Tag Archives: United Kingdom

Libraries facing up to Covid in the United Kingdom

In the Summer of 2019 it would have seemed impossible to believe the situation we’ve found ourselves over recent months, with locked down library services, and a pandemic affecting virtually every part of life around the globe.  A year ago, we’d never heard of Covid 19 but it has certainly changed our lives in a very short space of time.

Across the United Kingdom, public library buildings remained closed as they have done around the world at various stages through the pandemic.  In the UK re-opening began to appear in early July and services have dealt with the challenges of post Covid lockdown in different ways according to local needs.

UK public library services were one of the last publicly accessible networks to be closed down and staff were sent to work at home where they could at the end of March.  Since then public library staff have been engaged on a wide variety of work, some related to the service and some related to wider duties within their local authorities.

The situation required a quick change in the nature of the service we offer.  Whilst every library service in the country had some form of online library service, we quickly had to develop this at pace.  The demand for eBooks and for eAudio materials at least tripled in many areas of the country and our public library services struggled to keep up with the demand.  It has required many to find more funding to put into their online content and to increase access titles by purchasing more, as well as multiple licenses for popular materials.  Online information databases and resources also became extremely important for our customers and may suppliers have relaxed access rules and provided extra facilities for us.

We continued to keep in touch with our customers – especially we knew to be vulnerable.  Telephone “buddying” schemes became an important way of keeping homebound readers in touch with both library and wider services.  A limited number of library services managed to maintain some small delivery operations to those most in need in their communities.

Staff in our public library services got used to delivering storytimes, book groups, activities and craft sessions and a whole host of other innovations online through social media such as Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and Instagram.  These have really shown the talent of the  people who work in our organisations and although at times they have created ICT challenges, library teams were incredibly innovative in working round these.  In many cases, the content created was shared between services across the country to help those who have limited resources or who were asked to supply staff for other duties in their local areas.  The wealth of material available for our communities to engage with has been reflected in the collation of sites and activities on a number of websites.

Through all of this Libraries Connected came into its own as a Sector Support Organisation, particularly in the first instance as a voice of concern over the lack of government guidance on the closure of public spaces.

As the situation developed, Libraries Connected helped to promote and share the good practice of its members.  Working with other library and reading agencies, the organization collated content in one place to show the range of work going on, as well as sharing best practice through its online support network.  Our Basecamp networks allowed us to talk to each other about the day to day challenges that we faced, providing solutions, but also just a friendly response from someone in exactly the same situation.

Now that we have passed the peak in the UK, services have been allowed to re-open but on a much more limited basis.  We prepared for this by working together through “Think Ins” and a Recovery Group facilitated by Libraries Connected and Tortoise Media.  Working together and taking on board the experiences of our international contacts, we developed our own Libraries Connected toolkit which was endorsed by central government.  This has proved an invaluable resource for all of us as we look at the best fit of recovery for our own communities, and of course the possibilities for the future.

Many library services across the UK have adopted a “ring and read” or “click and collect” approach to recovering their services – customers can select or have books chosen for them to be collected at a static library.  Some services have restored limited browsing straightaway and some have restarted their mobile library services.  All this has been achieved through team and partnership working according to the needs of local communities.

We know we will never be quite the same again, and in some ways, the Covid 19 situation has forced us to develop our digital offers much more quickly than we would have been able to before.  We still have many challenges as we start to consider how we maintain some of the best of the services we have developed quickly over the past months, alongside the more traditional place based offer we have always provided.  Usage of services in the UK has been slow to recover and we expect this to continue whilst our customers regain their confidence.  We also know that we will have to deal with significant financial challenges and challenges on the services we provide and their value.  We probably all knew before Covid  how important physical spaces and resources were, but the last six months has certainly confirmed that libraries provide people with places to meet, to learn and to live.  Our challenge now will be to quantify the real need that we know exists for people to meet, share ideas, learn and develop together – we know the value of the public library offer but we now need to communicate this strongly and be part of the rebirth of society.

If you would like to see more of the work of the UK’s public library services over the past weeks, you can visit the Libraries From Home web page at Libraries Connected here


The Libraries Connected Toolkit is available here


Libraries Hacked has also brought together a collection of You Tube videos which have been aired during the “Lockdown” period  here


CILIP’s National Shelf Service has provided book reviews on a regular basis through the week and these can be seen here


Text by Mark Freeman, Libraries & information Services Manager, Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council



Meet the candidates: Liz White

Liz White
Strategic Membership Team
British Library

I’m delighted to be standing for election for IFLA’s Public Libraries Committee and would consider it an honour to opportunity to engage with colleagues worldwide on strategic issues, share best practice and to advocate for libraries.

I am passionate about the value and importance of public libraries and of the vital roles that library and informational professionals play in today’s society.

In my role as a member of the Strategic Leadership Team at the British Library, I led the development of our Living Knowledge vision, which highlighted the crucial importance of public libraries and librarians in today’s knowledge economy.  In 2016 I was personally responsible for the introduction of the Living Knowledge Network, a new and innovative partnership between 22 public libraries and the three National Libraries of the UK, with the aim of sharing professional knowledge and providing joint offers to audiences- reaching more than 1 million people in two years through exhibitions and live screenings, as well as supporting librarians with professional development and networking.  We’re also working with external arts organisations such as the Hay Festival and Poet in the City to share their work across the UK with public library audiences.

I regularly represent the British Library at national-level and am a Board member of Libraries Connected, a sector-support body for public libraries in England and Wales.  Over the past year I have been leading a project for the UK public library sector to consider ways to use digital to enhance the civic role of public libraries and to reinforce their public and social value.  I’m a regular speaker at international library conferences and it would be a privilege to work with other committee members on developing and implementing a shared international vision for public libraries at a time when they are needed more than ever before.

For more information about voting for members of the Public Libraries Standing Committee take the time to read our post

Advocacy for UK Public Libraries

Over the past few years many of us have watched the situation with the UK’s public libraries with great interest. CILIP’s Public and Mobile Libraries Group have constructed a presentation report on the advocacy for UK public libraries activities 2007-2017.

The report includes an overview of political, professional and public advocacy campaigns and initiatives of the period. The piece covers an insight into the activities of CILIP, SCL, British Library, Libraries Taskforce, and a number of proactive individuals, including Public Library News and was created primarily for international dissemination.

Worth a look!

Live @ The Library

IFLA_Paul Tovell








For my final guest blogger post, I want to highlight the award-winning work at Oldham Libraries – a small authority on the edge of the city of Manchester.
This year they won gold at the CILIP / PPRG Marketing Excellence Awards for their innovative work to bring in new audiences, based around the refurbishment of their performance space.


Audience in the new performance space


In 2015, Oldham council received funding from Arts Council England’s Small Capital Grants scheme, being one of the only library services in the country to have benefited from this funding. Additionally, further funding was secured from Arts Council England’s Grants for the Arts (Libraries) pot which went towards developing the successful live@thelibrary programme and brand. Their idea was to support the key strategic aims of Oldham Council Libraries to raise the profile of the library as a resource not only for learning and social development, but also as a place to experience live cultural performances.

The entrance to Oldham Library

The entrance to Oldham Library

The rejuvenated performance space now has a capacity of around 80 people. The library has worked closely with other partners in Oldham to bring in a wide range of events, including musicians, drama troupes, comedians, authors and TEDx talks. The brand works extremely well, and their marketing strategy is an important part of the brand’s success. Impressively, the project has significantly increased library membership throughout its first year of operation. Surprisingly though, they don’t seem to have invested too much in their website!
I hope you’ve enjoyed the tour of new developments in UK public libraries, from Wakefield, Lambeth, Staffordshire and Oldham, and I hope they’ve made you think about what your library could do next.

Come to Code Club!

IFLA_Paul Tovell





This week I’ll be mentioning an activity closer to home for me – we launched a Code Club in Tamworth Library in Staffordshire. This is the third code club within Staffordshire, and several more are planned in our other libraries.



Code Clubs are aimed at 9-11 year olds who are interested in making their own computer games. Of course they learn far more than that – coding is about problem solving, creativity, thinking outside the box, teamwork, and sharing knowledge. Not to mention the fun they have! They are overseen by the Code Club website, which has all the resources and instructions you need for running a club, and also contains lists and maps of all the other Code Clubs in the UK. You can choose one to attend, or one to volunteer at!

In the UK all children do coding at school, and virtually all of our 9 children attending had seen the coding training website, Scratch, before. It is seen as a really important part of gearing the next generation for the future – where the majority of all jobs in 10 years’ time will require coding skills.

Code Club Volunteer

Code Club Volunteer

These clubs are run by volunteers, and our volunteer is actually a computer programmer by trade, who wants to give something back to the young people through this one-hour-a-week club. We put posters up in the library, which he saw and then got in touch with us. The resources are all provided in the form of projects, which get progressively harder, and contain fewer instructions as the coders get more confident at finding things out for themselves.

In this very first week, we could see how much fun they were having by going off at a tangent from the instructions to make things work differently – and they felt a sense of achievement at the end of the project. 5:00 came all too soon, and they left very keen to carry on learning at home – they all have a username to get onto the Scratch website from anywhere.



We organise the club in 12 session blocks – the first block runs from now until the school term ends at Christmas. After this the group get certificates and then can progress onto other programming languages like Python. But for now it’s fantastic to see a very hard-to-reach group coming into the library and having a great time learning how to code. Not a bad way to celebrate National Coding Week this week!


Fun Palaces

IFLA_Paul Tovell





This is a great idea which has already blossomed into a worldwide campaign and celebration of culture, and is starting to take off in the UK.

A Fun Palace is a free, community event with arts and science activities inspired and made by the people who live locally. You don’t need to be an expert in anything to make a Fun Palace – you just need to want to make something happen (however tiny) with and for the people that live around you. Fun Palaces happen in many different types of spaces – swimming pools, universities, shopping centres, theatres, tech spaces, woodlands, libraries and art centres to name a few. They are led by many different types of people too.
The celebration culminates in an annual weekend of action (the first weekend of October each year – this year it’s 1 & 2 October). In 2014 and 2015 there were 280 Fun Palaces created by over 5000 Fun Palace Makers across 11 nations, with 90,000 people taking part. In 2015 Lambeth Libraries in London had 11 Fun Palaces across the borough. They put up posters on library notice boards asking two simple questions with room to write answers below:

  • What would you like to do or learn?
  • What can you offer to share or teach?

The message is then displayed:
“The content was driven by the input from each library’s community. There may be lots of people in your community who are very happy to contribute to this celebration – why not find out?”
As community events go, these must be among some of the cheapest, easiest and most effective to put on, and fit very well with the current public library ethos of putting the community first.

The Fun Palace page on vimeo

The Fun Palace page on vimeo

Is your library dementia-friendly?


IFLA_Paul Tovell





Libraries in the UK are going through an unprecedented period of change – and this is leading to some fantastic initiatives to encourage new audiences. I would like to use my month of blogging to highlight some of these developments.

sandal refurbishmentDementia-Friendly Libraries are being developed in association with the Alzheimer’s Society . Many people who work in libraries are being trained (for free) by this society to be ‘Dementia Friends’, which means they understand the needs of customers with Dementia. However, whilst libraries are well known for being friendly, welcoming and social places for many people, it is also true that many are not very easy places for people suffering from Dementia to navigate. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if libraries could be safe and welcoming for them? In Wakefield, which is a small authority in Yorkshire, the first dementia-friendly library recently opened in Sandal, with the following key features:

  • No reflective surfaces. These can confuse and disorientate.
  • No patterns in the furnishings. These can cause stress.
  • Clearly defined entrances, exits and wall edges. Being sure about how to get out is really important.
  • Appropriate signage. Symbols and pictures can really help.
  • Appropriate furniture. This might sound obvious, but chairs and tables that look like chairs and tables, rather than futuristic ‘pods’.
  • Good colour choice and lighting. Deep reds are good, and oak finishes are warm and friendly.
  • Reminiscence sessions and displays. These can be low-key events with donated objects that remind people about the past and provide great talking points, and digital photos are fantastic.
  • A good clock. Preferably very big and clear, and displaying day, morning/afternoon as well as time.
Sandal Library’s new clock, with changing display screens which also show the date, and the time in other formats

Sandal Library’s new clock, with changing display screens which also show the date, and the time in other formats

The wonderful thing about Sandal library is that the public have no idea that it’s been specifically designed to aid dementia sufferers – but these small steps make the world of difference.
There is a presentation about this library online, written by Andy Wright and presented at a CILIP conference last year.

An example of how people with Alzheimer’s Disease perceive a clock face – this is  test which doctors use to assess the development of the disease. As it progresses, numbers leave the clock face altogether, and then appear in the wrong places.

An example of how people with Alzheimer’s Disease perceive a clock face – this is test which doctors use to assess the development of the disease. As it progresses, numbers leave the clock face altogether, and then appear in the wrong places.