The potential of library-university partnerships

Have you considered collaborating with public libraries to deliver public engagement?

Arts Council England has recently commissioned research to explore the potential for greater partnership working between public libraries and higher education institutions.

“In our role as the Library Development Agency, Arts Council England is exploring the potential for supporting greater partnership between public libraries and Higher Education.

“We look forward to discussing with the HE Sector what future partnerships might look like and how building relationships with public libraries could help them achieve their objectives, particularly around public engagement.”

Sue Williamson, Director, Libraries and Birmingham, Arts Council England

Independent Mind, the organization carrying out the research, has found evidence of exciting public engagement activities already taking place in public libraries and invites you to consider how public libraries could support your public engagement work.

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Here are just some of the many exciting examples of partnership working that we have found so far:

Wakefield Libraries working with individual academics from the University of Leeds to facilitate knowledge exchange with local people

“The library service can make connections with higher education so that learning continues like a ribbon through people’s lives and to prevent universities drifting away from local communities”
Claire Pickering, Senior Library Officer, Information and Culture, Wakefield Libraries

Claudia Sternberg, a member of the Legacies of War team at Leeds University, made contact with Wakefield Library Service through her activities as part of a research and public engagement project for the First World War centenary.

Wakefield Library Service supported the research project by hosting events and an exhibition, making links with local schools and history groups and publicizing information to library members and visitors. They also provided access to relevant records in the local studies library and made a multi-purpose room available for talks and workshops.

“It was one of the best things to involve the public library in our public engagement project. It has been very important for bringing the topic to those who wouldn’t have come across it otherwise.”
Claudia Sternberg, Senior Lecturer, School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, University of Leeds

Libraries Unlimited and the University of Exeter: extending the reach of the new Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health

Image courtesy of Wellcome Centre for Cultures & Environments of Health CC-BY-SA

Libraries Unlimited has developed a partnership with the new Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health (WCCEH). Exeter Library provides space, support and promotion to enable researchers at the WCCEH to engage with the diverse audiences that the library attracts.

Activities to date include a new publication called ‘A Catalogue of Cures’ which focused on the little-known resources on medical history held by the library; a joint symposium on the theme of lifestyle balance bringing researchers together with patients and community partners; two WCCEH launch events hosted in the library featuring poetry, drama and a Living Library around the themes of culture, health and wellbeing and a celebration of the 70th Anniversary of the National Health Service which also engaged library customers with current research into the health of the NHS.

“We have learned a great deal already through engaging with academics and researchers at the Centre on how we can develop and support an enriching programme of public engagement through our libraries.  In return we have enabled academics to undertake socially engaged research with the diverse customer base of the library”.
Ciara Eastell, Chief Executive, Libraries Unlimited

Norfolk Libraries and the University of East Anglia in award winning public engagement work

Image courtesy of Dr Tom Roebuck, University of East Anglia

Dr Thomas Roebuck has recently won a UEA Engagement Award for his “Unlocking the Archive” public engagement activities with the Norfolk Heritage Centre at the Millennium Library in Norwich. He worked with library staff to develop new ways for the public to interact with rare books from the 15th, 16th and 17th Century through “Hands-on Drop-in” events and interpretations by local artists and designers hosted in an exhibition at the library as part of the AHRC’s Being Human festival. Find out more about this project through @archiveunlocked.

We need you!

The research project is ongoing and we now want to hear from people working in Higher Education, whether or not you have ever considered collaborating with a public library.

Please take 10 minutes to complete this survey to support Arts Council England in policy development around public library and Higher Education partnerships.

Complete the survey

The final report, including the findings from this survey will be published by Arts Council England in Autumn 2018. If you have any questions about this research please contact Katie Pekacar at

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