Today we can reveal the Culture and Creativity shortlist for our inaugural Libraries Connected Awards. Each of these entries has gone above and beyond expectations during the past, challenging year-and-a-half to maintain and expand upon their library service's offer to the community - below you can read short descriptions of their inspiring work. Huge congratulations to all!
Sharon Kirkpatrick, Dorset Library Service
Sharon has led the development of the cultural offer in Dorset with a focus on programmes to develop culture and creativity across the network of 23 rural and town libraries. Recently Sharon has established a digital arts programme of 11 events and two artist residencies for young people and adults. This builds on the success of work at Weymouth and Gillingham libraries to develop these libraries as cultural hubs which engaged with over 8,000 people.
Sharon aims to increase our reach to diverse communities by introducing high quality artists to communities who do not experience many cultural events. Dorset's culture offer provides inclusive arts events relating to specific community groups e.g., adults and children with disabilities, minority ethnic communities, adults living with dementia and young people and adults with poor mental health. There is also the opportunity for young people to actively engage in Arts Award Discover and Explore.
Sharon has also included a legacy issue into the work by ensuring that library staff are trained in diversity awareness, digital and event hosting skills. Her drive and leadership is the key to this inspiring and innovative work in Dorset Libraries.
Rachel Ridealgh, Norfolk Library and Information Service
Rachel instigated Norwich Time Travellers, a group that offers older people a chance to explore heritage collections and share memories. Rachel’s kindness has kept this important network for vulnerable people active throughout lockdowns by encouraging the use of conference calls.
Rachel widens the reach of the library and has championed the Young Heritage Collective (YHC), a group of young people aged 13 to 18 who learn about hidden aspects of local history, influence exhibitions and events programmes and advocate for the library service. Rachel guides their social experience and allows these people to flourish. During 2019, Rachel led the hosting of the British Museum’s only public library location for 'Desire, Love, Identity: exploring LGBTQ+ Histories'. Her inclusive approach has resulted in a strong legacy in partnership with the LGBTQ+ community.
Sam Whitehouse, Pontefract Library
Sam’s creativity and inventive thinking has introduced numerous exciting innovations for customers, most notably the ‘Cinema in the Library,’ a Libraries Connected Yorkshire and Humber funded project that provides free cultural experiences to local people.
Sam has a clear impact on improving the service that Pontefract Library offers through his innovative approach to engaging the public in library activities. The Cinema in the Library project is a prime example of Sam encouraging schools, colleges, businesses and the community to engage with the service by identifying needs and addressing them creatively.
Going forward, Sam is building links with sixth form colleges, traditionally a hard demographic to reach. The local college is excited by the cinema’s potential to spark creativity in their students by allowing them to showcase their work in a cinema setting. He is developing a program of events for 2021-22 to include cultural offers incorporating mindfulness, reminiscence and health and wellbeing focused events. These will ensure that the cinema is an appealing, accessible and inclusive space for the whole community.
Nicky Smith, Nina Risoli & Susie Hilmi, Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea Libraries
Nina, Susie and Nicky have developed an adult events programme that has been compared to a 'free MA in culture'. They have learned new online skills to produce talks, lectures and seminars for a worldwide audience on a huge range of subjects covering history, local studies, architecture, archaeology, cinema and media studies.
This has been done without the need for extra funding except for a Zoom account. Academics and experts in their field have given their time and expertise for free, happy to showcase their work and develop a new audience. It has been an excellent example of cross-borough promotion.
Ellesmere Library’s Mermaid Trail, Shropshire Libraries
Ellesmere Library's Meremaid Trail initiative has boosted community connections, tourism, literacy and the local economy in one fell swoop this summer.
Fully supported by branch manager Sheila Williams, library assistant Sally Poynton has spearheaded a huge community arts effort over the past year, providing local businesses, schools, and groups with hand cut MDF templates for customised decoration. It has resulted in a competition trail of more than 90 fabulously creative meremaids and meremen adorning the town centre until September. This is a real community effort designed to draw visitors from the main mereside beauty spot into the small market town to see what's on offer from local independent traders badly hit by the pandemic.
Staff members have also carefully linked the mermaid theme with the Wild World Heroes Summer Reading Challenge. Young Ellesmere readers joining the challenge will get the chance to meet marine mammal medic and professional underwater mermaid Seren during the summer. She will talk about her conservation work, her diving career and will also highlight water safety messages. In an innovative move for the library, scheduled events will also offer Summer Reading Challenge participants the chance to swim alongside Seren at a local swimming pool.
Karolynne Hart, Gateshead Libraries
Karolynne has managed numerous externally-funded projects. Most recently she secured Arts Council/Bearing Foundation funding leading to the creation of Arts Diamonds. The focus of this was the reduction of social isolation for older people through creative cultural activities. Prior to lockdown the project delivered a wide and varied programme of arts workshops in our library network.
During the pandemic the project has gone from strength to strength, engaging over 200 elderly people with posted newsletters and activities, phone calls, online activities, Facebook groups and more. Library customers have expressed how it has truly got them through the last year. Karolynne is incredibly busy, but always finds time for the human touch, ringing members who she knows are particularly isolated for a chat.
Karolynne has establish a network of amazing partnerships that have brought true diversity of the library service offer and reached new audiences. These partnerships have led to the award-winning GEM Arts (Gateshead Ethnic Minority) and GIFT (Gateshead International Festival of Theatre), now permanently residing in the Central Library. Library users get amazing theatre experiences and a wonderful Mini Mela. Karolynne also works closely with Curious Arts, which has led to the delivery a hugely successful Mini-Pride event at the Central Library.