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Cultural and creative enrichment: how libraries deliver

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This is the second in our series of posts which illustrate how libraries contribute to a wide range of outcomes. Last week we shared examples of how libraries support increased reading and literacy. This week it’s all about culture.

Cultural and creative enrichment

Cultural and creative opportunities enrich lives. As the new Culture Secretary, Karen Bradley, said in her maiden speech: ”Watercolour painting, playing a sport, visiting ancient and beautiful places, drawing, writing poetry, mastering a musical instrument – all of these lead to a life well lived. They raise the human condition and cheer our spirits. Simply put, they make us happy….. It is precisely the aggregate effect of these individual experiences that will bring about a healthier, smarter, more peaceable, more cohesive, and happier society.”

Libraries are well-placed to increase participation in cultural activities because of their use by all social groups and their role as inclusive cultural hubs within communities. Libraries also point people to wider cultural activities, objects, knowledge and sites, and encourage individuals to explore different cultural experiences and to create things themselves.

Below is the icon we have created to symbolise this outcome. To make it easier to spot related content, you’ll start to see this on material produced by the Libraries Taskforce that relates to work being done that supports this outcome. It’s freely available to download from this folder if others want to use it.

Culture icon
Culture icon

Arts Council England is the national development agency for libraries in England in all they do, bringing particular expertise and support for libraries in developing their cultural and creative offer. This takes many forms, not just investment, and most of the work shown below is the result of that support.

A Universal Offer

The Society of Chief Librarians announced in July that they were developing a Universal Culture Offer:

This Offer recognises public libraries as welcoming places where children and adults can immerse themselves in every form of art: learn from local artists; create their own art; watch theatre, music and dance performances; and learn about art and culture through books and reading.

The benefits of art and culture are well documented. Almost 60% of people are more likely to report good health if they have attended a cultural place or event in the last 12 months. Libraries are often the first place that children and young people experience art and culture, through books, free taster sessions and library events. Library staff are catalysts for activity and exploration, often making suggestions that customers wouldn’t have thought of on their own

The art of the possible - libraries as creative hubs in St Helens

“‘Cultural Hubs’ is helping St. Helens Council deliver its objectives of engaging with the needs of local young people, supporting neighbourhood development and community cohesion, improving the skills and learning of local people and promoting an environment that supports the health and wellbeing agenda, through creative use of the arts across St. Helens’ libraries. The borough is one of the most deprived in the UK. However, the library service has struck several partnerships that are actively driving a major transformation, improving mental and physical health and tackling social care problems in the town via performances and transformative arts projects in the library spaces. Participants in the programme are typically those accessing adult social care and health services or at risk of needing these services.”

This was the description of the work done in St Helens as they were shortlisted for the CILIP Libraries Change Lives award 2015.

UC Crew - an award winning youth organisation in St Helens taking part in "Books and Breakin": 13 Library Flashmob Challenge. Photo credit: St Helens Council
UC Crew - an award winning youth organisation in St Helens taking part in "Books and Breakin": 13 Library Flashmob Challenge. Photo credit: St Helens Council

As part of the programme, audiences were invited to attend performances of ballet, music, storytelling, theatre, spoken word and poetry as well as visual art exhibitions. Participants could enjoy a range of opportunities to ‘have a go’ themselves, including digital arts, paper den making and story-telling workshops. With match funding from Public Health, they commissioned Collective Encounters, a professional arts organisation specialising in theatre for social change, to deliver a music and drama project with adults affected by mental health issues. Further work addressing mental health stigma was delivered by the Comedy Trust, who sourced additional funding from Time to Change to deliver stand-up comedy workshops for adults.

Taken during the performance of 'I Believe in Unicorns' by a theatre company called Wizard Presents. Photo credit: Karen Thornburn/St Helens libraries
Taken during the performance of 'I Believe in Unicorns' by a theatre company called Wizard Presents.
Photo credit: Karen Thornburn/St Helens libraries

Cultural Hubs has enabled a real focus on pushing the boundaries of how library spaces can be used and enabled them to offer arts experiences to people in their own neighbourhood. One audience member summed it up when they said “A play like this would be something we would usually have to go to Liverpool or Manchester to see so it’s amazing to have a quality production like this in my local library”.

Find out more about this programme in the case study we published as part of our Libraries Shaping the Future Toolkit.

HOT OFF THE PRESS: We recently learned that the St Helens programme has won another award: Congratulations to the team! Article on Arts Council England website: Why art in libraries is winning awards

More examples of cultural activities taking place in libraries

There have been nationwide celebrations in libraries connected to the Shakespeare anniversary 2016 and more are planned.

Librarian Theatre are a small team who crowd sourced funding and developed a play that was designed explicitly to take place in libraries to celebrate the Shakespeare anniversary. Their tour is now complete, but watch out for their future plans.

Libraries as Fun Palaces. This programme sees many places in a community opening their doors and running a series of activities under the theme: Everyone an Artist, Everyone a Scientist. Many libraries took part in 2015, and looking at the list of places signed up for 2016, there are lots of new sites who are interested.

And there are many, many more.

What next?

To make sure you catch all the articles in this series, subscribe to our blogs via the signup box in the right hand panel. And if you know of any projects which also illustrate this outcome, please let us know - either by telling us about it in the comments below, or email us at and and we’ll work out whether it might make a future blog post or case study.

Next week we’ll share how libraries contribute to stronger, more resilient communities.

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