Category Archives: Uncategorized

Prototyping Library Enterprises with Essex Libraries

Essex County Council (ECC) currently operates a traditional public library service through 74 fixed sites and 11 mobiles, but as with every local authority in England, must deliver and evolve the service with a significantly reduced revenue budget in future. Specifically, Essex Libraries has already undergone a transformation to deliver savings, but must identify a further £1.7m during 2015-17 – whether in the form of savings or through new income generation.

National policy, research and emergent practice points towards the merits of

  • Establishing a national digital library service offer (see: the Sieghart Review);
  • Transforming local library assets into Community Hubs or ‘one-stop-shops’ for numerous public services (see: the work of the Libraries Task Force);
  • Establishing library service mutuals or mixed public/community provider landscapes to harness library user involvement in service funding/provision (see: developments in Suffolk, York and, more recently, Devon but, also, in North Yorkshire);
  • Continued commitment to delivery of SCL’s Universal Offers – which now includes a digital making and learning offer for young people in the form of ‘Code Green’; and
  • Investment in Wi-Fi infrastructure within libraries/workforce development to reflect the need to improve its digital skills base and associated competencies.

However, in and of themselves, none of the above is liable to

  • Significantly increase traditional library service usage at the local level (which has been in decline, now, for almost a decade – albeit usage of internet-based services continues to grow year on year);
  • Fully address – let alone reverse – the reduction in revenue monies projected to impact local library services during the period 2010-20 and beyond; or
  • Underpin a thoroughgoing evolution of library services offered in tangible local settings without significant and/or continued investment.

Key ECC personnel are, therefore, tasked with prioritising service co-location at present – with a view to maximising rental income from services that are operated by other public bodies – but have also been asked to stimulate Civic Innovation opportunities where this is liable to contribute to the evolution of library services working in partnership with library users, Essex businesses and communities more broadly.

It is in the spirit of championing Civic Innovation that ECC’s Director for Customer and Information Services, Sophia Looney, invited us to present the findings of the work we undertook with Locality for Arts Council England concerning Income Generation in Public Libraries to Elected Members and colleagues, and to pursue one of the key recommendations made integral to the same – namely, to explore the scope to develop income generating library services for ECC underpinned by new/emergent technologies. The aims of this activity were to stimulate discussion about what more/different ECC might do to

  1. grow library service usage by targeting new audiences/users;
  2. address reductions in revenue monies available to Essex Libraries through social enterprise (albeit, in keeping with the ethos of a public library service); and
  3. evolve the traditional library service offer to help future-proof it for diverse communities living, learning and working in Essex to 2020 and beyond.

Having introduced colleagues to the findings of the work we undertook with Locality, we engaged them in a discussion about x10 ideas for income generating library services underpinned by new/emergent technology. We then undertook a high-level options appraisal before recommending the focus for the project concept development activity we believed we might usefully undertake and, ultimately, agreed to explore the scope for ECC to establish a Drone Loans scheme.

We’re delighted to report that colleagues were enthusiastic about exploring a number of the ideas we outlined. So, we’ve incorporated them in a proposal for joint working that is now being considered by ECC along with representatives from x9 local authorities elsewhere in England, and will keep you posted about developments over the coming months.

For further information, please Contact Us.

Lessons learned from the Common Libraries and Tunapanda Institute Mesh Network project: Update – March 2015

Late last year, Tunapanda Institute and Common Libraries launched a campaign to fund the creation of a mesh network in Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya.

The mesh network was to serve as a community network that would bring online open content to a free platform available to everyone in the community. People would be able to freely download on their smartphone or computer the information available on the network. This would include everything from community job information to online courses and books.

Tunapanda and Common Libraries remain committed to increasing access to open education, information, and the enjoyment of reading to Kibera. And, as we shared our campaign with our friends and partners, we found a lot of support for this project. Many thought that it was an interesting project and worthwhile. However, the support did not ultimately translate into funding for our crowdfunding campaign, and both organisations learned a lot from the process.

First, many people may not fully understand what a mesh network “is”, how it could be connected to future libraries, and how this could be beneficial to an informal community like Kibera. It can be a little confusing to someone not used to the idea of a network that is not connected to the internet but, instead, brings the educational content that is online to a free network platform. This kind of network means that individuals will not have to pay the exorbitant prices for downloading data on the smartphone or other device. In Kenya, data prices from the mobile providers are too expensive for the average customer, especially to those living in the low-income area of Kibera. Kibera also doesn’t have the free WiFi hotspots in cafes that are available in other parts of the world.

The Tunapanda and Common Libraries mesh network would bring free access to educational content, community information and open access e-books and journals. This kind of resource is incredibly hard to find in Kibera. We do not want to build the usual kind of “bricks and mortar” library. We want to build the flexible resource of a library and community notice board, without having to pay the rent on space. In this campaign, we needed more time to convince people that this is the type of resource that Kibera needs and can build from.

Some further work will be needed to convince people in more-developed countries that digital technology can provide some benefits of traditional libraries in places that lack the space for bricks-and-mortar buildings. For example, Kibera is about 1 square mile and home to 400,000 people or more (nobody is really sure how many people live in Kibera). But, the most important thing to remember is that it is difficult to turn interest and enthusiasm into funding. I think that this project piqued the interest of many different kinds of people. It is about bringing the joy of books and literature to people who don’t have access to a normal library. It also interests the tech-minded, those who want to see this technology used in a new part of the world. We have to remember just how difficult it is to bring a complex project into fruition.

We are happy to say that both partners are committed to the project and we are seeking other opportunities to build the network. Through additional partners and other funding streams, we will make this happen, because we know that this will make a difference in the lives of Kibera residents. In the interim, we’d like to extend our thanks to all those who supported the campaign and, in particular, to those who managed and contributed to it.

Open Network Pioneers: Digital Merthyr

Digital Merthyr





Back in April 2013, we visited the ambitious and determined folk spear-heading the Fibre GarDen initiative in the North West. There, two communities had come together to provide super-fast internet connectivity to around 750 households – to alleviate digital poverty and take what may yet prove to be the single most important step towards preventing the area’s decline. We would support them to bid for funds from the Adventure Capital Fund, and the tenacity of local residents has since paid off, with the ‘big dig’ now imminent!

We’ve also worked with the Lyme Regis Development Trust (LRDT) to explore the potential to install a community owned and managed telecommunications network on the Dorset coast over the course of the past eighteen months. The work to establish “Digital Lyme” built upon the pilot LRDT undertook in conjunction with the Creative Coop and during 2011-12, is intended to enhance the Trust’s ambitious plans to establish a Jurassic Coast Studies Centre working with an array of local as well as national partners, and culminated in national coverage which we hope will help them move to scale over the coming year.

But, today, we’re especially pleased to share the outcomes from the pioneering Digital Merthyr initiative – where local residents have successfully worked with partners and key stakeholders to deliver affordable broadband and local digital services underpinned by a community-owned open, hybrid and symmetrical telecommunications network with support from Nominet Trust.

We’ve talked before about the need to rethink broadband infrastructure investment and development in the UK. We’ve followed disgruntled communities seeking government funding for rural community broadband projects in the interim. We’ve also commented upon the way in which official statistics unhelpfully (and, in many respects, inaccurately) portray deprived communities as ‘uninterested’ in accessing the internet.

Digital Merthyr demonstrates that communities can tackle digital exclusion for themselves, develop their digital ambitions, and acquire vitally important STEM skills along the way. And, with plans to scale and replicate the initiative over the weeks and months ahead, as well as considerable interest from communities elsewhere in the country, we look forward to the next chapter in the story of these Open Network Pioneers!

Download: Digital Merthyr – Final Report

Our Data Coop: Intelligent Sharing for Community Benefit

Our Data CoopTechnological change is transforming the operations of private business and the public sector and has created a new asset class in the form of data. In the Voluntary and Community Sector, we suspect many organisations are not currently making the most of the information to which they have access, generate themselves or could access. And, yet, data represents a potentially very significant asset insofar as it can improve services so that they fully meet the needs of users, and the knowledge derived can also open up dialogue with public policy makers or help unlock investment by funders and commissioners.

Our Data Coop is a research project designed to explore the feasibility of a cooperative model for data collection, storage, analysis and use by and for the voluntary and community sector ­- the ultimate aim: to enable data sharing between organisations to improve what they do and help them advocate for users of VCS services. First, we need to know whether you agree that data represents a challenge for your organisation, and whether the development of dedicated services and support to help you make better use of data would be of interest ­ so, we need to collect some data of our own!

Our survey aims to find out about the collection, analysis, storage, sharing and use of data by the Voluntary and Community Sector to inform the design of any Data Coop that might result from our work. Please take the time to complete the survey online: You can contribute even more, if this idea is of interest to you, by expressing interest in participating in a related workshop and/or helping to co-design a data coop in practice in Spring 2015.

Our Data Coop is a project led by the Creative Coop and Common Futures. It is funded by the Social Investment Business and supported by Locality .

Valuing Local Knowledge and Know-How in Kibera, Kenya

Tunapanda InstituteWe’re passionate about the value of local knowledge and know-how and strive to support its capture, curation and exchange on a peer-to-peer basis in new ‘common libraries’. So, we’ve been working hard to identify enterprising organisations with whom to establish the first Common Libraries over recent months, and we’ve been lucky enough to find ourselves surrounded by positive, thoughtful and creative groups of people — all of whom share a sense of optimism about what it is we are trying to accomplish.

Today, we’re excited to announce that we have joined forces with Tunapanda Institute – an organisation supporting change and working with Kibera residents to tell an inspiring story.

About the Partnership

Together, Common Libraries and Tunapanda Institute will establish a Common Library in Kibera over the weeks and months ahead. This initiative builds upon the work that Tunapanda are already undertaking in the area, as well as the passion and determination of the community it serves.

We’ve begun by launching a crowd-funding initiative, because residents need a wireless mesh network to access existing digital content via their mobile phones in the face of inadequate and costly broadband provision. If the campaign proves successful, funds will also be deployed to enable Tunapanda Institute students to begin producing their own digital educational materials – to be shared across the local network and, eventually, beyond.

Use of Funds

We’ve launched our crowd-funding campaign with Goteo – a social network for crowd-funding and distributed collaboration that encourages independent development of creative and innovative initiatives that contribute to the common good, free knowledge and open code.

In short, we are eager to raise money for

  • the equipment to open up at least 4 wireless mesh network access points in Kibera, which will be connected to local servers pre-loaded with learning content (text, audio, video, graphics, tutorials, etc). All residents will be able to access content for free, upload their own learning content, or connect their own server.
  • 15 full-time trainees at Tunpanda Institute for 3-6 months. Trainees from marginalized backgrounds will rapidly develop marketable skills and learn by doing through the creation of local content for the mesh network and the world at large.
  • Equipment and an open-content “history and future of libraries” DVD-length mini-course – to be created by current and future Tunapanda trainees in English and Swahili to help people appreciate the global history of libraries. The mini-course will also demonstrate how anyone can extend the Kibera mesh network or create a network in their own community to promote Common Libraries both locally and further afield.

We hope you’ll join us in helping the valuable knowledge and know-how in Kibera rise up!

Please contribute generously:

Thank You

Common Libraries: #LOTE4 – Matera, Autumn 2014

Last year, we joined Edgeryders at the UnMonastery in Matera for #LOTE3 and began talking about the scope to establish Common Libraries with hackers and makers across the EU. Twelve months later and we’re back from #LOTE4, where we led a dedicated workshop to talk about the progress we’ve made in the interim. LOTE4 - Matera, Autumn 2014The workshop covered the initiative’s origins, current focus as well as our forward plans. We asked participants to comment on the build methodology and MakerKits we’ve developed for Phase II activities in the UK. We also explored appropriate licensing regimes for Common Libraries content, and talked about the ambitious tech prototyping projects we currently have under development with a number of local authorities. Crucially, we spent time with the Matera 2019 team talking about plans for Common Libraries in Basilicata – we’re absolutely thrilled they were successful and really look forward to being a part of the town’s cultural journey over the years ahead. A massive thank you to all the Edgeryders, UnMonasterians and terrific hosts at the Fra i Sassi for (another) inspiring time enjoyed and well-spent ‘Living on the Edge’!

UPDATE: Developing Data Coops for Community Benefit

We first talked about developing data coops for community benefit when we joined Edgeryders at the UnMonastery for #LOTE3 last Autumn. Our experience of supporting the Our Digital Community initiative with the Creative Coop, membership of the Local Public Data Panel, as well as conversations with local government colleagues in the UK had led us to conclude that the third sector lags behind its public and private counter-parts where establishing a reliable and effective intelligence capability is concerned.

Collective thinking evolved and we posted a detailed update back in June 2014 – in relation to which we were genuinely overwhelmed by the positive feedback we received from people interested to understand our ideas in greater depth (for which, thanks everyone)!

We’ve since benefited from discussions with Mydex CIC about its personal data exchange initiative; New Philanthropy Capital about its involvement in establishing the Justice Data Labnquiring minds about fit with the range of exciting projects it’s taking forward at present; the (ever supportive) Mark Braggins from the Hampshire Hub as well as Steve Peters and colleagues from Legsb and the LGA. We also contributed to a fringe event kindly organised by Open Data Manchester at the Open Knowledge Festival in Berlin back in July which helped us to further refine our approach.

So, we’re incredibly pleased to announce that the Social Investment Business has agreed to support a targeted piece of work in relation to Data Coop development over the coming months – to be led by the Creative Coop working with Common Futures and Anthony Collins Solicitors LLP. The project website will go live in October and carry the detail…

But, for now, we wanted to provide everyone who has taken an interest so far with a brief update (and, underline that we are greatly indebted to our close working relationship with the Creative Coop, the geekery of Alex Fink at the OK Cast and Marco Menendez of The Good Data, the encouragement of Professor Ewan Klein from the University of Edinburgh, and the stalwart support of Steve Clare from Locality).

Libraries Without Shelves & Walls…

Just imagine…

Your public library enables you to access its books by scanning its walls with a smart device it loans you whilst you’re hanging out, so that the library building itself is freed up to offer a host of other space-dependent activities…well, that’s precisely what could flow from forking the digital library introduced to a Bucharest subway station by Vodafone Romania – which is, simply stated, a flat representation of books bearing QR codes on their spines, enabling users to pull out their phone or tablet and scan the QR code to download a book of their choice.


At present, this hinges upon whether the EU Court of Justice moves to agree with the Advocate General that public libraries are free to digitise some of their own book stock. A great deal also depends upon definitions – specifically, whether digital library wall-paper can be developed to function as a ‘dedicated terminal’ – unless libraries loan appropriate devices to their users. Public libraries would also need Wi-Fi – does yours have it already? – unless they opt to make use of a LibraryBox.

Of course, the library without shelves is only liable to take-off where library users are able and willing to read books in libraries themselves – that is, unless they opt to take a print copy away with them (also, part-subject of the AG’s opinion). Is there, then, scope here for new print services to be developed, if we get the copyright and environmental dimensions sorted? Libraries as local publishers – albeit limited to facilitating private research and learning? And, what will happen when libraries without walls emerge later this year – with growing interest in the potential for near field communication (NFC) to facilitate access to your library service anytime, anywhere – in particular, when you’re on the move?

We asked @librarieshacked about the opportunity, following a discussion with @publiclibnews, and they very kindly produced a blogpost on the subject by way of a response. If this is something you’d like to take a closer look at, we’d love to hear from you!

PS thanks, as ever, to @LibraryCamp – in this instance, for flagging the EU situation!

On the Radical Tactics of the Offline Library

In the course of our work, we have called for common libraries as platforms for the production, exchange and consumption of knowledge and know-how – principally, in recognition of our increasingly read/write world, and in seeking to emphasise the scope for the capture and curation of the ‘long tail’ to grow the knowledge base to which we all have access.

However, we recently came across two films which we think others might find interesting:-

  1. The Internet’s Own Boy –
  2. The Radical Tactics of the Offline Library – /

The former concerns Aaron Swartz and, whilst tragic, highlights what a person with a passion for making the world a more transparent place can do if s/he is able to harness support via digital channels and translate that into social action. The Radical Tactics film is also available in long hand and offers a comprehensive ‘history of the library as the locus for copying rather than storing knowledge and know-how’.

The latter helpfully underlines that the UN Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy and to share in scientific advancements and its benefits.” Unfortunately, it also says: “Everyone has the right to protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic of which one is the author.”

There is, then, an ongoing battle for the commons as ‘intellectual property’ in the form of the Open Knowledge project, and despite considerable evidence to support the view that traditional patents and copyright provisions stifle innovation; notably, the BRIC and other developing countries have woken up to the potential to get ahead by embracing peer-to-peer licensing (rather than patents/copyright), so there will be considerable scope to make a strong economic case for open knowledge going forward.

To put this into some kind of local perspective: the UK faces unprecedented reductions in public library service budgets over the next 3-5 years. The Government, for its part, is preparing to recommend a number of actions to address growing concern in the run up to the General Election. In the interim, we are more and more reliant upon Amazon and Google. The former boasts 41% of the book-selling market in the UK today, and just introduced terms in relation to publishers that will enable it to print books that go out of stock on demand from its warehouses, at a time when there are just 1,500 independent book shops left – no book shops at all in many places. Meanwhile, the latter has sought to perpetuate the traditional commodification of knowledge and know-how, albeit through channel shift, whilst reducing the search for knowledge and know-how to a corporately driven ‘question and answer’ machine. This, contrasts sharply with #humansearch services like Ask NYPL.

In effect, then, we are witnessing the wholesale privatisation of knowledge production, exchange and consumption. This is why we’re doing our utmost to establish an open source and community-led alternative: It also explains our interest in approaches to sharing knowledge. We are keen to identify organisations like the Waiting Room and Islington Mill Studios who are self-organising access to knowledge/learning in a host of different ways. So, if you have any examples / suggestions about whom we should look to for further inspiration or, else, approach as potential partners – please do let us know.

Developing Data Coops for Community Benefit

If the third sector is to move with the times, we believe it is incumbent upon us to increase our understanding of the implications of technological change for Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise organisations (VCSEs), as well as to explore how we might harness broad-ranging technologies to help solve persistent social problems.

Personal data protection and use currently occupies hotly contested territory, and serves as the backdrop against which numerous hardware projects (for example, Black Phone and Indie Phone) and emergent ‘data4good’ projects (for example, The Good Data and DataCoup) are being developed. However, whilst their emphasis upon ‘privacy’ and ‘control over personal data’ is deemed of interest, we believe joint venturing underpinned by financial incentives for individuals need not limit the scope of such endeavours to ‘exhaust’ or IoT-derived data. We are therefore interested in investigating the potential to establish Data Coops underpinned by a combination of personal, organisational and public open data. We envisage that such Data Coops would be ‘data asset-locked vehicles’, based upon conscious and circumscribed contribution, and explicitly designed to deliver tangible social, economic and environmental benefit: so, ‘our data’ rather than ‘big or open data’ per se.

Related to this, we wish to explore the potential for data coops to become distributed ethical impact investment vehicles that are capable of being anchored and harnessed by VCSEs from the point of view of informing policy development. We are mindful that there is already considerable work underway to prototype the use of public and personal data – through, for example, the ODI’s Start-Up Programme and CDEC’s Open Data Health Platform. Nonetheless, we believe that the overarching mission of an organisation could be deployed to motivate organisations as well as individuals to invest their data on an ‘ethical’ footing, rather than to simply secure more narrow financial benefits. Specifically, whilst we recognise that financial incentives will play a part in stimulating data contributions from individuals going forward, a blend of personal, organizational and public open data could notionally underpin the development of VCSE Data Coops – were all concerned motivated by a desire to solve specific social challenges through cooperation with a trusted vehicle. VCSEs could, in turn, seek to generate a financial return through payment by results contracts and/or social impact bonds entered into with the public sector and linked to the release of efficiency savings where they are able to identify new data-driven solutions.

Data Coops – what they could do

  • Facilitate the collection of standard, interoperable data from VCSEs about their activities, their beneficiaries and their impacts
  • Enable Data Coop members to contribute data about their organisations, their activities, their beneficiaries and their impact – to have it analysed, bench-marked and re-presented to them to aid planning, service design and organisational transformation efforts
  • Enable Data Coop members to draw upon anonymised and/or pseudonymised and/or aggregated data contributed by other members, and deploy it to improve organisational processes, service design and implementation, contract and investment readiness, competitiveness.
  • Enable the creation of blended Data Coops capable of mixing personal, organisational and public open data – and, with that, seek to address persistent social, economic and environmental challenges and attract investment and/or payment by results contracts as ‘ethical data-driven impact investment vehicles’.
  • Avoid a situation where private interests are better placed to tell Government what they thinks ‘works’ best – so, prevent them from skewing so-called ‘evidence based policy making and commissioning’ in the future.

Data Coops – how they might work

  • Members supported to collect and contribute data in a standardised manner;
  • Member beneficiaries given the option to contribute their data assets to a Data Coop;
  • Relevant public open data cleaned and inputted to add value to a Data Coop;
  • Interoperable data collated to render it capable of being analysed
  • Organisations’ activities, beneficiaries, impacts benchmarked;
  • The anonymisation / pseudonymisation and deployment of data by the Data Coop to attract investment/contracts to tackle specific social, economic and environmental purposes agreed to in its Memorandum and Articles of Association / by beneficiaries / in keeping with the Government’s licenses concerning public open data use.

Further research to understand how to select a challenge that can be rendered (more) deliverable on a data-driven footing is required: that is, to establish what type of data to pool and how best to deploy it in order to deliver tangible social, economic and environmental benefits before any practical prototyping effort is considered. We also need to test interest in efforts to develop Data Coops amongst VCSEs themselves.

Thereafter, we would anticipate the need to develop a data asset-lock to protect data contributors – in particular, to prevent the potential for the re-sale of aggregated data for private profit – as well as to engender compliance with pertinent regulations and the confidence that will be required. Further thought is also required in relation to ‘collective intellectual property’ development and management.

But, to begin with, we’d simply like to identify appropriate partners and VCSEs with whom we might work. If that’s you, please contact [email protected] – we look forward to hearing from you!