Knowledge Matters blog

Behind the scenes at the British Library

07 June 2023

LibraryOn grants awarded to 27 public library projects

Leeds-14 LibraryOn image-smaller

In March this year LibraryOn launched its £1.09m grants programme. Supported by Arts Council England and facilitated by the British Library, the fund enables library services to boost their digital presences and enhance their discoverability for new and existing users. In consultation with the library sector, we created a grants programme which was easy to access and designed with the digital needs of libraries in mind. Library services and consortia could apply for between £10k and £70k for capital expenditure.  

We received 68 applications representing 69% of all English library services. From an Expressions of Interest stage, we invited 43 applicants to submit a full application. The first stage panel included an Arts Council England representative and the digital lead for Libraries Connected. Types of projects included upgrading existing websites or creating new ones, digital marketing activity and purchasing new software. The total value of applications came to £1.6m.  

We invited a full panel of sector experts to decide which of the final projects would receive funding. Individuals from CILIP and Good Things Foundation, as well as previous library Heads of Service, took part in a robust decision-making process.  All applications were considered and discussed in detail; we were very keen to ensure a good geographical spread of projects as well as a range of activity was supported.   

The panel awarded funding to 27 projects with a total value of £1,080,846. To give a flavour of the successful applications:  

  • In the North, eleven projects were funded including a new website for Sunderland libraries to revitalise customer experience; a digital advertising campaign in Sefton; an animation and VR project working with young people in North Lincolnshire; a new library app in Kirklees and upgraded events booking for Gateshead.  
  • The Midlands received funding for two applications, including a website refresh, virtual floor plan, photography and library app for Stoke-on-Trent; and a library app for Leicester Libraries.
  • London had five successful applications. They included a collaboration between the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and Camden libraries; an online discoverable catalogue in Lambeth; and an interactive website project for Newham.  
  • The South East received funding for five. They included creation of online assets such as photography, film and animation for West Sussex; virtual tours and photography in Surrey; and Suffolk reimagining its website’s user experience.  
  • In the South West four projects were supported, including online space booking for Libraries Unlimited; a new website in Gloucestershire; and an online history and archive project for Southampton.     

Awards were also given to three consortiums, meaning 20 services from around the country will benefit from activity including ASK for a Book; a website providing personalised book recommendations from libraries, a film and photography project (reflecting findings from user research, where people said they would be more likely to visit a library if they could see what the spaces and events looked like) and upgrades to websites so we can increase our understanding of how local and national library sites work together for users.      

We’re inviting participating projects to take part in a community of practice to support skills development and share ongoing learning. We hope the process will be a useful experience which will have sector-wide benefits and enable services to learn from one another and exchange knowledge.          

Liz White, Head of Public Libraries and Community Engagement at the British Library said: “We’re excited to see this grant award for library services in areas across England, balancing investment in core offers with a wide variety of opportunities for digital innovation, user research and shared learning about ways of working. This reflects our north star goal to increase the number of people using public libraries and raise awareness about their enduring value and importance.” 

Luke Burton, Director of Libraries at Arts Council England said: “We are delighted to see such an exciting range of digital projects and improvements being funded through the LibraryOn grant scheme which is supported by the Arts Council’s overall £3.4m award to the British Library. The team has been progressing the development of the LibraryOn platform at pace over recent months and allowing digital improvements and potential future integrations are critical to the next steps of demonstrating the value and uses of a single digital presence for public libraries in England. I look forward to seeing all of these projects progressing.” 

Head to the LibraryOn website to find out more about the awards in detail. 

If you work in the public library sector and have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us at [email protected]. You can also email us to subscribe to our sector newsletter for regular updates.  

Jill Brown 

Digital Grants Manager, LibraryOn