Memorandum submitted by London Borough
of Tower Hamlets
The Idea Store strategy, developed by the London
Borough of Tower Hamlets to achieve radical step-change in levels
of participation in libraries and adult education, has proved
highly successful. Tower Hamlets Council suggests that this strategy
offers some useful lessons which may be of interest to the Committee.
The strategy was born out of an independent
market research and public consultation exercise using a variety
of methods, to which one in 10 households in the borough responded.
The research led to the identification of a series of factors
which would encourage local residents to use their library and
learning services more.
Key issues were:
Accessibility in terms of location
(ie High Street locations).
Seven-day opening at times to suit
the community's needs.
Seamless, customer-centred service
provision meeting "Library Learning Information" needs.
Safe, neutral, welcoming spaces for
the entire community with a view to attracting non-users and reluctant
In 1999, the Council adopted a strategy to reprovide
its entire library and adult education centre services with a
network of seven Idea Stores to meet the expressed demands of
the public. Central to this strategy is the use of retail-style
design and marketing techniques to reach out to today's potential
The Council's commitment to the strategy when
adopted was signalled by its allocation of significantly increased
revenue resources to support the Stores' longer opening hours
and higher standards of maintenance.
The first Idea Store opened in May 2002 in Bow,
followed by the second (Chrisp Street in Poplar) in July 2004.
The flagship Store at Whitechapel is currently under construction
and due to open next year, and plans for the remaining Stores
are at varying stages of development.
Both Idea Stores have more than trebled visitors
compared to the two libraries they each replaced. Stock issues
have held their own at Bow in the face of decline elsewhere nationwide,
and have increased dramatically at Chrisp Street.
In terms of community cohesion, the Stores are
attracting hard-to-reach groups with outstanding increases in
membership from under-16s (a previously under-represented group).
The profile of membership fully reflects the highly diverse profile
of the local population. The café space of the Bow Idea
Store has become a "community hub"a safe space
to meet friends. This space is therefore used to promote services
in the Store and to engage new users.
The Idea Store strategy has delivered many of
the aspirations of Framework for the Future and attracted
significant national and international professional attention.
One of the strategy's successes has been the
achievement of libraries and adult education objectives through
very close partnership working and seamless service delivery.
While education has always been central to libraries' core purpose,
we recognise that today's consumers have a choice as to the way
they spend their leisure time. By working with our education colleagues
to promote our services using retail-style techniques we can communicate
with potential customers in a way they understand and to which
they respond. We use "Idea Champions" and "Learning
Ambassadors" to act as peer motivators and communicators
to great effect.
Idea Stores are achieved entirely through partnership
working: between Council departments, with the local College,
higher education and voluntary organisations, and with a wide
range of funding bodies. By linking libraries, adult, further
and higher education so closely, we are integrating a wide range
of resources, exploiting library stock to the full and ensuring
joined-up planning and service provision.
However, there are a number of challenges. Idea
Stores are assisting in the achievement of many Learning and Skills
Council objectives, and receive LSC funding to do so. However,
there is a conflict between the creation of easy-access learning
opportunities to reluctant learners and highly outcome-driven
funding regimes. There is also the danger that the LSC funding
framework cannot meet the surge in demand being created by these
The parallel and complementary development of
the People's Network has been fully exploited in Idea Stores through
the provision of training and support for new ICT users and provided
a gateway to e-government in non-threatening surroundings. The
challenge however is to ensure that the high-quality ICT equipment
which has proved highly attractive to date is continually updated.
Idea Stores have highlighted the need for a
new skill-set for staff working in library services today: empowered
staff with a customer focus, who are ICT aware and marketing-driven,
able to develop a culture of self-help and self-development. We
have been delighted that Idea Stores have attracted many highly
talented and enthusiastic staff from the retail sector and have
been pleased to train them in the necessary library skills. Our
challenge is to manage the change process so that traditional
library skills are matched with enthusiasm and retail experience.
Idea Stores are unique: seeing is believing!
We would be delighted to showcase this innovative and highly successful
strategy in support of your Inquiry.
12 November 2004