Helping libraries start with why

Last week I was due to talk to a group of staff from a number of libraries across south east London about how my team believe that libraries can play a key part in the health and social care agenda in the future.

I formed the talk around using Simon Sinek’s ‘Start with Why’ approach as the key method for the libraries staff to use to drive their own decision making around their role in the health and social care agenda in the future.

Unfortunately, due to family bereavement, I had to pull out of the talk, so I thought I’d share my thinking via this blog. So I have included the presentation slides that I was going to use as a background along with my actual planned speech. As a pre-warning, the speech does include a few bits of my poor sense of humour – it’s all in the delivery….!

Have a read and let me know what you think.

Libraries as part of the health and social care agenda

– a Bromley MyLife perspective


I want to start my talk with a short story – and if I survive your reaction to some of my comments in the story – I want to pick apart the lessons to see what we can learn about the role of libraries as part of the health and social care agenda from the perspective of the Bromley MyLife team.


About me, the team & the website
Before I start, here’s a bit of an overview about me, my team and the Bromley MyLife website to give you a better understanding about where we’re coming from.

So, who am I and why am I here?

I’m here because I have a strong and personal commitment to helping people make their lives better. I feel lucky that I’m paid to do just that.

I’m employed by Bromley Council as a Senior Planning & Development Officer in the Education, Care and Health Services department.

This means that I’m the Product Owner – or manager – of the Bromley MyLife website. We refer to the website as a product as it helps us to view the website as something that people want to – and choose to – use.

Me and my team are also responsible for other things – like engagement, consultation, communication, projects, transformation – and anything else that’s commensurate with our grades!

So, what is the Bromley MyLife website?

The website is a Council run and funded website designed to help people make informed choices about their lives. And we do that by giving people information about the range of services, support and community networks that are available across the borough. In a similar way to what many libraries do.

The website started in May 2011 covering information for adults with low level social care needs who did not quality for Council funded social care support. Since then, it has expanded to cover much, much more – including:

  • the Council’s Fostering & Adoption services
  • services & support for children with special educational needs & disabilities
  • services & support for carers
  • services & support for adults with social care needs
  • and, the bit that is very relevant for today, information to help people keep healthy & well

So, this brings me back to my story.


The story

I’ve already said that when part of my job is around engagement – and when I’m doing my job properly – I get to merge the website stuff with the engagement stuff.

And recently I got to do just that.

Last year, my team ran a consultation for the Council around the views of people who either have low level care and health needs – or those that are likely to develop these needs soon. We were seeking comments from members of the public to tell the care and health market about the future needs of the residents in the borough for a strategy we were writing.

And obviously libraries have a key role in that market.

So we ran our survey and heard directly from approximately 1,000 people.

As part of the survey we asked people about how they would like to get information and advice – both in terms of format and also the source.

And, not really surprisingly, the vast majority wanted the information and advice from face-to-face interactions with real people or via the internet.

But what surprised me personally was that over 60% said that they wanted it from the Council and also over 60% said they wanted it from their GP.

And a further 15 people said that they wanted it from their library – and that was what really shocked me.

These were not people who just ticked the library box – as the survey didn’t have that option. These were people who wrote library themselves. And – this is a probably a risky statement to say in front of you – that really, really shocked me. I just don’t think of libraries as being here for that kind of purpose.

So, that then got me thinking – what is the purpose of libraries – and from that, how do we harness that purpose in supporting the health and social care agenda.


Understanding the why

The eternal optimist, Simon Sinek, has made a living, and wrote an amazing book – Start with Why – along with several TED talks, about helping organisations, establishments and people find their purpose – or their why.

The why is the purpose, cause, or belief that inspires you to do what you do.

The why is essential to helping organisations shape what they do and how they do it.

And, when the why is done right, it really does work.

Here’s an example of the two differing approaches taken by Dell and Apple.

Both are computer companies. That’s how they both started out. That’s the product that they both made and put into the market first.

And since then, they have had mixed success branching out into other products.

But, they have taken differing routes to get their – driven by their individual why and then how they advertise and sell their why.

Let’s start with Dell. They advertise themselves as a computer company. They have forever advertised and sold themselves as –

We make great computers.
They’re user friendly.
Want to buy one?

And then when they tried to branch out and sell a PDA or a MP3 player a decade or so ago, both products only lasted a couple of years in the market.

Now, let’s look at Apple. They were first created as a computer company. But, that’s never how they advertised and sold themselves. They told people that –

Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo, we believe in thinking differently.
The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly.
We just happen to make great computers.
Want to buy one?

That’s a big difference.

And it’s a big difference that many people believe has helped Apple reshape – or even create new – markets and products.

The iPod. iTunes. The iPhone. The iPad.

They were not the first products of each market to launch, but they were the first to reshape the whole market – even the way that people think about buying, using and consuming music.


The why of libraries

I know what your thinking – what’s he on about? Why or how is this relevant to libraries?

Well, here’s how I think it is relevant.

The role of libraries is changing.

The way that public libraries are run – and who they are run by. The services that they offer. What people want from them. And, probably more important, the what that people live their lives. It’s all changing.

But my survey last year showed that there is still a need, a want and a desire for public libraries to exist – but that may just need to be in a different way.

So that brings me back to the why of libraries.

For your libraries to continue to be involved in the health and social care agenda I believe that you need to understand the why of public libraries. And then use that to drive what you do and how you do it.

So, according to the Carnegie Trust, the why for the original creation of public libraries is that –

they were seen as the single most effective way of providing access to education and learning for those who might otherwise not be able to,
and through this,
to increase social mobility


The why of libraries in health and social care

So, how does that relate to health and social care?

I believe that the key part of the libraries why is

providing access to education and learning for those who might otherwise not be able to

And for me, that is a key issue in health and social care. As services move to a digital first approach libraries can offer a key route for people to access information and advice about health and social care.

Rosie has already shown example of what Southwark are doing.

In Bromley we are using libraries to do the typical activities –

  • highlighting and promoting our surveys – and using the computers in the library to fill the online survey in
  • facilitating or hosting sessions for my team to talk to the public about the website
  • running awareness raising events
  • providing computer access for those who don’t have a computer at home or who don’t feel confident using the internet
  • providing a base for NHS health checks to be completed
  • e. all the things that you would expect



So, what else could libraries do to meet these needs?

And how do libraries future-proof themselves?

Here is a few ideas that build on the libraries why in relation to the health and social care agenda –

The first one is – Creating a future demand

How can libraries get more young people, young children and parents in the door? But not just in the door. How can they work with them to change their behaviours and habits to see libraries as a key part of their lives?

Increasing the number of younger generations through the door can recreate links between residents and libraries that may have been lost for the Millennial Generation or Generation Y.

Of which I am one!

Here’s a confession – I only go to my local library for one of three purposes –

  1. to borrow a book to see if I like it – before I go and buy it on the High Street
  2. to use the printer when my printer is broken
  3. to borrow different stories for my children – and to support them to choose the one’s they like

As a saving point, I just want to point out that all three of my children were members of our local library before they were 6 months old!

So, how can libraries bring more of the Millennial Generation in?

A contentious idea would be looking at clinics – in a similar way to NHS Health Checks – but clinics aimed at younger people.

Taking it back to libraries why, clinics that encourage healthier lifestyle choices – drinking, drugs, sexual health, and emotional wellbeing – would fit really well.

Secondly – Using the physical space

Another idea that we had – could libraries host health and care support groups or networks?

1 in 5 people from the survey that we ran stated that they would be interested in joining and/or helping to run a support network. So there is an audience there.

Can libraries use their space to provide a venue for people to do this? And then, provide the equipment, support and advice to support them to help themselves?

What about exercise classes? Can libraries host exercise classes? With support and advice sessions before and/or after?

How about helping people understand how to use health and wellbeing apps that can support them?

Thirdly – Giving people a voice

Can libraries host more sessions to enable residents to meet with key decision makers in the Council and health as part of a beefed up engagement framework?

Can libraries link with the local Healthwatch to do this?

Can Healthwatch run events – especially those aimed at younger children – in libraries? Again, bringing more young people in the door. Or can the local Youth Council host events in the library too?

Can libraries host Q&A sessions with health and care professionals – not necessarily from the Council or NHS? How about sessions for legal advice for social care?

And then, can libraries run groups for people with health issues to support them to write stories about their lives? The Library After Dark Writers’ Café run by the South Dublin Libraries is an example of this.

And – Going out to people

Many libraries already run home library services.

But, how can libraries get linked in better with care homes? Dementia clinics? Day centres?

How can libraries, history centres and archives work together to take things out – as a kind of memory aid – to dementia clinics, care homes and day centres?

Marks and Spencer’s provide Reminiscence Resources from their Company Archive. These packs contain a selection of historical items based on two themes – ‘What We Wore’ and ‘Childhood’.

Can libraries do something similar?

And finally – Bringing in more income

The libraries why is all about providing a level access for those that otherwise might not be able to access information and advice – and this in turn can increase social mobility.

So, to me, that can rule out charges – or significant charges – for certain products, services or activities that libraries offer

But that doesn’t mean that libraries can’t look at bringing in other income.

Small hire charges for self-support groups. Charges to private organisations to host Q&A sessions or exercise classes. Small charges to cover ‘refreshments’ for the Library After Dark Writers’ Café. These are all options.

But, there are others.

If, and I realise that you will have a view on this, your library is moved to a community run library, then this can actually give you more freedom to bring in extra income. You need to take advantage of this.

Things like crowdfunding or crowdsourcing can offer alternatives to typical grant funding and can really embed you in the local community.


The future is bright – it may just look different

So I think the think that I want to close with is a positive statement.

The survey that we ran did show that there is still a key audience that are looking for libraries to be a trusted source of information and advice for health and social care.

And this links perfectly to the libraries why.

It may just need your libraries to continue to do what you have always done – evolve, take risks and look at different options for embedding yourselves in the health and care agenda.

2 thoughts on “Helping libraries start with why

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