[Editor’s note: The Carnegie Trust’s Rachel Heydecker reports on 3 of the projects running as part of the Engaging Libraries programme]
The Engaging Libraries programme, a partnership between the Carnegie UK Trust and the Wellcome Trust, has been running since October 2017. The 14 projects across 17 public library services are encouraging debate, curiosity and conversation about health in a variety of ways. The projects cover a range of topics including mental health, body image and ageing - through death cafes, hula hooping, theatre performances, animation workshops and much more. This blog post gives an overview of three projects’ activities.
Oldham libraries’ project 'Comics and Cosplay; Caring for Young Minds' is using the arts to encourage conversations about mental health. The library hosted a play around mental health issues experienced by young people, followed by facilitated workshops where the audience shared their stories and experiences. Topics raised included the pressures of exams, the impact of social media, bullying and sexual identity, which went on to influence the storyline for a comic created for the Library’s Comic Con.
The library team connected with Wellcome’s Engagement Fellow Sara Kenney, an experienced broadcaster and comic creator, who gave them invaluable advice and helped broker relationships with a writer, artist and editor for their mental health themed comic, Jack and Lucy.
The Comic Con at Oldham Library was a huge success, attracting over 6,000 visitors, and sparked interest from teachers wishing to take the theatre performance, workshops and comic into schools to continue discussions. Engagement is not just limited to Oldham; the comic is being distributed more widely through libraries across Greater Manchester.
Leeds libraries’ project 'Body Image and Mind' has been holding workshops using a wide variety of artistic methods to inspire discussion about body image and self-acceptance. The library service is working with partners such as Leeds Public Health Resource Centre, Leeds Art Gallery Education Department and a variety of individual artists to deliver the project.
'Body Image and Mind' has engaged with groups across the community, including people with disabilities, men, veterans and older people, and used items from the library special collections and archives alongside methods such as sculpture, drawing and zines. At workshops, participants are asked to circle words on a card to represent how they feel before and after the activity, which has sparked further interesting conversations about self-image and perceptions of the body. The project will culminate in an exhibition of items created throughout the workshops held at Leeds Central Library.
East Dunbartonshire Leisure and Culture
'Brainworks' in East Dunbartonshire aims to get people exploring aspects of neuroscience and brain research within their local library, through practical activities and lively discussions. After initial workshops with teenagers and retirees, the library service held a Brainworks Day so that the wider community could experience the hands-on activities.
On Brainworks Day, people could try writing while wearing reversing goggles and observe the physical changes in the brain scans of musicians according to the instrument they played. The day finished with a science ceilidh with dances designed to illustrate various processes in the brain.
The project has led to interesting intergenerational discussions and captured the imaginations of people taking part.
Similarities across the projects
Although the Engaging Libraries projects are run across a variety of locations, covering different topics and using a range of methods, they have four things in common:
They are all undertaking engagement with the public about health and wellbeing topics, not simply giving information.
The projects have all formed innovative partnerships with organisations outside the public library sector; with artists, academics, youth groups and residential homes partnering with libraries, which we hope will continue and evolve.
The projects are all original; although some of the concepts may have been explored previously or similar activities may have been run before by local authorities, we believe that every Engaging Libraries project is pushing boundaries in public libraries with regards to the types of activities that they are delivering and the range of partners that they are working with.
Most importantly, no project simply uses the library as a place to host an activity, as they understand what a library can offer over and above the space in its building.
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With activity still ongoing, we are continuing to gain valuable learning from the Engaging Libraries projects. You can follow the events and outputs on the Carnegie UK Trust website and on Twitter using the hashtag #engaginglibs
Please note, this is a guest blog. Views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of DCMS or the Libraries Taskforce