covers will reflect the diversity of library users and encourage self-reflection from participants and communities.