Celebration Series Blog 4: Wanted. One intrepid Library Assistant
Hi, my name is Katrina and I am a Library Assistant at Gloucester Main Library. The library is situated in the city centre. We have a very diverse community with up to 50 different languages being spoken at the local primary school. Before the Arts of Libraries scheme started we offered a range of basic cultural activities. We hold a weekly Baby Bounce and Rhyme session where we sing nursery rhymes for half an hour. This is very popular and we regularly have close to 30 children attending.
During the school holidays we have a craft activity. The staff come up with some fantastic ideas using very limited resources. Again these have proven to be very popular with on average 40 children attending.
We had never dreamt of delivering large scale cultural activities as we had never had the means to do so. Our craft budget was virtually non existent and we did not have the knowledge of how to find volunteer artists or low cost acts. The Arts of Libraries scheme was about to open our eyes to a world we never knew existed.
And then, along came Art of Libraries…
I returned to Gloucester Library in January 2018 after taking ten months maternity leave. When I returned, Arts of Libraries had developed and a Creative Catalyst had been appointed. I stepped into the role of Cultural Project Lead to become a coordinator between the library staff and our Creative Catalyst. There had been a few problems with trying to get the Arts of Libraries programme off the ground. The staff were feeling incredibly overwhelmed by it all and no one really knew what was expected of them. Events had been organised but staff felt that they did not fully understand what they were and were disappointed that they did not have a say in them. It was hoped that I would be able to coordinate the events and pass ideas between staff and our Creative Catalyst. It worked to a certain extent.
It was lovely to work alongside our Creative Catalyst who had wonderful enthusiasm and confidence. Through the Arts of Libraries scheme and with our Creative Catalyst’s support I was empowered to plan, deliver and host things that were completely different to our normal programme of activities. For example, in November we held a Christmas Market with stalls and craft activities. A colleague also made and sold popcorn to help create a Christmas atmosphere.
I was inspired to achieve things I never thought were possible. I planned and delivered a Circus Day. The idea came from a discussion about what activities we were going to deliver during the summer holidays. Our theme for the summer was Mischief Makers and I thought of ways I could cause mischief in my library. Circus skills seemed the perfect solution, particularly as it was also the 250th anniversary of the circus. With the support of our Creative Catalyst I made a callout asking for volunteers and performers who would be interested in our Mischief Makers Circus Day. With the help of my colleagues I put together a programme of events for the day using staff ideas and paid acts. It was an amazing day with children having a magical experience. I never thought I would see a trapeze set up in our Children’s Library but it was accomplished!
It was also wonderful to work alongside some amazing artists and companies. I learnt a wealth of information from them including art projects, how to create booking systems and collecting feedback for evaluations. There are some great local companies out there and it was lovely to have the experience of working alongside them.
It has been a steep learning curve
We did however have our difficulties. Trying to host events as well as carry out our other job roles was, at times, very challenging. I wanted to give the artists and the audience the time they deserved but as the library was open, other areas had to be maintained too. It was difficult to ensure that we had sufficient staff to do this.
The workload for the coordinator’s role was immense. I was struggling to keep on top of everything and have a good understanding of what was happening around me. I found that it was taking up too much of my time and was affecting my other responsibilities.
Things were changing at a rapid pace with new ideas and plans coming from all angles. I also felt that I was being pulled in two different directions. Different people wanted different things from me, some wanted huge changes and some were resistant to change. I had come into the scheme halfway through so I never fully understood what I was doing and what the objectives of the scheme were. It was a very difficult time for me and it was having a huge impact on me as a person. I was struggling to find the positives in what we were trying to achieve and instead I found myself concentrating on the problems and how to solve them. I felt like I was constantly fighting fires. We recognised that we had to change things and turn it around so that Arts of Libraries would become a positive experience for us all.
Now we are Cre8 and we’re excited to be planning a programme of events
We have rebranded ourselves as the Cre8 Culture team. We do not have one coordinator, instead we have a team who work together to plan and deliver a programme of events. We put together a programme at the beginning of the year so we know what events are happening and when. This helps us to plan and ensure that everything is ready and in place rather than rushing around at the last minute. This seems to be working very well and has certainly helped to reduce the stress and pressure for me.
We have a huge programme of events planned for the coming year. We have just delivered a very successful Harry Potter Night with up to 80 wannabe wizards attending to make potions, seek out memorabilia and touch a real life owl. We are planning to work with local schools to have a float in Gloucester carnival. The aim of this is to raise the profile of the library and the wonderful things we have on offer.
It has been a rocky year. We have put on some amazing events which have been very well received by the local community. We have had some quite traumatic times but things are changing. We have solved some of the issues we faced and I can look positively towards the cultural future of our library.
And now for some top tips from Gloucester Library
If you want to bring more cultural activities into your library, I have the following tips.
Communicate! Make sure your staff, colleagues and the public know what you are doing and when. This may sound obvious but I cannot state how much bad communication caused problems for us. Everyone needs to be aware of what is happening so they feel involved and valued. They can also offer help which can take the pressure off the leader.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There were a number of times when I was unsure of asking colleagues for their help. I believed that they had their own responsibilities and did not want to be bogged down with my work too. However, no can struggle on alone. The stress finds its way of coming out and it will affect your working and personal relationships.
Use your team’s strengths. It amazed me what ideas came out when I talked to my colleagues about events. The things that they achieved were remarkable. I think everybody has a hidden spark somewhere.
Have clear objectives of what you want to achieve. I think this was a stumbling block of the whole Arts of Libraries scheme. I believe the aim was to bring more culture in to our libraries but nobody really thought how this was going to be achieved and what impact it would have. We still had our day to day responsibilities and these seemed to be forgotten about. Think about the big picture and then come up with manageable steps to achieve this. As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
It doesn’t have to be an expensive event to draw people in. We held a Gloop and Slime event in the summer holidays and nearly 90 children attended. This idea came from the staff and the only cost was the ingredients to make the slime.
Most of all enjoy what you are doing. Cultural activities should be fun for everyone.