Public libraries in the UK are increasingly expected to provide arts activities and events as part of their usual operations. The purpose of this paper is to summarise recent policy trends in this direction from both the perspective of libraries’ and the arts sector. A touring theatre project aimed at children and families is discussed in further detail to examine some of the outcomes of these policies.
The paper will present a brief history of policy developments and debate in this area. Mixed method findings from the research element of “Among Ideal Friends” will be discussed, having used surveys and interviews with audiences and librarians, geodemographic profiling, box office records and library card data.
Public funding across both libraries and the arts has decreased at a national and local level, though both sectors are encouraged to work together to share expertise and community knowledge.
The primary funding for the project was an arts funding body. While a holistic approach to evaluation was taken, this limited any specific focus that might have been given to educational outcomes or cost-benefit analysis compared to other interventions.
Public libraries can see the results and challenges of a successful regional touring theatre project for consideration in their own activity planning, especially those related to families and younger users.
Libraries and Arts organisations have different priorities in regards to these areas. Though co-operative, the situation is not without tension. The topic is illustrative of some wider debates around cultural value, everyday participation and cultural democracy.
This paper offers a timely discussion of cultural policy in relation to libraries, e.g. The Society of Chief Librarians “Universal Cultural Offer” (October 2017).
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