I’m sorry I can’t join you in person for the launch of the SCL’s Culture Offer today in Hull, the UK’s City of Culture 2017.
At the end of September I marked 100 days in this post as Libraries Minister - and in this time I have visited a number of libraries across England, including Manchester and Salisbury, to find out about the challenges, successes and possibilities that exist in the sector.
The range of services delivered by public libraries is impressive, as is the contribution the sector makes to local communities and the positive impact it has on so many people’s lives.
Libraries bring people together. They provide practical support and guidance. This includes health and social care, digital literacy, jobs and business support, or the enjoyment and wellbeing that literature and cultural activities bring. Libraries offer support at every stage of a person’s life.
They are places of aspiration and inspiration as people come to learn, study, write, and research. And many are destinations in their own right, like the amazing library you are in today.
But what role do libraries play in culture? Well, I believe they are uniquely placed to act as hubs of exploration and inspiration. They are able to reach people in rural communities and areas of deprivation where there are few other easily accessible cultural opportunities.
I’ll just mention two out of the many brilliant cultural partnerships libraries are forming across England.
The first is the Cultural Hubs project delivered by St. Helens library service. This project is engaging local young people, supporting neighbourhood development and community cohesion, investing in skills and learning opportunities and promoting an environment that supports health and wellbeing. It did this by being creative with its resources and challenging the boundaries of how library spaces can be used.
Then there’s Create Gloucestershire’s Art of Libraries programme run in partnership with Gloucestershire Libraries, introducing arts and culture to children and young people - particularly those who currently don’t take part in this sort of activity. Artists, cultural organisations, library staff, schools and communities are working together in new ways to achieve this. Events so far include a new lego club, illustration and graffiti workshops and a skate film competition.
So these examples show how libraries are using arts and culture to introduce people to new ideas and offer enriching experiences because, as we know, culture takes many diverse forms.
And as well as traditional events held in libraries, such as book talks and reading groups, there is also a rapidly expanding range of digital activities that provide a great option for libraries to engage with new and existing users. This builds on the rich history of libraries championing important programmes and events including World Book Day and the Summer Reading Challenge.
So what’s the role of the Cultural Offer?
It complements and builds on the positive work already taking place in libraries. It underlines the importance of libraries as cultural hubs and gateways to wider cultural activities.
And it should help people to develop and express their creativity through cultural experiences and events.
So I look forward to seeing and hearing more about how the Culture Offer will boost all this positive activity through libraries and to seeing the offer being put into practice. Thank you.
Note: John Glen was unable to attend the launch in person, so a video of him giving this speech was shown at the event.
John Glen launches the SCL Culture Offer