Lifelong learning is under the spotlight as the subject of the latest post from the Libraries Taskforce's series on how libraries deliver. We look back on an interview with David Walters, Idea Store Operations Manager, Tower Hamlets Council, as he talks about the success of the London borough’s Idea Stores prior to hosting the London and South East 2014 netloan user group.
Where did the concept of the ‘Idea Store’ come from?
It all began with a public consultation exercise over 10 years ago. “For the people of Tower Hamlets having resources that provide opportunity for education and attainment was the key to a desirable local library service” says David. The result was a reimagining of the traditional library service and a merger of Libraries and Adult Learning at the local authority level. Idea Stores were established at Whitechapel, Bow, Chrisp Street, Canary Wharf and Watney Market.
A computer class in progress at Idea Store, Whitechapel; David Walters, Idea Store Operations Manager
How successful are the stores?
The opportunity to learn at the local library has been an enduring success for Tower Hamlets. “In 2013 we saw nearly 10,500 enrolments across 900 courses and experienced 2.2 million visits overall. This year the prospectus is expected to expand with the addition of 200 new courses.”
The location of the Idea Stores was an important consideration: “The aim was for everyone to be able to reach the new modern facilities via a short walk, bus or train journey. Access to technology was also a priority. The new libraries needed to make it easy for citizens to get on to a computer and get online. 300 computers managed by netloan PC booking support fair access to the internet, and all branches have Wi-Fi.”
What courses are on offer?
The full prospectus of Idea Store Learning includes ICT courses designed to promote digital inclusion and employability. An IT awareness week is facilitated with the group booking of PCs via netloan. There is also a range of courses on desktop publishing and web design. The wider range of courses is vast. “We cover everything from language skills to performing arts to jewellery making – this works in supporting a progressive and vibrant local community,” David adds.
What are some of the challenges of maintaining a successful service?
The Idea Stores are an attractive destination for all kinds of users. They provide resources that many people have come to rely on. However, their wide appeal and vital services mean that fair access to resources needs to be carefully managed. This is especially true for time on PCs. “What really gets people through the door is the need to do something on the computer,” comments David.
Some users are better than others at ensuring they secure the time they need. While some school children often book PC sessions days ahead to guarantee access in the window after school, a homework club is also available to help all children spend their time in the library productively. This could be on a PC, reading books or simply using the space to study. There is also now a bank of express PCs that will allow users to get online for 20 minutes without booking ahead. Everyone can carry out quick online tasks, check email or print off a CV.
Meanwhile local corporate customers find the labs at Canary Wharf to be a convenient venue for meetings. Room hire pricing has needed to be adjusted to take larger corporate budgets into account, while significantly reduced rates are available for local community groups and registered charities.
Any plans for the future?
As Tower Hamlets seeks support and funding to open two more stores, there is an increasing requirement for statistical information to record the high demand for their facilities and services. Tower Hamlets is working with Lorensbergs to introduce netloan Wi-Fi, to achieve measurement of Wi-Fi traffic in each library by types of user. It will also encourage more memberships for use of services. As David concludes: “Our customers rely on us to get online whether via a computer or their own device. In both cases the library should get the recognition”.