Arts Council England and the Culture Department have revealed the recipients of the £3.9m Libraries Fund announced as part of the Libraries Ambition document, with money provided for projects ranging from an indoor soft play facility to a "human library" where people can gift their talents or experiences to people in need.
Although the funding is welcomed by library campaigners, some have expressed concern that the money is merely a "drop in the ocean" and that the bodies have failed to provide a "proper strategic plan" for the "struggling" public library service.
First announced in December, as part of The Libraries Taskforce strategy to help create "successful and sustainable" public library services, the Libraries Opportunities for Everyone Innovation fund aims to support innovative activity in England’s public libraries. Thirty local authorities’ libraries services from across the country will receive a total of £3.9m from the fund.
One recepient is Greenwich Leisure and the Royal Borough of Greenwich which has been awarded a total of £125,121 to create Story Book Play: an indoor soft play facility built around the theme of children’s literature. The Story Book area will be installed in Eltham Library, Greenwich and will bring play into the world of the library, recognising and expanding the role of play in children’s development.
Meanwhile, Telford and Wrekin Council will receive £50,000 to test a learning club for the whole family across libraries and venues in the borough. The programme aims to engage parents and carers, challenging these groups to think about the technology that their children are using and if it could be shared to benefit their own learning and employment opportunities. It will be based in some of the most disadvantaged parts of Telford and Wrekin where the proportion of families have at least one parent who is unemployed.
Hull Culture and Leisure Ltd have been awarded £243,783 to create a space within the Central Library where anyone can explore their creativity in the arts, science and technology. Building on the "enthusiasm" and "excitement" of Hull City of Culture, this space will have state-of-the-art digital and electronic equipment, and skilled staff providing support. The project will also include a mobile element with pop-up spaces across the city.
Also to receive funding is Norfolk County Council, who will use the £98,020 award money to work with volunteers to support emergent readers aged eight and over to develop their skills. The project will use a one-to-one phonics based teaching tool to help non-readers to become fluent readers in six months or less, providing people with a skill that will support them at all stages of their life – whether it is for education, work or recreation.
Darren Henley, chief executive at Arts Council England, said the fund was a "fantastic opportunity" to finance new activities in libraries and reach people all over the country who might not usually use their local library service.
"We had a phenomenal response to the fund when it opened, there is a huge appetite for funding like this, and I’m looking forward to seeing these innovative projects come to life and make a real difference to everyone involved,” he said.
Libraries minister Rob Wilson agreed, adding that the initiatives on offer from libraries are a "fantastic example of how 21st century libraries can offer a range of services that benefit communities across the country and help build a shared society that works for everyone".
He continued: "We want libraries to think differently about how they serve people in their local areas. I have been impressed by the innovative projects put forward and I can't wait to see them in action."
Kathy Settle, c.e.o. of the Libraries Taskforce, added: “We know that libraries are at the heart of their communities and we want to see them continue to thrive for future generations. Libraries providing a wide range of services to meet local needs is critical to this. Having the ability to test out new ideas in new areas through this DCMS-funded programme is an excellent opportunity, and I was delighted at the variety of projects submitted. We’ll be supporting the successful library services to share the evaluation of their projects widely so others can also benefit from their learning.”
Library campaigners also welcome the cash injections but are concerned about the lack of a "proper strategic plan" for the public library service.
Laura Swaffield, chair of the Library Campaign, told The Bookseller: "This is good news for the winners. But there were many losers, with schemes probably just as good. Libraries can do brilliant things, and at very low cost. But this £3.9m one-off fund is a drop in the ocean. DCMS and the Taskforce need to address the enduring starvation of a service that delivers big time for many government priorities."
Campaigner Desmond Clarke added: "While ACE has been happy to scatter funding at library projects, there is concern that there is an absence of a proper strategic plan and there has been weak assessment of the effectiveness of such projects. Any new monies are welcomed by the struggling service but they need first to be focused on attracting back the many users who have walked away."
The full list of recipients is available on the Arts Council website.