Bringing HE to the libraries of Wakefield

Back when I started working on the National Collaborative Outreach Programme in 2017, it was a priority to seek out important community locations and stakeholders that were primed for engagement with our work around Higher Education and Widening Participation. It quickly became apparent when working in the Wakefield region that the libraries were an integral part of the local communities, serving as popular spaces for communal activities, workshops and information gathering for people of all ages and backgrounds. It was therefore a no-brainer to begin working with the Wakefield Libraries team to bring our HE message to these vital local spaces.

The project began with a series of meetings with the fantastically helpful Libraries team at Wakefield Council. After many discussions about the best ways to bring Go Higher West Yorkshire to the library users of Wakefield, it was decided that it would be good to do a phased introduction before installing permanent information stands in each of our partner libraries. Myself and my colleagues from the other Wakefield-focused institutions (Kirklees College, Wakefield College and Leeds Beckett University) embarked on a tour of the seven libraries that fell into our target areas, setting up shop for regular drop in sessions and starting to engage in conversations with the libraries’ staff and visitors.

To test out the viability of installing permanent information stands, we then put into place what we called our ‘travelling stand’. On a monthly basis, the information stand would be moved between the libraries across the Wakefield region, giving us the opportunity to road test the effectiveness of the materials on the stand and engagement with the information. After receiving excellent feedback and encouragement about the necessity of bringing educational information into the local communities, it was time to make progress towards the more permanent elements of the project.

At first, the idea of setting up permanent library stands in seven libraries across Wakefield seemed like a simple one. Little did I know that it would involve many evenings spent manually assembling literature racks in the living room of my studio flat, storing stacks of prospectuses under my dining table and carrying resources across town and villages centres! However, after months of planning, buying and building, the first library stand was finally installed.

Over a period of several months, HE information stands were installed in the libraries in Hemsworth, South Elmsall, Wakefield One, Pontefract, Featherstone, Castleford and Airedale. Thanks to the support of the central Libraries team and the local staff in the libraries, the stands are being well used and regularly restocked with the most up to date literature and information from our thirteen partners. Following the success of the project in the Wakefield region, I am now working with colleagues across the project to expand the information stands across Leeds, and eventually Bradford. A huge thank you to all of the NCOP staff and Wakefield Library staff who have made this project possible- and if you’re live near one of the Wakefield libraries, pop in and have a browse!

Laura Bareham, Higher Education Outreach Officer at the University of Huddersfield