In 2014, the future of Devon’s 50 public libraries was called into question when Devon County Council, the then service provider, had to save £1.5m from its library service budget over three years.
By 2016, after extensive public consultation, independent charity and social enterprise Libraries Unlimited, took over the running of the library service following a spin-out from the county council. In its short life span, the charity has reinvigorated the service, is on track to deliver the savings and has secured several sources of external funding in order to operate more sustainably.
What it takes to pioneer a social enterprise in unchartered territory at a time of austerity, will be discussed as part of The STEMM Cell series of presentations aimed at the business community, at Exeter Science Park this spring.
As the Chief Executive of Libraries Unlimited, Ciara Eastell OBE, has been at the helm of the ambitious journey to transform the organisation and ensure Devon’s libraries have a sustainable and exciting future. She will give the talk on Wednesday, January 24th, 5pm – 6.30pm.
“Making a change like this is not for the faint-hearted and it has been feat of great bravery for everyone involved” said Ciara, who has more than 20 years’ experience as a chartered librarian and is the former Head of Libraries, Culture and Heritage for Devon County Council.
“Libraries are an important part of the economic and cultural life of the county and it was essential we made this work. But moving away from a public sector run service to a social enterprise and stepping outside local authority jurisdiction represented an entirely new and innovative delivery model and there will be continued challenges.”
Ciara, who will be directing her presentation at the business community, said that personal resilience and courage are among the main attributes needed to drive forward a new organisation and transform a business model for the long-term.
Ciara is much respected in the field and was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s 2017 Honours List for services to libraries.
Ciara has been responsible for reshaping the library service regionally and nationally, particularly as President of the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL), a voluntary role she held for two years until June 2016. During her time as President, Ciara was a member of the national Leadership for Libraries Taskforce, a member of the British Library’s Advisory Council and led SCL’s work developing the Universal Offers, a series of offers around reading, health, digital, information and learning aimed at encouraging more library use within local communities.
A core component of the regeneration of Devon’s libraries has been the incorporation of additional resources, such as the FabLabs at both Exeter and Barnstaple libraries as well as the provision of business and intellectual property advice, support and workshops, particularly useful to entrepreneurs and business start-ups.
“We’ve got a radical transformation agenda and our ambition is to create something big,” added Ciara. “Libraries aren’t just a place to borrow fiction but have the resources to support businesses to grow, whether you’re a sole trader or wanting to launch a small business.
“My main message to people is simply to come and see us, and be surprised. We want people to rediscover their libraries.”
Dr Sally Basker, CEO of Exeter Science Park, said: “The South West is home to a host of leading innovators, researchers, entrepreneurs and businesspeople, so we have created this platform to share the exciting knowledge and innovative projects that take place across Devon and beyond.
“All our speakers have been identified for their expertise, knowledge and skills in areas that can be passed on to bring about benefit to others.
“Libraries are a hugely valuable community resource and we are looking forward to hosting Ciara who will be sharing how Devon’s libraries are becoming an important port of call for business start-ups.”
Tickets are priced at £10 per event, with all proceeds going to the Devon Community Foundation at the end of the year. For more information and to book your tickets, visit https://exeterscienceparkltd.eventbrite.co.uk .