In this week’s Princh Library Blog, Paula Kelly Paull, Manager Learning Communities – Hobsons Bay City Council, Churchill Fellow and Board Director – Australian Library and Information Association, shares her perspective on if she believes library partnerships are worth it and if so, why.
Partnerships can be complex and time consuming … but are they worth it?
My resounding answer is ‘Hell Yeah!’
Libraries have always worked in partnership to support their communities whoever and wherever they are with the diverse needs, that are often unique to that community, driving the offerings of that service.
As a recognised library leader, I have had the privilege of working in the space of literacy and learning innovation in state and public libraries for over two decades in Victoria, Australia. Helping to steer, inform and create new ways of meeting community need and utilisation of public spaces for learning, literacy and community strengthening has been at the core of this work.
This also includes the visioning of what’s next on the horizon, inspired by the way my inspiring mentor works – Professor Stephen Heppell (Professor, Felipe Segovia Chair of Learning Innovation at Universidad Camilo José Cela, Madrid and Emeritus Professor Chair in New Learning Environments, Anglia Ruskin University UK and CEO Heppell.net), with his “eyes on the horizon but feet firmly on the ground.’
Innovation and Partnerships
Innovation and partnerships are only useful if they serve a need and are delivered in practical and sustainable ways. The Creative Technology Hub (CTH) partnership with the Seaworks Foundation in the Maritime Precinct of Historic Seaport Williamstown, is one such innovation project. A small project in the scheme of things, it seeks to demonstrate the power of partnership in meeting identified community need.
In this municipality engagement of ‘at risk’ young people as well as reskilling of older adults are both priorities. These priorities are driven by high levels of community risk associated with the downsizing and shifting landscape of locally based manufacturing industries, and the inherent impact on employment futures and hope for educational engagement. The central idea to the Creative Tech Hub project is to offer a hook into learning utilising creative technologies in a ‘play to learn’ environment designed to be attractive to those not usually aligned with public library offerings.
Whilst we all believe that libraries are welcoming to all, they still can be intimidating especially if engaged learning hasn’t been experienced before – or school/learning experiences were not particularly positive. This is where a different kind of environment kicks in … one that is grungy and accessible in a way that is a bit outside the square.
The Seaworks Foundation manages a semi-industrial waterfront locale with its roots historically in ship-building, providing both a venue for events and community activity as well as a Maritime Museum celebrating the heritage of the first port of the world’s most livable city, the City of Melbourne. A partnership with Seaworks has enabled the creation of a space that interacts with a public and private event offering, and one that can also be operated independently or together where the opportunity presents.
Project partners including businesses like Toyota and international library furniture supplier Raeco and AV Jennings, and philanthropy (Gandel), government (both State and Local) and further education, have joined to support capacity and capability building of community members. They range from volunteers wanting to activate and animate important Maritime Museum content to young people and older adults participating in projects that will inevitably provide the development of skills leading to greater opportunities for pathways back into education and employability.
Hobsons Bay City Council as the major project driver, funds staff and some operational costs redeployed from existing budgets. Hobsons Bay Libraries led programming sits alongside community-generated projects that will foster skill sharing.
The space will also provide access to community members wishing to work on their own projects from early 2020 when the space is officially opened. This too is a new way of working, allowing the community to access the space independently at times that suit them, having met induction and safety requirements. This will provide a co-working space of a different kind… one that requires Library staff to share ‘custodianship’ of the space with the community… another form of new partnership!
Our vibrant relationship with Swinburne University Engineering Practice Academy has provided opportunities for student and community-generated programming. The students have developed the content for the “Get Your Ship Together” project, amongst others, immersing participants in developing skills in 3D design as well as printing, coding and electronics through designing a remote-controlled boat for the purposes of a community boat race event.
Testing sessions with members of the community (via Hobson’s Bay Men’s Shed) and young people accessing Council’s Up! Youth Services has engaged people in the CTH project along the way. Some of the participants in these sessions will go on to deliver this to other community groups as partners in programming.
Alongside introduction sessions to the classic suite of creative tech offerings expected, a number of other potential projects have been identified that will allow community participation and skill development, as well as enhance visitor experience to the Maritime Museum. This includes the development of a “living books” resource that will capture the stories of the museum volunteers and other members of the community.
Utilising green screen film technologies, 3D scanning capabilities, robotics and laser cutters provides an unprecedented opportunity for enhanced contemporary learning possibilities. At the recent soft opening the CTH, HBCC CEO expressed his keenness to “work” in this space with the upcoming implementation of Council-wide Activity Based working. We are a local government in the throws of change and innovation – working in partnership with community on a range of fronts. This place also provides a ‘play to learn’ space for our staff taking up opportunities to build contemporaneous skills for the world of work we now live in, side by side with community members.
The space will also develop entrepreneurial opportunities for start-ups to utilise for prototype development, for the possible provision of commercial services (e.g. short film making) and for the delivery of professional development sessions for educational and library professionals – adding to the future sustainability of the project overall.
The CTH is not just a place but a public space partnership on many levels. In the most recent International Placemaking Week, presented by Project for Public Spaces (PPS) on October 1-4, 2019 in the USA—following Amsterdam in 2017 and Vancouver in 2016—placemakers globally were inspired by the PPS’s 11 steps for creating great community spaces. These include acknowledging community as an expert, creating a place not a design, looking for partners, ‘starting with petunias’, overcoming obstacles and experimenting. This article in retrospect captures our approach on this project over the past few years in its making… something after all these years of public place creation we are starting to learn some very important lessons about!
We continue to develop the project which is due to formally launch in early 2020. The coming months will include the conceptualized entrance laneway off the main tourist area, Nelson Place, in Williamstown. This is a newly realized asset for the whole precinct since the development of the CTH within the main shed of Seaworks.
The project started as a freight container concept separate from the building originally. However, as with any good partnership project, the slow cooking has made it better for the iterating, experimenting and problem solving. However, we’ve kept our feet firmly on the ground whilst having our eyes on the horizon… and in true collaboration and joint partnership with all stakeholders along the way. This is an extension of our Library service but also a partnership public space of a new breed!
We will be back next week with another interesting article from the library world!
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