Sunday, 8 May 2016

The SCL Learning Offer in the North East

Last Friday 6 May I had the opportunity to attend the Society of Chief Librarians' Universal Offers roadshow at Newcastle City Library.
My understanding is that the Universal Offers have been developed by the SCL to better promote what public libraries do but also help library services understand where they might be lacking or leading compared to others in England. When a public library signs up to an Offer they agree to provide a core package of services linked to a particular area. For example, the Digital Offer includes: "free internet access (for a minimum period of time), clear and accessible online information about library services, staff trained to help customers access digital information". The Offers are continously expanded and new ones are developed.

The regional roadshows allow librarians to come together to share best practice but also provide feedback on each Offer - for a snapshot of the North East event, check out the #neroadshow hashtag on Twitter. I spent my day at the Learning Offer table, as I had been asked to share my experience of releasing and re-using library data and how the Wuthering Hacks hackathon I organised last month encouraged members of the public to "develop and share ideas and learn together" in libraries, which is one of the points in the Learning Offer.

The Learning Offer also covers "that coding and making stuff"; as library staff felt they needed more information about how to run these types of activities, the SCL has produced a toolkit called Code Green to help them.
In Newcastle we have recently invested in some kit, so my colleague @biblioluke and I had set up some (Raspberry Pi, Arduino, etc.) in the room for roadshow attendees who'd never tried these to have a go. I am afraid the first thing I did with attendees arriving to the Learning Offer table in the morning is engage them in a bit of making! They created foil sculptures - which were fantastic and included a bird, a boat, a bracelet, a dog, a caterpillar (or similar type of creature) - to show off how a MakeyMakey works!

The reason for this post is simply that I took a few notes during the day, and instead of forgetting them I thought I might as well write them all up. Below is therefore a quick roundtable of some of the things I heard from colleagues in library services across the North East.

The Learning Offer in the North East: what other libraries are doing
  • Gateshead Libraries, like many others, offer a weekly job club: in 4 to 5 weeks unemployed customers learn how to write their CV using a computer, search for jobs online... Theirs is mainly attended by people over 50 years old. They may not get a job straightaway but they get a huge confidence boost.
  • In Middlesbrough the local history volunteers are realising how valuable their local knowledge is and therefore building their confidence too. They are now presenting to other groups and doing talks, one volunteer even teaching another how to use Powerpoint when they weren't particularly IT-savvy! 
  • In Northumberland the first Code Club is about to start at Hexham Library. When the library service was looking for volunteers, most of them seemed more interested in working with schools... In the end the Council's Digital Team helped get the Code Club set up, so the library is getting benefits from the activity with minimal input. 
  • In North Tyneside the Lifelong Learning arm of the Council deliver courses in libraries and are happy to take suggestions from library staff on further courses to offer.
  • Stockton Libraries took part in the BBC Get Creative Day on 2nd April and invited local creative people to showcase their work and run workshops for customers, including one on pottery and another on book art!

Thoughts on the Learning Offer
  • Local Studies and Family History are actually a big part of most services' learning offer (more than coding!)
  • The Learning Offer gives public libraries a chance to target other groups - those that maybe don't use libraries much / that we don't cater for very well e.g. teenagers, young adults in education.
  • More and more services are being pressured into generating income, but most of our customers can't afford to pay for things including learning activities.
  • Barriers to implementing the Learning Offer: space, time, money, staff. There are also less learning providers and they are offering courses in libraries with now-reduced hours.
  • Some Councils are putting pressure on libraries by asking: "OK, the library is doing this because it fits with its role, but what does it bring to the Council as a whole?"
  • Comment on the hackathon case study: if libraries ask Councils/IT anything to do with systems and data, the first answer they'll get is no.
  • Through SCL we could work more closely together. It's great to be able to meet people at the regional roadshow and know who to ask for advice on particular topics, though more formal peer mentoring or training is needed.
  • Next steps for the Learning Offer: more stuff for adults! Coding is not just for children [I couldn't agree more!]

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