Hacking Essex Libraries 07.03.15

By Paul Probert, Head of Community Resilience – Corporate and Customer Services, Essex County Council

At a recent hack, I was struck by the conversation between two young technologists. The first outlined elements of his current college syllabus, his (slightly older) co-hacker observed that the syllabus was out of kilter not only with the latest coding practices he deployed at work, but also the skill-set employers looked for when they recruited.

Over the course of the weekend, these two technologists shared their knowledge – a mentoring relationship which saw the college student gain practical hands-on experience of a new coding language not from a tutor but from a friend and peer. This knowledge transfer was just as valid – and much more immediate – than that which can be gleaned from textbooks.

To be clear, this isn’t simply an observation about the way technology has changed the way in which people interact with information. Rather it is a recognition that the core purpose of the library – promoting learning – is as valid as ever but needs to be refreshed for the twenty-first century. All that has changed is the way in which this learning and knowledge is available in more democratic and more dispersed ways than ever before.

Libraries have the potential to be an invaluable space within the public realm accessible and relevant to all. This requires a realisation that learning happens in different ways and that collaborations between councils, Common Libraries, and local communities have the potential to strengthen libraries and help people learn more.

Starting in a community library on Mersea Island, we will run a series of hack the library events – tapping into local appetites and local capabilities to develop communities of shared interests and talents. Essex is big and we are blessed with a wealth of local expertise that can be nurtured, shared and promoted.

This combination of a professional library service working alongside local exponents of the autodidactic tradition would seem to offer the best possible opportunities to promote learning and share common knowledge. We are off to a good start with the promotion of Maker Kits – lovingly crafted by members of Colchester’s creative community. They offer a real opportunity to expand the public and professional appreciation of what a library can do.

Essex County Council wants more people than ever to love their libraries.  We want to see people go to their local library not only to exchange books but also to exchange ideas and skills. That’s why we are so pleased to be able to work with Common Libraries and the National Library Science Experiment to help create something new across our libraries.

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