Gateshead Libraries: An Explosion of Digital Creativity

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At first glance, Gateshead’s public libraries look much like any other… but under the calm exterior lies an explosion of digital creativity.

Gateshead Libraries run loads of digital exploration, engagement and learning activities. As a result, they’ve had press coverage, built partnerships with Newcastle Makerspace and the local hi-tech economy and received grant support from the Carnegie Trust.

I spoke to Jacqui Thompson from Gateshead Libraries about her work to build their digital offer. Here’s what she had to say:

So, what are you up to?

I started working on developing our digital offer in 2012, with our first E-Day, and it has all grown from there.

We hold annual E-Days – events where people can experiment with new technology, such as Oculus Rift, 3D printers and programming Raspberry Pi. The next EDay is on the 27th September in Gateshead Central Library.

We work with the local branch of international game developer Ubisoft, and Vector 76 who work in Augmented Reality to run career days to help local young people understand how to get into hi-tech jobs. Local HE and FE institutions help out too, offering STEM sessions for young people.

Newcastle Makerspace provide us with invaluable expertise, provide access to kit and deliver workshops and technology making sessions for us.

We offer social media surgeries and coding sessions using Raspberry Pi – even raiding our Local Authority IT department for old monitors and keyboards to hook up to the home made computers. Ubisoft also run game programming workshops.

Soon we’ll be offering Coderdojo sessions, electronic circuits workshops and making HTML dynamic animations.

Who comes along?

SCIENCE KIDS 4A

(image: David Charlton)

These events all started because I was asked to bring more men and boys into the library and so I got the idea of gadgets.

I didn’t target our usual library audience, instead I went online and looked at the forums there were in the North East and what groups already existed.

I joined several forums and they have been brilliant for providing free marketing to developer communities. For example, Raspberry Pi have their own digital magazine, The Magpi and they featured our events.

We also approach local schools to see if they are interested in advertising our events to school children and have been invited down as far as Durham to speak to a school there.

We get around 100 people when we run gaming events with Ubisoft. Our first EDay brought in 131 people. Last year we were able to link in with Newcastle Science Festival and that brought in 350 people. Through running the events we’ve built up a mailing list of 200 people. A lot of men and boys come but women and girls are interested too.

What’s the strategy behind your service development?

We wanted to create partnerships with a focus on creativity and skill development to coincide with the introduction of programming into the curriculum. I also wanted to build on the growth of digital businesses in the North East.

I didn’t really have a budget for this work so I decided to survey what was out there already and build the service around existing groups and companies who were already working in the field. It only took one person to understand what I was trying to do and it all took off from there.

What are you most proud of?

Being the first public library to introduce EDay and all the activities which have stemmed from it. They have put Gateshead Libraries on the map and shown people what Libraries can offer.

And convincing people that Libraries are a place where wonderful things can happen.

What has worked really well?

SCIENCE KIDS 8A

(image: David Charlton)

The partnerships have been amazing – they have enabled me to run big events on a shoestring budget.

Vector 76 bring along their Oculus Rift. We’ve had great support and direction from Makerspace Newcastle, as well as loans of 3D printers and other technology. Ubisoft, Newcastle University and our other partners have all contributed their time and expertise to run coding and other workshops. Our ICT service have provided bits of old kit for us to play with as well.

It’s all done on a goodwill basis and because they understand what we’re trying to do. People now approach me to get involved, which makes things a lot easier.

What advice would you give other services who are just starting out on developing their digital offer?

Don’t be put off easily!

You need enthusiastic staff – someone who  is not afraid to approach people, can build relationships and keep up to date with what is going on in the field and in your region.

It is not essential to be a ‘techie’ but you need to do your research, have  an understanding of what’s going on and how it can be delivered and the freedom to do so.

Always have a plan B, as someone may let you down and remember to collect and record  evidence of what you are doing so you can present it to influencers and decision makers when you get the opportunity.

(Cover image: Gateshead Libraries)

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