‘The Ideas Garage: motivate, co-ordinate and innovate’ is a guest post from Claire Lewis, Strategic Library Service, Monmouthshire County Council in Wales. She was one of the recipients of the first round of the Carnegie UK Trust’s Library Lab innovation grant award scheme. Here she discusses her project, and encourages public library staff to enter the next round of Library Lab grants.
I’ve always been interested in self-development and innovation. Two years ago I attended a three week ‘Intrepreneurship School’ facilitated by Esko Reinikainen, a government and culture hacker, and John McConnachie, NLP Master Practitioner. The training provided practical and cognitive tools that I could apply in my work at Monmouthshire County Council.
So, when my manager made me aware of Carnegie Library Lab – a programme that offers funding, learning, mentoring and peer support – I was excited by the opportunity to develop my leadership and innovation skills.
Part of the Carnegie Library Lab programme is funding to set up an innovative project in a library or library service. The initial vision for my project was to create a community led coding space to be used by young people and adults wanting to gain and share skills and experience of coding to develop websites. I intended to apply for additional funding from MALD (a division of the Welsh Government) to convert a disused garage at the library and evolve the space into a maker/hack space. It was to be called The Ideas Garage!
I was successfully awarded the Carnegie Library Lab grant but the cost of renovating the garage was unfortunately far beyond this sum, so I decided to refocus: I would provide a volunteer-led programming club aimed at 11 to 17 year olds. The sessions would be run by mentors who would assist the young people in their own self-led learning as they create their own projects, be that in relation to websites, games, apps or animations etc.
The aim of The Ideas Garage is to enable children and young people to explore new and emerging technologies in an informal and creative environment. The hope is to encourage peer mentoring and youth leaders, increase social inclusion and provide children in Monmouthshire with skills and confidence for use in the workplace. For our library service, it would mean we could enhance our contribution to the local economy by enabling businesses to recruit a skilled workforce from within our own communities.
One of the first things I learned was that you can’t execute a successful project on your own! Collaboration is essential and so I needed to motivate, co-ordinate and innovate, and worked with a wide range of people to get the coding club up and running. Volunteers were essential for project success and I engaged them through various volunteering sites and the library service’s social media. It took a while but eventually I had enough volunteers to start running sessions.
My intention was to run a coding club in a dedicated space but as securing this was proving a lengthy process, I provided a ‘pop-up’ coding club in the library and ran two successful taster sessions in the summer while working to secure a dedicated space. In mid-October we moved into our own coding room within the Chepstow Community Hub (and what used to be the library building), where our projects and equipment could remain set up, and we’re currently looking to run 10 sessions per 4 months.
The demand for learning to code for this age group has been astounding. We had 20 young people attending sessions from the outset.
The Library Lab Programme
The wider Library Lab programme has helped me in a number of ways. Initially the project felt a little overwhelming as I wasn’t quite sure where to start or what to focus on first. With the help of my Carnegie Mentor, Sue Lawson, I was able to talk things through, investigate different options and existing clubs/organisations to find out what worked elsewhere.
The Carnegie Library Lab online programme also provided me with various skills and knowledge. I used techniques I learned to help me through some challenging times in the service and pitch the Ideas Garage to senior/non-library staff to help secure a dedicated room for the project.
One of the highlights of the Library Lab learning programme for me has been the concept of Leadership Chemicals: what can stop us from being innovative and what we need to be creative. This was really useful in my project and workplace – I’ve since made it a personal objective to get a daily dose of serotonin!
Meeting up with the other Library Lab partners was great because it really made me feel like I was part of the programme. The energy, enthusiasm and encouragement I got at the events left me with a high and feeling thoroughly motivated.
Now we have a successful coding club based in Chepstow, I am getting weekly requests from parents for the same in other towns within Monmouthshire. Enquiries are also coming in for adult coding sessions. With enough community support and a sustainable module, I think this can be achieved. In the meantime I will be running the 10 events every 4 months.
Anybody interested in using innovation to provide a more effective service to the public should apply for Carnegie Library Lab. Not only will you benefit from the support and funding, it will help you to make a difference!
[Post from Claire ends]