New Universal Culture Offer to Increase Engagement in Art and Culture Through Public Libraries

Full press release here: Culture press release FINAL
The Society of Chief Librarians today announced the creation of a new Universal Culture Offer, as part of its popular Universal Offers for Public Libraries. The Culture Offer recognises public libraries as welcoming places where children and adults can immerse themselves in every form of art: learn from local artists; create their own art; watch theatre, music and dance performances; and learn about art and culture through books and reading.

The benefits of art and culture are well documented. Almost 60% of people are more likely to report good health if they have attended a cultural place or event in the last 12 months. Libraries are often the first place that children and young people experience art and culture, through books, free taster sessions and library events. Library staff are catalysts for activity and exploration, often making suggestions that customers wouldn’t have thought of on their own.

With 772,000 visits per day, every day—282 million visits per year—people visit libraries twice as often as football matches, theatres, A&E and the Church combined. By developing the Culture Offer, SCL and its partners, including Arts Council England, will help libraries use their high footfall to engage with all library customers, including those who might not otherwise experience art and culture.

The Universal Culture Offer will sit within the existing Universal Offers for Public Libraries—Health, Reading, Information, Learning and Digital—and is being developed in partnership with Arts Council England. Library staff will be trained to become confident Cultural Champions for their communities, and SCL will provide resources for libraries to maximise partnerships with local and national arts organisations.

Neil MacInnes, SCL President, said: “Public libraries are already very involved in arts and culture, and this offer will give libraries the resources to expand their partnerships with local culture organisations and provide more ways for customers to get involved. We want to attract new library customers through arts and culture, and help people who don’t engage with art to develop a love and appreciation of it.”

Brian Ashley, Director Libraries, Arts Council England, said: “The Arts Council’s support for the Society of Chief Librarians in delivering the Universal Offers reflects our commitment to the development of libraries in all they do. The development of the Culture Offer provides a distinctive opportunity for the Arts Council and SCL to collaborate in supporting libraries to maximise their potential as creative, making spaces. We recognise that libraries reach people and places which can be challenging for arts organisations, and the Culture Offer will see libraries provide fresh opportunities for people to engage with and enjoy the arts and culture in new and interesting ways.”

Regular Attendee of St Helens’ Culture Hubs Events, said: “The Cultural Hubs programme has been an amazing thing for Libraries in St.Helens.  I’ve been exposed to and experienced such a vast array of cultural delights over the last couple of years.  And through participatory arts, I’ve seen the positive effect that such projects have had on people’s lives.  But it’s been more than just being about the performances or projects – what has also been great is that in these spaces, as well as experiencing fantastic arts and culture,  people have met and formed great friendships and in some instances  gone on to get involved and work on projects together.  This is what Libraries are now about, they are spaces where magic can and does happen.”

Media Contact:
Elizabeth Elford
SCL Advocacy Manager
+44 7891 056 114

Notes for Editors

Examples of Art and Culture in Libraries

Manchester Libraries has a cultural programme consisting of popular and classical music concerts, dance classes, opera, film screenings, exhibitions and prolific author events. Central Library annually hosts key events from Manchester Jazz, Literature, Histories and Science Festivals. Recent programme highlights include Chaos to Order, a week long residency curated by Mercury Prize shortlisted band Everything Everything and both Radio 3’s In Tune and Radio 6’s Radcliffe and Maconie shows broadcasting live from Central Library. The Echo Trace project saw some of Manchester’s most cutting edge artists and creative organisations working with libraries across the city to co-create new art works with members of local communities which was then showcased at Central Library. More information can be found at Library Live
Leeds Library and Information Service has been delivering a dynamic arts and culture programme, working with local arts partners to create new work inspired by its collections, people and buildings. A great example of this is the recent collaboration with audio-visual installation artists Buffalo and Purple Patch Arts on an installation inspired by Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood. The installation drew on the themes of Under Milk Wood to create an interactive, collaborative and constantly evolving experience where visitors were encouraged to share their memories, dreams and ideas of community. Dreams of Milk Wood was a fully accessible installation which was inspired by, created with, and open to audiences with profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD).

Not a borough where people traditionally engage with the arts, since 2011 St.Helens Council’s Arts and Library services have worked in partnership to deliver successful arts projects in libraries.  In 2013 Arts Council England awarded the team National Lottery funds develop an Arts in Libraries programme.   “Cultural Hubs” has delivered theatre, music, dance, poetry, story-telling and visual arts performances and exhibitions in libraries. The St Helens community helped plan the programme and audiences have grown, library membership increased and in 2015 the project was a finalist for the CILIP Libraries Change Lives award.
The Deptford Lounge provides a range of community services including a public library, computer labs, study areas, a café, room hire and a roof-top ball court. The Lounge offers a programme of creative events, in partnership with the Albany, South East London’s leading arts centre.


Benefits of Arts and Culture

Arts and culture intervention can have a positive impact on specific health conditions, such as dementia, Parkinson’s and depression.

Almost 60% of people are more likely to report good health if they have attended a cultural place or event in the last 12 months.

Children from low income families who take part in arts activities are three times more likely to get a degree.

Participation in arts and culture can contribute to community cohesion, make communities feel safer and stronger, and reduce social exclusion and isolation.


About the Partners

The Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) is a local government association made up of the chief librarian of each library authority in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. SCL takes a leading role in the development of public libraries, through sharing best practices, advocating for continuous improvement on behalf of local people, and leading the debate on the future of the public library service.
Arts Council England champions, develops and invests in artistic and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives. We support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to digital art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. Between 2015 and 2018, we plan to invest £1.1 billion of public money from government and an estimated £700 million from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country.