Not left on the shelf - The vital role our public libraries play in modern life

Survey highlights the important role of Welsh libraries in offering creative activities.

The range of different activities offered by libraries has expanded in recent years, and a 2018 survey from Voluntary Arts Wales has revealed the extent and nature of creative activities offered by, or taking place in public libraries across Wales - and the considerable benefits they deliver for people and communities.

There were responses to the survey from 19 out of 22 Local Authority areas in Wales, and all libraries that responded regularly offer and support a wide range of creative activities.

The most popular creative activities offered were literary (writing, spoken word, etc.), visual arts such as painting and drawing, crafts, singing and digital creativity. Some libraries regularly offer film and photography and musical activities; and a few offer dance and drama. Libraries also frequently put on one-off events, festivals and celebrations.

The survey reveals the extensive and varied benefits to individuals of the creative activities offered by libraries: improved health and wellbeing, and increased social interaction were cited as two of the main benefits.

There is an increasing body of evidence that demonstrates regular participation in creative activity has a positive impact on wellbeing and can have significant beneficial effects on people’s health. The survey suggests that libraries play an important role in this regard: bringing people together around a meaningful and enjoyable activity can yield reported benefits such as “increased confidence” and “relaxing and combating stress”, whilst “regular activities provide a strong social network for some of the more isolated members of our community.”

Another common benefit cited was the opportunity to “learn new skills” and “deliver learning outcomes”, suggesting that libraries may be important routes in further learning or training.

A shared space

What is particular about libraries is their accessible, community-owned nature: a common space where all are welcome, and where cost isn’t a barrier to participation. Respondents said:

  • The informal setting of libraries makes access to creative arts easier.”
  • Great for providing a non-threatening social environment for people to meet.”

Libraries provide a “safe environment”: a place where people feel part of a wider community, and feel reassured enough to “try something different” and have “new experiences that [participants] will then go on to explore further.”

The future

It would be great if libraries could start being thought of as an everyday place to participate in the creative arts.”

In some cases, offering creative activities has been shown to boost library membership and interest in the library stock.

The survey suggests that there is also an important contribution that libraries can make to the public policy priorities in Wales today, such as preventing loneliness and isolation, providing cultural engagement as well as maintaining and improving health and wellbeing. The open access, free or low-cost creative activities offered by local libraries means that they are well-placed to help deliver on the goals of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act.

There is a movement to increase recognition of the vital importance of community-based everyday creativity, championed by organisations like Voluntary Arts Wales and highlighted by festivals such as Get Creative, Gwanwyn, The Big Draw and Fun Palaces. It is clear that Welsh public libraries are a vital partner in this movement.

Voluntary Arts Wales is a charity that promotes participation in creative cultural activity. It exists to champion and support the full breadth of cultural activity taking place every day across Wales. Voluntary Arts Wales is part of Voluntary Arts, a national charity and company limited by guarantee established in 1995, which is active throughout the UK and Ireland. Voluntary Arts Wales acknowledges funding from the Arts Council of Wales.

For further information, please contact Gareth Coles, Director of Voluntary Arts Wales, on [email protected]