Is there a role for libraries in supporting economic growth and prosperity locally and more widely? And how do we measure what makes a difference?
If prosperity can be defined as the condition of being successful or thriving, especially in terms of economic wellbeing, the question posed is whether libraries can impact individuals and communities in the drive to prosperity.
Libraries support businesses and individuals by providing information, and by signposting to sources of support and advice. Libraries also have a long-standing tradition of helping individuals into work by providing the means and support for digital skills and lifelong learning. But how effective is this?
Prosperity and Libraries
In 2021 the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (RBWM) developed a Library Transformation Strategy that aimed to put the service onto a more sustainable footing. The vision that emerged was that Royal Borough Libraries would equip residents to aspire and thrive.
The service would:
- work with partners to secure financial support to fund library opening hours
- work closely with the Economic Development Team
- focus on young people who had been adversely affected in their education and employment prospects during the pandemic
- develop the RBWM Employment Support webpage
Library and Job Centre Partnership
The local Job Centre needed a more suitable location to see young people not in education, employment or training and identified the library as a comfortable and familiar space for this cohort.
The DWP was not able to pay the standard hire fee for use of library spaces, so an alternative delivery proposal was developed. Its aim was to improve employment outcomes or prospects of future employment outcomes for long-term unemployed individuals and groups facing the most complex and intractable barriers to work.
In return for use of library spaces, the DWP funds additional staff in libraries who provide help to customers in their employment journey.
The Library Service provides:
- a workspace for DWP Youth Work Coaches and their clients daily
- a Coordinator, funded by the DWP, to develop and manage a programme of partnership support to meet the needs of the customer group
- a Support Advisor, funded by the DWP, to support customers on a day-to-day basis with information, advice and guidance.
Partners include the National Careers Service, Talking Therapies and Optalis who give advice and guidance, CV support and interview support in libraries. The Service organises job fairs and employment events for DWP clients and other Borough residents as well as provider support networking events.
Libraries have been supporting people into employment for a very long time. In the past the difficulty has been collating and measuring the impact of library support on those looking for work. This project has enabled this impact to be evaluated against nationally set priorities.
The initial targets were:
- To work with a minimum of 160 DWP claimants within a 12-month period.
- 80% to receive support to review or create an up-to-date CV
- 60% to receive support with interview preparation
- 20% to move into employment
- 20% to move into education or training
- 10% to attend work experience.
- 5% to receive supported employment
The 12-month period is still underway; however 245 claimants have been seen so far and 219 helped with interview preparation. This significantly exceeds the original targets. 50 claimants have moved into education, training and supported employment, exceeding those targets too. The other outcomes are currently being collated but the expectation is that all targets will be met.
If both parties are in agreement, there is the possibility of the funding being available for the next 3 years, based on DWP priorities over that period.