Common Libraries’ National Library Science Experiment Concludes

An update from our good friend Annemarie Naylor on Common Libraries recent activities working with library authorities around the country. Originally published at the Common Libraries Website

The Common Libraries initiative was established to ‘prototype the library of the future – today’ – to explore, develop and test new ways of working with library users, to support innovation and the evolution of library services, and expand our knowledge or information commons. Accordingly, we conducted a ‘National Library Science Experiment’ and supported x5 ‘Hack the Library’ days to better understand the potential for Common Libraries to enhance the appeal, resilience and sustainability of libraries in future, before presenting our work at two national events for further discussion, with funding from Arts Council England. Today, we’re delighted to publish the findings from our recent activities working with library authorities around the country.


Our ‘National Library Science Experiment’ successfully demonstrated the resonance of the Common Libraries message with a cohort of public library personnel – with 20% of library authorities in England expressing initial interest and 10% actively participating. Maker Instruction Set loans proved of interest in places as diverse as Newcastle, Northamptonshire and the City of London. And, we were particularly pleased to learn that, in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, staff opted to use the Baking Macaroons Instruction Set in a group setting and, as a result, a library user stepped forward and now runs a fortnightly ‘We Can Make Club’; so far, those involved have made lava lamps, planted seeds and, even, made a bird house!

We’d hoped to see better sales figures for those Maker Kits that were ‘Made in the Waiting Room’. But, we were heartened to learn that staff in South Tyneside prototyped 7 Maker Kits of their own (Keith Dickenson’s Sand Garden, Susan Inskip’s Greetings Card, Angela Boyack’s Beading, Cheryl Bradley’s Salt Dough -‘Singing Hinnies’, and Tracey Watson’s Bath Bomb), sold x5 at their South Tyneside – Hack the Library Day, and plan to work with Tyneside & Northumberland MIND to develop more to improve mental health outcomes for library users in future.

hack the library poster - Mersea LibraryIn supporting x5 programme participants to organise a ‘Hack the Library’ day, we sought to test interest in each locale in establishing Common Libraries, as well as the effectiveness of different approaches to brokering relationships between libraries, hackers, makers and creative communities. We worked with them to deploy Resources developed during Phase I and, in particular, to adapt the Maker Thursday event format successfully deployed at the Waiting Room in Colchester. The events underlined the significant scope for libraries to anchor ‘skills sharing’ opportunities in future. They also pointed toward the potential for staff and user-generated content to flow from programmes of structured events and group activities over time, which when cross-referenced with the findings of our ‘National Library Science Experiment’, would appear to indicate that Common Libraries could be established and grow around the country in future.

However, we believe a greater emphasis upon engaging a core group of people with whom to co-produce makerspace facilities and Common Libraries is needed in future, as per the work of Cultural Community Solutions to support the establishment of Creative Workspaces in London, if libraries are to move beyond event management for existing library users towards an approach which truly integrates hacking and making, knowledge/skills sharing and community publishing.

We organised two national events to introduce Common Libraries to library leaders around the country. Here’s what Kate Smyth (Library Development Officer, Oldham Libraries) had to say about our Newcastle event, shortly before the launch of Hack Oldham: “The Maker Space event in Newcastle was really useful for Oldham Library Service. We are establishing a maker space within our Central Library and are partners with Hack Oldham, the local hack space. Visiting the Newcastle MakerSpace and finding out more about The Waiting Room was great and has certainly informed our plans. Oldham has embraced the Common Libraries project and are building our own instruction sets provided by the local community. The Common Libraries project, coupled with our maker space plans, will see Oldham Libraries adapt and evolve. The ideas have proved popular with our community and fit in with our corporate values of working with a resident focus.”

Hack Oldham Launch - June 2015

In total, 50 people registered to attend our national events, and a series of vox pops captures participants’ learning from the day, together with their thoughts about possible next steps – as per this short film featuring Joanne Moulton (Library Service Development Manager, LB Lewisham):


You can also watch an overview of the ideas that were discussed at the events which highlights understanding of as well as interest in the scope for libraries to encourage contributions of knowledge and know-how from library users going forward:


So, what’s next? We’ve summarised the key findings from our recent work with library authorities in the Common Libraries: Phase II – Project Report, and made recommendations based upon the lessons learned and feedback received (for which – thank you – everyone!).



We are eager to extend our prototyping activities. In particular, we are proactively seeking to explore, develop and/or test new services underpinned by emergent technologies with library services across the UK. As such, we hope interested parties will contact us to discuss how they might become one of our trailblazers. We also want libraries to become more self-sustaining so that they are capable of adapting and innovating in the face of declining revenue budgets. Accordingly, any project library service providers opt to pursue with us will build upon the work, to date, of the Common Libraries initiative, and seek to evolve library services through greater involvement of library users in service provision, as well as modernising the way in which local people interact with their local libraries. Crucially, we believe these changes will help mitigate against projected budget reductions by growing appeal amongst new audiences. Ultimately, our aim is to establish Common Libraries as an independent social enterprise in which local authorities and other relevant bodies have a formal governance stake. That way, all concerned will benefit from closer working to nurture innovation, replication and agile iteration, and be well-placed to attract funds and social investment to further support the evolution of public libraries in future.

Download the Common Libraries: Phase II – Project Report:

Common Libraries: Phase II – Project Report (low res)

Common Libraries: Phase II – Project Report (hi res)

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