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Curious Blog: Summer Progress

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Summer Progress: Talking audience development with library services

As part of our role supporting the development of Local Cultural Education Partnerships (LCEPs) , Curious Minds commissioned Arts and Heritage Consultant, Emma Parsons, to go ‘on tour’ this summer and talk Audience Development with staff at library services across the North West.


My early summer was spent out and about on tour in library services. Given that my ‘rider’ is a digital projector and some flip charts, you are right to guess I haven’t broken into song (and I don’t have a support act)!

I’ve been delivering sessions on ‘Audience Development with Children and Young People’ with six library services across the North West. The areas I visited have all been developing Local Cultural Education Partnerships. Given their enthusiasm and passion for their work, I’m expecting to see great things from Rochdale, Sefton, Halton, Salford, Manchester and St Helens.

One of the key messages I’ve been sharing is that staff should listen to their audiences (or customers), so they can better understand why people don’t visit or use their services more often. I ask the group how they would feel if I asked them to go to the bookies to place a bet – many of them look horrified and say how uncomfortable and uncertain they would feel in that environment. This is exactly the way some people will feel going in to a library if they aren’t used to it. Of course there are always some hardy souls who are up for anything – “Bookies… that’s fine!” But the thought of a spray tan booth or a trip to the car mechanic sees them backing away quickly. The point is that we need to think beyond the events we choose to put on and consider the whole experience of libraries for our customers; the language we use, the welcome we can provide. Libraries offer a safe, warm, friendly social space for people to spend time in. This is becoming a rarity in our local communities.

For me, the most rewarding part of the audience development sessions has been seeing the library teams enjoy the time to be creative and develop some ideas to get more children and young people engaging with their services. From ideas to de-stress exam-laden teenagers, working with Universities on widening participation programmes, podcasts for bedtime stories, and socials for Dads and Grandads, there has been no shortage of imagination.

What is more difficult is for the teams to find the time and resources to put their ideas into practice. For some, this was the first time they had met as a group for over a year. This is the reality of how stretched library services are, and some creative thinking needs to be used to address this issue too.

The idea behind the Cultural Education Challenge is to strengthen local partnerships so that, by working together, local services can offer a better and more effective cultural offer to young people. And that must a good thing to work toward.

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