Cllr Chris Kennedy gives an update on Hackney’s new libraries strategy


Cllr Chris Kennedy, Cabinet Member for Culture, gives an update on the activities being delivered as part of Hackney’s new libraries strategy:

In Hackney we are incredibly proud of our library service. We have eight libraries across the borough, as well as our fantastic Community Library Service, which delivers books to those who are unable to visit in person.

Our libraries are an important part of Hackney’s social and cultural life. They are welcoming places open to all residents seven days a week, providing free books, wifi, study areas and a warm space just to be when needed. Our friendly and helpful library staff offer a range of quality services, activities and programmes that are used by thousands of residents every year, including craft clubs, reading groups and resident surgeries.

Following our consultation in 2021 we have started to deliver our new vision to make sure the borough’s libraries remain relevant, fit for the modern digital world and accessible to all. The strategy focuses on promoting creativity, reading and lifelong learning, inclusion, volunteering and participation, reducing digital exclusion and engaging with vulnerable people and communities throughout the borough.

When the Council engaged with 8,500 users and non-users about what they wanted to see in their local library, residents told us that they would like to use the library spaces more for an inclusive offer in particular for creative and community hub activities, digital and lifelong learning, and places that include the community in co-producing what it can offer.

In addition to our core offer of health clinics and pop ups, books on prescription, rhyme times and homework clubs - here are some of the new activities we have put in place since we launched the new vision for our libraries in October 2022:

Literacy and lifelong learning 

Hackney’s libraries have a strong impact on learning, and support everything from formal learning to English language learning, leading to qualifications for residents of all ages and backgrounds. With Hackney Education we are working with our primary aged Reading Champions and secondary aged Reading Ambassadors to develop creative strategies that promote reading for pleasure in local schools. 

Residents told us they are keen to attend affordable skills-based classes in libraries and therefore we now host regular lifelong learning sessions in English, maths, computer skills, life skills and more - all delivered by the Council’s Adult Learning Service across our libraries.

Flexible, inclusive and innovative spaces 

UK disability charity RNIB are supporting us to make our libraries more inclusive, welcoming and accessible for people with disabilities, including improving facilities for visually impaired people across all our libraries and installing inclusive tech hubs with assistive technology at our two largest libraries, Hackney Central Library and Dalston CLR James Library. 

We are looking forward to our Hackney Central Library refurbishment next year which has been funded by the Government’s Levelling Up Fund. In consultation with you, we hope to deliver a brand new library facility in the heart of Hackney, with meeting, study and work spaces, and an improved children’s area for cosy reading and family activities.   

The improvements to our library buildings stretch across the borough, including Stamford Hill Library where we are repairing the roof, creating an outdoor library and sensory garden and installing an accessible lift. Stoke Newington Library in the north of the borough will close temporarily next year so that we can carry out repairs of the roof and fabric of this Grade 2 listed library building.

The libraries service is providing a platform and route for residents to find out about other Council services and support. A new partnership with the Council’s Housing department means that housing surgeries for residents are now taking place weekly at Homerton Library.  They will soon be happening weekly at Clapton, Stamford Hill, Dalston CLR James and Shoreditch Libraries.

Creative wellbeing 

Knit & Natter has gone from strength to strength at Hackney Central Library. It is a library-led group for people of all ages, including elderly and vulnerable people, to make new friends and learn new skills over a cup of tea and some biscuits. The group has recently been knitting books, having graduated from love-heart bunting and bumblebees, and is always open to new members!

We are now hosting many staff and author-led events, reading and writing groups - for example during Black History Season residents can join emergency medicine professional Dr Ronx as they introduce their debut children’s book Amazing Bodies on 28 October at Dalston CLR James Library. From 8 November, local author Sara Nisha Adams will host a free monthly writing workshop at Hackney Central Library to help budding authors get into their stride.

Get digital!

Our libraries play a leading role in helping residents become confident using the latest technologies. We have started our roll out of new public computers across all our branches, so watch this space over the next few months as we will be installing new scanners, digital signage and other digital equipment as part of our digital transformation. Our new 8-week digital skills course ‘Golden Bytes’ for Hackney Pensioners aimed at reducing digital exclusion has a waiting list of older people wanting to learn new skills. The ‘Golden Bytes’ participants have told us that they feel more confident in using IT equipment - for example to go online for materials that have been offered to them by the Council, take part in video calls, shop and research product pricing, and feel overall more safe when using technology. 

On top of this, so far this year 125 library visitors have been helped by the Digital Buddies volunteers in Stamford Hill, Dalston CLR James and Stoke Newington. Sessions will be starting again soon after the summer break.

Cost of living support and community outreach 

All our libraries will continue to be part of the Warm Hub and Kind Coats schemes from November to March. We will host coffee mornings and financial advice sessions at Dalston CLR James Library and we will collect donated toys to give away to families in need.

We work with many partners to provide residents with important information that keeps them safe. On 18 October, we will be hosting Hate Crime Awareness workshops at Stamford Hill Library, in partnership with the borough’s Community Safety team. All are welcome.

The Hackney Pensioners Convention has made Dalston Clr James Library their home for the group’s monthly meetings with members of the community. The library space is a trusted space for their members to meet and discuss issues as for example the Freedom Pass for pensioners amongst many other important issues that concern their lives.

Our Community Library Service has been busy building new links with residential housing schemes, hosting coffee mornings, attending community days and recruiting new customers. They have recently reinstated their library drop off service at St Joseph’s Hospice and Homerton Hospital after the pandemic.  

What’s next

Join your local library to use the computers and take out a book, or just pop in to see what is on and get involved – Hackney libraries are here for you!

Hot off the press we have launched Hackney Libraries’ first Instagram channel @hackneylibraries which has already engaged thousands of viewers on social media. Get involved in our #LibrariansRecommend campaign with videos of library staff making book recommendations.

We are really looking forward to inviting residents to our reimagined library spaces and we hope to provide further updates on what’s happening in our libraries over the next few months. In the meantime you can find out more about our libraries on the Council’s website www.hackney.gov.uk/libraries or go to https://www.lovehackney.uk/ for information on the Council’s cultural events.