We are thrilled to reveal the Information and Digital 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!
Marion Tessier, Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames
During lockdown, Kingston Libraries transformed to keep communities connected. Marion developed a nationally recognised digital offer including something for parents, the isolated jobseekers; business start-ups, those who love reading, those who enjoy playing games and more.Through this digital work Kingston's service culture and vision has changed to be ambitious and experimental. They now find themselves at the centre of the Council’s transformation work.
One year later the offer has developed into more than 450 original videos, 132,000 views on social media, more than 140 interactive events and countless great interactions. The Instagram account has grown to 1,000 followers in nine months. A virtual job club with a range of partners has been attended by 100 people since December 2020.
I think the main thing I will take away from all of this is how awesome and creative librarians can be when you create a space to experiment, and time to develop new projects.
Scott Whitehouse, Staffordshire Libraries
Scott has spearheaded the Digital Offer for the whole of Staffordshire County Council. Amongst his many achievements is ensuring that Staffordshire now has the most followed Facebook page of any library authority thanks to his innovative strategy of content provision. Under his watch borrowing of eBooks/eAudiobooks has increased by 200% over the past year and use of other online resources increased by 250%.
He has innovated in the use of Facebook groups to connect with local communities, starting up an online Reading Group so that people isolated by ill health or the pandemic could socialise and keep their mental health stable. Another key contribution has been his establishment of a STEM group aimed at disadvantaged teenagers. From writing a funding bid to running the classes, and creating new partnerships with organisations such as Stem.org, he has opened up the digital offer to children who were otherwise unable to access such services, inspiring boys and girls to look at STEM careers.
Scott has been instrumental in promoting digital safety, running classes for local Scout and Brownie groups on Internet safety. He has written guidelines on how to safely use social media, as well as spearheading efforts to help teach older people how to use computers, allowing them to access information they would otherwise have struggled to reach. He has been key in expanding the eBook and eAudiobook collections for the library service, employing a democratic system of book recommendations so that the needs of a wide range of the community are represented.
Gary Archer, Solihull Libraries
Gary's expertise in staff training and in information/digital has been invaluable to staff, partners and customers throughout the pandemic. He has ensured that the electronic subscriptions were relevant, up-to-date and well-promoted, leading to some significant increases in uptake during 2020-21.
Gary has provided support to individual customers on the phone and by email in order to help them access our electronic services. He has also provided informal support to staff who have been working from home for the first time in their careers. In 2020, Gary led on Solihull’s application to Devices Dot Now (now Everyone Connected) to obtain digital tablets for loan to the digitally excluded who were struggling as a result of services moving online during the pandemic. This resulted in the library acquiring ten tablets for loan to customers. Gary made contact with a Council-led group looking at loneliness and social isolation, which resulted in the tablets we had obtained becoming part of a loan scheme administered via AgeUK and their volunteers. Gary supported AgeUK staff and volunteers by providing training and guidance on the devices.
This collaboration informed the establishment of a Loneliness and Social Isolation Steering Group within the Council. Gary has played a key role in extending the reach of libraries by raising awareness of group members around ibrary initiatives and activities in the areas of health and wellbeing, as well as community-based services. This has helped to put our libraries in a strong position as we prepare for post-Covid service reset and recovery.
Basia Godel, North Yorkshire Libraries - Harrogate
Basia Godel is a young library assistant who is deeply committed to supporting equality and diversity. Basia saw Black History Month (BHM) as a way for libraries to support Council objectives on community cohesion and racial justice, by providing information on the contribution of Black people to North Yorkshire.
For BHM, Basia initiated, organised and presented a free online webinar, The Black History of Yorkshire and Harrogate. The event featured actor and writer Joe Williams, founder of Heritage Corner Leeds, as well as Audrey Dewjee, a Harrogate resident who specialises in the local history of people of African heritage. The event was a great success, with over 100 people attending. The recording has been archived at the County Records Office. As well as a local audience, the event reached attendees from Paris, Ghana, Dominica and Vietnam. The feedback from the audience was overwhelmingly positive.
Basia is not constrained by the library assistant role but looks for and creates opportunities, going beyond what is normally expected. She is passionate, insightful, articulate and not afraid to challenge. She is an asset to the service.
Connecting Merton Project Team, Merton Library Service
In February 2021, Merton Libraries received funding from the NHS and launched Connecting Merton, an innovative scheme to get vulnerable and isolated people in Merton access to key IT equipment and to develop their digital skills. Managed by the Merton Libraries Service Development team and assisted by Wimbledon Library, the project aimed to extend the reach of Merton Libraries and reduce digital exclusion in the borough.
To date, the project has had a substantial impact by supporting over 100 vulnerable and isolated residents. The Connecting Merton project team have been fundamental in ensuring that the project is a success and demonstrated outstanding dedication, determination, passion and enthusiasm.
One vulnerable resident said:
The programme has changed my life and helped me go from strength to strength. I have learnt so much and can now Zoom with my son, watch sport and programmes on BBC iPlayer and search for things. This has opened up my world.
Makaton Story Time videos, Hampshire Library Service
In April 2020 many publishers adapted their permissions to allow libraries to read, record and share stories online. A team of volunteers from Hampshire Library Service created a wealth of video content to bring usual library activities - including Rhymetime and Storytime - to people at home.
Gosport Discovery Centre is a Makaton-friendly Library (one of only two in Hampshire Library Service at this current time) and the positive response to their online Storytime sessions encouraged the team to develop Storytime sessions with accompanying Makaton signing. The Makaton Story Time videos are available for anyone to view, but they are aimed at families who use Makaton with their children and other family members as a means of communication. Their ongoing success has resulted in a growth of interest in the library’s Makaton book collection.
Since Gosport Discovery Centre began to publish the Makaton Storytimes online they have seen an increase in issues from the Makaton book collection and enquiries regarding Makaton courses. Staff have also reported increased confidence using Makaton to communicate with library visitors.