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Libraries Unlimited and University of Exeter secure £200,000 Arts Council England research grant

Posted on 07 Oct 2016

booktrackA two-year research project to understand the impact of libraries on local communities in Devon has been awarded a £200,000 grant from Arts Council England (ACE).

Libraries Unlimited and the University of Exeter Business School have teamed up to undertake research into the value of our libraries, and how they can best meet the needs of their users.

Since April this year, Libraries Unlimited, a new social enterprise responsible for the running of Devon’s Libraries, has been developing new approaches to the delivery of library services and ensuring they remain at the centre of our communities.

Now the organisation has teamed up with academics and researchers within the Public Policy research cluster at the University of Exeter’s Business School and other organisations to launch a two-year research project which aims to build improved understanding of the ways in which libraries support individuals and communities, reaching beyond libraries’ traditional book lending role.

The project is supported by a £200,000 grant from Arts Council England, announced today. Whilst the research will focus on the social impact of libraries in Devon, the research team will be sharing the learning that emerges with libraries across the country.

Ciara Eastell, Chief Executive of Libraries Unlimited, said: “It’s so exciting to have the backing of Arts Council England for this vital piece of research. The funding will go a huge way towards helping us to understand the cultural, social and artistic values of our libraries, and what we need to do to increase it in the future so libraries continue to have an impact on people of all ages in all communities. There has been very little research in this area before, so the findings will benefit library users not just across Devon but across the whole country.”

“Libraries are special to many people in many different ways but there is little solid evidence of the difference they make to key policy agendas, such as health and wellbeing and connecting people in our communities.  As other public sector sectors are being withdrawn from local communities, libraries have an increasingly important role to play in meeting a range of needs within local communities.

She continued: “As a new charity delivering library services across Devon, it is essential that we build our understanding of the particular difference we make to people’s lives.  Working with a high quality and experienced research team, we will be able to develop a robust framework which enables us to capture the difference we make.  Over the next couple of years, we want to make sure our libraries become even more relevant to the people we serve, so this research will be an important way for us to achieve this.

Libraries Unlimited led the successful application for £200,000 funding from Arts Council England to contribute towards the costs of the two-year project.

Also involved in the research will be the South West community interest company the Real Ideas Organisation, and ODI Devon, part of the Open Data Institute. Both organisations will help with the project, and a research fellow from the University’s Business School will be appointed to co-ordinate the research.

Ciara said: “The University of Exeter Business School has a great deal of expertise in this kind of research so we are confident that the outcomes of the research will be robust and very valuable.

She continued: “Our findings will be incredibly useful not only to libraries but other cultural organisations such as museums and galleries as they seek to better understand the value they create for society as well as understand and face the challenges that lie ahead.”

Researchers including Beverley Hawkins, Will Harvey, Adrian Bailey, Hugh Waters and others from the University of Exeter Business school who are experts in leadership, organisational change, reputation and social enterprise, will act as advisors on the project.  Libraries Unlimited is already supporting a PhD student from the University’s Business School whose three-year programme of research focuses on the establishment and development of Libraries Unlimited as a new organisation.

Dr Beverley Hawkins, Senior Lecturer, Leadership and Organisation Studies at the University of Exeter Business School, said: “We are very excited to be helping Libraries Unlimited explore what makes Devon’s libraries special, meaningful and relevant to people. We hope our work ensures that these spaces continue to be innovative and enjoyable.”

Professor Will Harvey, Director of the Public Policy cluster at the University of Exeter Business School, said: “We have witnessed major changes in how libraries are used and our team are looking forward to working with Libraries Unlimited to ensure that libraries provide the most innovative and enriching experience for their members.”

Academics will run a series of problem-solving and learning meetings called Action Learning Sets (ALSs) with the leadership team at Libraries Unlimited.  This will allow managers to identify challenges and solutions. The academics will also host a series of Action Research Summits at the Business School, where the innovative ideas developed as part of the project will be shared with staff who work across the arts and cultural sector in other parts of the country.

Phil Gibby, Area Director, South West, Arts Council England, said: “This is excellent news for the partnership. Libraries are cultural hubs at the heart of communities and their social impact can be invaluable.

“Our research grants aim to improve knowledge and appreciation about the value of arts, libraries and museums; to help us better understand and demonstrate how the arts can make a real difference in people’s lives and hopefully reach out to even more people. We look forward to seeing the results of the project.”

Libraries Unlimited believes…

…in the unlimited potential of library services to make a positive difference to people’s lives and communities through a shared love of reading and access to high quality information and facilities.