Guest blog: Building Library Services in Worcestershire

Today’s guest blog post comes from Paul Williams. Paul is Team leader Academic Services University of Worcester and one of the leads on the WLHC project. The project website is www.wlhc.org.uk.

The Worcester Library and History Centre (working title, with the final name yet to be decided) is already a pretty special place. What, to many, looks like a building site, dominated by cranes and swarmed over by builders, for me represents something much more valuable. Like many stories on this site, mine is a personal one, describing my good fortune in being involved in a project which is building a service around the community it will come to serve in a just a few short years. A project which understands why libraries are important places, why people value them so highly, and why we must continue to invest in their futures.

For the past 18 months, I have been involved in developing a unique service. With its origins back in the relatively prosperous times of 2004, WLHC is the result of a partnership between the University of Worcester and Worcestershire County Council, aimed at delivering a fully integrated library facility and service. I’ve always felt that I understood why libraries were special places to people, but never really stopped to articulate it until the beginning of this project. From the moment we sat down to start work on building the thousands of ways in which the various services could work together, we were given a set of key aims to guide us. Inspiration and aspiration, a place which helps people to realise their ambitions. Inclusivity and connection, the role of the library in bringing people together at the centre of their community, regardless of their background, connecting them with the place in which they live, as well as their history. Learning: a simple word but immensely powerful in helping people to change their lives.

Over time, these concepts have grown into a solid plan. The building will be a very visible commitment to these values, made possible by the depth of the Partnership behind it. Five floors will house the combined stock, and library staff, of the current city library and University library, roughly a quarter of a million books made available to all users. A huge childrens’ library, with space devoted to activities and projects, will form the destination of school visits as well as families in their droves, or teachers looking for inspiration. The ‘history floor’ merges the University’s wealth of information with access to the knowledge of the Records Office and, of course, the ten miles of archive collections which they bring with them. Add to that the captivating work of the Archaeology service, and the theme of connecting people with their past becomes ever clearer. Meeting rooms, facilities for local business, the Customer Services Hub, exhibition and performance spaces – all of these take the value of the library in the community, and simply extend it.

Several people, on this site alone, have spoken of how magical it was to going to their library when they were a child, and how this is something you simply don’t forget. I count myself amongst them, and see the same feeling emerging in my own daughter. Imagine then, how this building could be remembered in twenty years. How children can see archaeologists working to discover the past under their very feet, how they can trace the history of their school, or maybe their house, through the digitised maps and photographs of the Records Office, or maybe see University students working as groups to create visual materials, presentations for nursing qualifications or ideas for business start-ups, well down the pathway to achieving their own goals. It’s simply an environment designed to inspire people to achieve.

Of course, libraries today are so much more than the walls which contain them. Work is well underway on initiatives such as a Community Showcase, bringing the County’s clubs and societies together with the excellent further and higher education opportunities around Worcestershire online, providing the community with opportunity to further their interests and to be involved. Methods for presenting library users with e-books, online journal articles and other material, twenty-four hours a day, means that that knowledge is no longer locked in a single space. The University’s research collections are given potential avenues for digitisation, making them available to anyone. Again, a single community of users, not restricted by their background.

None of these initiatives would have been possible for the County or University to achieve alone, and not only financially. This project has allowed us to pool knowledge and expertise, and the key to this is that it is done in the context of the library. People understand the library as a symbol of learning and aspiration, and most of all they see it as something which is aimed solely at benefitting their communities. There is one thing which strikes me every time I talk with people about how we are going to introduce the next part of the service. People want to do something good, something which will be remembered and something which will inspire others. I think that’s worth fighting for.

Guest bloggers are not affiliated with VftL, and all views and opinions are their own.

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