Exploring The Storyhouse

Exploring The Storyhouse

Here are a few snaps from a short visit to the new Storyhouse in Chester on a Saturday evening. It was really busy – however I don’t have many ‘action shots’ as I tried not to disturb anyone!

The Storyhouse is a new £37million theatre, library, cinema, bar, restaurant and arts centre in the middle of Chester. 

Further information can be found on the Storyhouse website.

The Den – children’s area

The Second Floor

Library, bar and restaurant 

And relax…

Open Badges

Open Badges

I’ve had my eye on Open Badges for a while, but I took MozFest as the opportunity to uncover some practical uses for libraries in the community. Luckily, I chose the perfect example from a huge list of Open Badges workshops; completely by chance I selected to hear about a collaboration between a community foundation and the public library. Awesome!



What is an Open Badge? In simple terms an Open Badge is a digital badge that allows you to record and others to recognise your achievements and skills. Open Badges have been around since about 2010, which means millions have already been awarded around the world. But can we use them in our libraries and communities?

Here’s an example of what one city has done – Chicago City of Learning started in 2013 following a Summer initiative where more than 100 organisations worked together to create greater visibility in what they were doing independently. Young people earned digital badges recording and recognising their achievements in the community.

The legacy is a significant and growing network of opportunities for young people to learn online and through events and activities – gaining a portfolio of digital badges along the way.

(PRO)jectUS is an initiative between the Commonwealth Foundation and YouMedia at Chicago Public Library to create a skills based pathway through learning to real life experiences.


Three creative suites are available for 13 to 23 year olds:

  • Sound – music, singing, rapping and poetry
  • Media – photography and blogging
  • Fashion – design

Badges are awarded to recognise milestone or learning a new skill. Each participant builds a portfolio of badges; five skill badges can unlock a master badge, which includes a real world opportunity. These experiences act as incredible incentives and also give great confidence to the participants. Examples include design being produced and sold in a local shop.

The programme is very conscious of creating industry standard skills, accreditation is core and participants work closely with mentors from the business sector.

The badges are created using Badge Lab and are awarded via Chicago City Learning.

This was powerful stuff, and I don’t think I can do it justice here. I really do encourage you to find out more.

Find out more: Chicago City of Learning: Chicago Badges;  A Pro-jectUS toolkit will be available in January 2017.


More about my MozFest adventures.

Sharing the knowledge gained from the adventure that was MozFest 2016. Big thanks to SCL for the bursary that enabled me to attend. 

Enterprise and Innovation – Somerset

[First published in the CILIP Public and Mobile Library Group Journal ‘Access’ October 2016]


So do you need to be in a city to make digital making work? No!

In our experience being in an area where digital making doesn’t yet have a big profile puts your library in a unique and exciting position.

In 2015 a new set of commissioning outcomes were agreed for Somerset Libraries to deliver on, which include:

  • More people are enabled and inspired to make the most of the digital world
  • Libraries contribute to economic growth in Somerset

Whilst we already delivered well on ‘digital enabling’ and had traditionally offered business information, we were keen to develop a project that helped to give greater profile to resources already available in libraries (company data, market reports, electronic factsheets for start-ups, free Wi-Fi) and grow the ‘digital inspiration’ aspect of our offer.

We wanted to:

  • demonstrate and build on the libraries’ role in ‘cradle to grave’ skills development and how this supports economic growth.
  • broaden partnerships to bring relevant partner led business focused activity and ‘expert’ volunteers to libraries.
  • demonstrate what is possible, test demand and ‘prototype’ the future library offer for business start- ups, skills development and digital making.

We started by plotting what we were already doing and how this might be developed through an infographic. This proved very helpful when engaging partners with our ambition and ideas. (We had a lot of conversations!).

What emerged was a plan to create a new space for individual and collaborative working and learning at Taunton Library (our busiest library located in Somerset’s county town); to support business start-ups, digital making and skills development. A flexible space where we would host a range of digital maker and business events from Code Club to digital skills training for businesses.

The space itself, a shop front within the library building, had previously been the Tourist Information Centre. The phrase ‘Glass Box’ was coined by our commissioning manager and it stuck! We liked the way it represented what we were trying to achieve – creating visibility for library resources and giving people an inspiring view into the digital world.

Our property team granted us use of the space for a year, and we felt this offered a good timeframe to experiment with a range of partners, events and services.


We spent a few months planning, influencing and network building behind the scenes, followed by an intense period preparing the space.

We then held a Digital Day at the end of June to launch the project and it has been all go ever since.


Aim: to support budding entrepreneurs, business start-ups and creative minds, with business information, webinars and workshops.


  • Create a town centre focal point and unique space for knowledge sharing and digital skills for business start-ups and SMEs.
  • Early stage failure rates could be reduced from around 65% with the introduction of incubator and innovation centres.


We are actively seeking partners to offer one off ‘pop up’ events or regular activities such as workshops or one to one drop-ins.
Highlights so far

Google Digital Garage on Tour – A Google trainer came from Manchester and ran two workshops for over 100 local businesses. The sessions included ‘Tell your story online’ and ‘Reach new customers’. We were delighted to get ‘Google’ to Taunton!

Funding for Google Digital Garage Workshops – We successfully bid for funding from the Tinder Foundation to enable the delivery of small Google Digital Garage workshops to help businesses build digital skills to reach more customers online.

Social Media workshop – As part of the super-fast broadband roll out programme ‘Get up to speed’, we hosted a business focused social media workshop. We could have booked this out multiple times.

FSB Meet the expert (Growth hacking) – The local branch of the Federation of Small Businesses developed and ran an event providing expert advice to help businesses grow, promote and increase their profit. Five top experts in their field were available to advise and help businesses with social media, business planning, networking, digital resources and accounting.

Coming soon

A programme of business and expert delivered events are in the pipeline as local partners have come forward having attended an event themselves.


Aim: Inspiring digital skills development through coding, robotics and digital making.


  • The CBI estimates that nearly 40% of firms looking for staff with digital skills have had difficulties recruiting.
  • House of Lords report warns that the UK could be left behind in terms of digital skills.
  • 82% of young people are interested in digital making. However, half of young peoplemake things with digital technology less than once a week or never.


We are recruiting expert volunteers and STEM Ambassadors to set up a range of digital making workshops and events.

Highlights so far

Raspberry Jam – Taunton’s first ever ‘Raspberry Jam’ was organised and hosted by two teenage volunteers and included workshops exploring digital making – scratch, python, electronics, robotics and the sonic Pi.

Maker in Residence – The Technical Director of a large company, (with a background in electronics, software and innovation through technology) is volunteering as the first Digital Maker in Residence. His ‘make things, do stuff – robotics for fun’ sessions have proved popular and he is currently exploring evening coding sessions for adults.

Code Club – Our weekly group for 9-11 year olds to learn coding and digital making such as games and websites from expert volunteers restarted after the summer
holiday in its new home.

3D Printing – The 3D printers have been used for a variety of projects, including miniature train enthusiasts, for school homework and by our Maker in Residence to create robotics chassis. There has been interest from a number of businesses and local schools also.


Fun Palaces – As well as hosting a SCL SW regional workshop in the lead up to Fun Palaces, we also held a staff invented and led robotics themed Fun Palace on 1st October. The day was hugely successful in engaging a range of ages, most notably it attracted eight to 16 year olds and kept them busy at the library for hours! The mobile 3D printer was requested at the Wells Library space themed Fun Palace – printing the ratchet sent into space for Tim Peakes.

Taunton Developers Meetup – The local developers group now meet in the Glass Box, to raise their profile, recruit new members and hopefully support community activity, such as skills sharing or hack events.

Coming soon

3D Printing Workshops – Local 3D printer manufacturers, Robox, are running workshops to demonstrate their innovative product. This includes multi material printing, as well as router and cutter options

Open Innovation Challenge – WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff are sponsoring an Open Innovation Challenge for local college students. Groups of students will be asked to think innovatively under the theme of SMART Somerset, resulting in a pitch of their ideas to a Dragons Den style panel. The process will be facilitated by an external Digital Making expert.

Apps for Good – We have been keen to use the Apps for Good programme (teaching young people to develop and create apps) and are excited that one of the local colleges are planning to run this for students in The Glass Box.

Workshops with schools – We also have some workshops planned that will actively engage with schools and colleges about how they can further use the space and resources.

Open Data – Very early conversations are starting about the potential of Open Data. The recipe

The recipe


Flexible, highly visible space – It was important that the space we designed was flexible to allow us to easily reconfigure for a variety of needs. We also wanted any furniture to be reusable after the end of the yearlong experiment.

Team – The development of the project was very much a team effort, and it certainly would not have been possible without the dedication, hard work and commitment of all involved.

Expert volunteers – Central to the delivery of events has been expert volunteers. They have come forward through STEMnet (we ran a local event in the lead up to launch) and people have also come from the local community by dropping in to find out what we are doing.


Kit – We have invested in some kit to get us started. This includes:

3D Printers– One Ultimaker Pro and one Ultimaker2Go.
We decided to hire these from a company as one of the teams main concern was about support, maintenance and training – this is included in the package. The other benefit of hire is that after the three year hire period we could easily upgrade to a newer model (budget allowing). We also have a 3D scanner but haven’t got the software connected yet.

Lego Mindstorms and BB8 – Mindstorms offer a range of robotics projects and work well as a step up from our popular Lego Clubs. The little Sphero BB8 is a hugely popular droid! The robots can be controlled by code as well as apps.

Raspberry Pi and Pi kit – this kit included Kano kits (step by step computer building made simple), CamJam sets, such as the Raspberry Pi Robotics kit which includes the electronics and the coding factsheets.

Littlebits, Makey Makey, and micro drone – tools to support invention, electronics and basic Internet of Things experiments.

Virtual Reality goggles and Google cardboard – these use an app on a mobile phone so aren’t at all expensive, but have been hugely popular.

PCs, Laptops, tablets, 65” wall mounted screen and increased WiFi capacity – providing flexible use of technology within the space.

Software – we requested a unique image for the laptops, which included CAD software for 3D printing design and Minecraft.

Business resources – a suite of large colourful posters were designed to promote existing services such as Cobra, MINT and Access to Research, as well as online tools like the brilliant FutureLearn courses and British Library Business and IP webinars.

A full list of equipment and software is available on the website (www.somerset.gov.uk/glassbox).



IT – Working with our council IT provider was both helpful and difficult. No doubt we have asked them to innovate in a way other departments don’t. They stepped up, but time was left very tight and we had to step in at various times to find workarounds.

Staff time – We don’t currently have lots of frontline resource to support the project and there is more that we would like to do. The staff time we do have is spent upskillng and confidence building, as well as supporting the volunteer led events and activities.

A future uncertain – starting on this journey without an end game was a risk and at times it has felt like a big risk! And yet, for us, not running with this project would have been the biggest risk of all. In a time when digital technology is changing so rapidly we believe libraries will have an ever increasing role supporting people to navigate the digital world. The question is, are we able to mobilize, evolve and change quickly enough to support our communities with their digital learning needs?


  • Having a memorable, if slightly random, name for the project has helped. It seems to stick with people and many we talk to now say ‘oh yes I’ve heard of The Glass Box.
  • Colleagues in our Economic Development team have been incredibly supportive, and actually the relationship has been mutually beneficial – we have each made new connections as a result of working more closely together.
  • We brought in 2TimesDo to provide workshops for the library team in advance of opening. This helped staff by breaking the ice with some of the kit available in the space.
  • We have recruited a new development officer, who teaches the coding curriculum in school part time and works with us part time.
  • We have new volunteers and potential partners coming forward as what we are doing is very visibly.
  • Key decision makers within the council now see how libraries can contribute to economic growth and skills development and are supportive of what we are doing.

Our three month review showed we have had 5144 visitors, 170+ businesses engaged, 25+ events and workshops, 100+ young participants, 12 new volunteers have come forward and 10+ new partners.


Top tips

If you would like to do something similar in your library, here are some tips:

  • Get out there and talk to people. Influence anyone and everyone who will listen about the benefits of a project such as this. Having advocates in the right places will open doors to further conversations (and maybe even pots of money).
  • Bring staff onboard early and keep in contact throughout. We adjusted how we developed aspects of the project, for example one of the team’s main concerns was around the 3D printers, which we ultimately decided to rent. This option included training, ongoing support and servicing (and also means we can upgrade after 3 years as technology will no doubt move on!)
  • Use digital tools to tell your story. We have used Piktochart to plot our ambitions, Storify to amplify our events and Prezi for exciting presentations.
  • Don’t worry about things not being perfect. Learn from your mistakes and understand that failure is part of the process.
  • Don’t limit your ambition. You may not manage everything you aspire to, but you’re more likely to get further by being ambitious about what is possible. As one local entrepreneur said to me ‘You have to visualise it if you want to make it happen”.
  • Do your research. Ask people who are already doing this sort of thing. Corinne Hill from Chattanooga Libraries (recommend you find out more) says ‘Innovation is on the edge of what is already happening’, so make sure you know what is happening! Libraries in the US are leading the way with digital making and we spent time checking out their websites. The Travelling Librarian blog is a really helpful source. And of course we visited the inspiration that is FabLab Devon and Business and IP Centre in Exeter (thank you neighbours!).
  • When it comes to digital making start with whatever you can manage. It can come in all shapes and sizes. The SCL Code Green Toolkit is a great place to explore.
  • Attend a few unconferences and digital making/ hack events. I’ve attended days like #CityMash at City of London and Things Camp in Plymouth to catch up with what others are doing with digital making (it’s great for inspiration, confidence building and creating a network of contacts). I’ve recently heard that I’m off to MozFest with library folk from across the country thanks to an SCL Digital Leaders bursary, so should come back with loads more ideas. And if you can’t get to the events yourself, jump onto Twitter and get chatting with those who are there using the event hashtag.

MozFest here we come!

A few weeks ago I wrote a bursary application to SCL, who were offering library people a unique development opportunity as part of the digital leadership programme. I waited (not very patiently) until the email came in – I had been chosen – I was delighted – I was off to MozFest!!

MozFest? It is tagged as ‘The world’s leading festival for the open internet movement’. For me it’s a chance to experience interesting developments, meet innovators, creators and makers and be exposed to lots of new ideas and ways of thinking about the world!

Plus I was really pleased when I found out who was coming on the journey with me. I thought most would be from in and around the London area (as MozFest is on their doorstep), but the SCL MozFest gang are coming from far and wide.

We started chatting via email and Twitter, but quickly moving on to WhatsApp for ease.

The hotel and trains are booked and the MozFest programme has just been released. I think we’ve all felt equally excited and overwhelmed by the amount of sessions on offer – how are we supposed to decide?

A shared Google Calendar has been set up so we can design our individual MozFest journeys, whilst keeping track of what others are participating in too. It looks like our choices will be varied, which should lead to some interesting conversations and sharing afterwards.

My personal favourites so far is the automated Raspberry Pi photo booth, open badges and the three storey popcorn art creation, but I haven’t really scratched the surface of reading through the available sessions.

And no SCL influenced event would be the same without running librarians, so that’s planned in too (some of us running and some of us cheering on!)

Watch the MozFest intro video.

Creativity and Innovation

One of the many things I learned on the Clore Short course was the power of giving your creative mind barriers or boundaries.

So for example, if I were to ask you to develop a digital project for libraries you might not get any immediate sparks of innovation. However if I were to ask you to consider how digital technology might improve how we communicate with our customers, or how we might save money on printing you might have more luck in generating a few ideas.

And before you think you’re not a creative type – think again! Everyone is born to be free thinking and creative. Sometimes we need to give ourselves the time and the permission to think up new ideas and new approaches, simply explore what other people are doing to find some inspiration. Find yourself a theme or some boundaries and then get creative.

I have two examples of how channeling imagination/creativity can lead to great ideas and projects. 

Creative Thinking Session

What? As part of the SCL Digital Leaders Pilot we were asked to go off in groups of five or six, with a 10p in hand – the task to return half an hour later with something bigger!

There were four groups and we all tackled the challenge quite differently. I  learned a lot about leadership and the need for different personalities on a team – I was very aware that people within the group played different roles and brought different attributes such as: ideas, analysis, doing, digital solutions, askers, momentum, confidence, seekers, presenters, inspiration – the list goes on.

Purpose? To make us think. To get us active after lunch. To have some fun.

Target audience? This could be done with any group.

How might it be used? To get a group to think creatively, to enable people to understand the role they naturally might play and the dynamics at work in a team.

What happened?

Group one – photocopied something bigger in denomination than a 10p

Group two – joined the library and borrowed some books about starting a business

Group three – ‘borrowed’ a card from the shop. The card had a  ‘Votes for women’ image – they had brought back democracy!


Group four – visited the Manchester Art Gallery over the road and got talking to two awesome visitor services officers. They were extremely helpful to this bunch of  ‘highly motivated and slightly erratic librarians’. For our 10p we were able to ‘purchase’ a clutch of goodies. But we also wanted to return with something digital, so the lovely Sam agreed to tell us why she loved Manchester in front of a Lowry painting!

Sharing the knowledge gained from the SCL Digital Leaders Pilot (facilitated by Ben Lee and Ethan Ohs from Shared Intelligence) with colleagues  – ideas, examples and inspiration.

Empathy in a Digital World

This video from RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) was part of our homework for SCL Digital Leaders Pilot and is very thought provoking, so well worth a watch.

After watching and loving this video I tweeted about it. I then had a conversation with Roman Krznaric and he signposted me to the Empathy Library –

“The Empathy Library is the world’s first online empathy collection and a treasure house for catapulting your imagination into other people’s lives. What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The library takes you on these journeys into unknown worlds.

The library is full of recommended books to read (fiction, non-fiction and children’s books) and great films to watch (from feature films to documentaries and video shorts). Their common thread? The power to deepen our empathy – to help us step into the shoes of other people and look at the world through their eyes. The library offers a unique form of armchair travel that can give you a taste of a different culture, a different generation, a different life.”

Sharing the knowledge gained from the SCL Digital Leaders Pilot (facilitated by Ben Lee and Ethan Ohs from Shared Intelligence) with colleagues  – ideas, examples and inspiration.

MOOCS – Massive Online Open Courses


What? FutureLearn works with universities to provide free online modular courses. There is a massive range of courses including:

  • Innovation and enterprise (with Loughborough University)
  • World War 1: History in 100 stories (with Monash University)
  • Dyslexia and Foreign Language Teaching (with Lancaster University)
  • Introduction to Cyber Security (with The Open University)
  • Start Writing Fiction (with The Open University)
  • Secret Power of Brands (with University of East Anglia) – I thoroughly recommend this one!
  • Childhood in a digital age (with The Open University)
  • and so so many more: Browse courses

Purpose? Future Learn believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so their courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.

Target audience? Anyone who would like to join. Courses run with 10,000 plus participants from across the world. 

How might it be used? To enrich our online offer

How to find out more? FutureLearn, OpenLearn – the home of free courses from The Open University


Treehouse Learning  


Sue Lawson, Service Development Coordinator at Manchester Libraries is running a project to trial a subscription to this package. 

What? Online courses Teaching digital skills –  ‘Learn the skills to land your dream job’

Purpose? To learn skills required by a workforce in the digital age. 

Target audience? Job seekers, job clubs, anyone wanting to up-skill, business startups. 

How might it be used? To enrich our online offer, to fit with the Universal Learning Offer

How to find out more? Treehouse

Sharing the knowledge gained from the SCL Digital Leaders Pilot (facilitated by Ben Lee and Ethan Ohs from Shared Intelligence) with colleagues  – ideas, examples and inspiration.

eDays and Digital Skills Programme

What? As part of the Enterprising Libraries programme Gateshead Libraries demonstrated that innovation can contribute to economic wellbeing through access to education and digital skills.

  • Library run Computer-Coding and Robotics Club – learning to code, designing games.
  • eDays -public could access cutting edge technology and learn about their use with partners of  makerspace and local digital company
  • Digital careers event aimed at 12+

Purpose? Raised aspirations of children; greater take-up of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects; and increased profile for libraries’ role in promoting STEM and computer science, attract new audiencesto the library,grow membership, and change perceptions of what libraries have to offer

Target audience? Primary and secondary school aged children

How might it be used? Increase use by children and young people, raise profile of libraries as community spaces delivering skills, 21st century libraries, links with SCL Universal Learning Offer.

How to find out more? Enterprising Libraries: Gateshead


Sharing the knowledge gained from the SCL Digital Leaders Pilot (facilitated by Ben Lee and Ethan Ohs from Shared Intelligence) with colleagues  – ideas, examples and inspiration.

Social Media 

Sue Lawson, Service Development Coordinator, from Manchester Libraries  came along to the first session of the SCL Digital Leaders Pilot to enthuse us about social media and she did just that.

Facebook and Twitter

What? Social media that entertains as well as informs, give it a human feeling – have conversations and draw in information from other sources. 

Purpose? To make libraries accessible, open and visible. To raise the profile of library services, projects and events, and increase take up. To speak to customers in a more informal way. To encourage new members to join and  lapsed users to return.  To promote libraries online offer. To find communities of interest and share stories that will be of relevance to them. 

Target audience? Current users, potential users, local community, partners etc

How might it be used? Open up conversations and make quick connections (e.g. a local band “can we come and play at the library”), showcase hidden/buried content, reach new audiences. “The whole point is to post content people want to share“. 

How to find out more? Case study (Culture Hive)


What? ‘A single place to read your favourite newspapers, magazines and blogs.’

Purpose? Sue uses Feedly to find new content for use on social media. 

Target audience? Anyone 

How might it be used? To keep up-to-date, to find content to enrich social media channels (create different folders with subject headings)

How to find out more? Feedly

Social Media Surgeries

What? Informal sessions to help charity, community or voluntary group to use social media effectively. Volunteer ‘surgeons/helpers’ share their knowledge and skills. Social Media Surgeries have been run in libraries across the country. 

Purpose? To support the third sector to make effective use of social media. 

Target audience? Charities, community and voluntary groups

How might it be used? To bring in new users

How to find out more? Social Media Surgeries, Recipe for staring a Social Media Surgery


Also check out:

  • Flipboard (Magazines) – Your personal magazine, Find, follow and flip stories that change your world. View LibraryCamp Flipboard Magazine.
  • WordPress Workshops
  • Google+ Hangouts – Bring your conversations to life with photos, emoji, and even group video calls and online chat for free.
  • See also Treehouse

Sharing the knowledge gained from the SCL Digital Leaders Pilot (facilitated by Ben Lee and Ethan Ohs from Shared Intelligence) with colleagues  – ideas, examples and inspiration.