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Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe



The Universal Learning Offer: articulating public libraries’ contribution to informal learning

by Hannah Gent
Language: EN

The Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) launched its Universal Learning Offer last Thursday at St Pancras Library in London.



The launch was attended by Rt Hon Ed Vaizey (Minister for Culture in England), Darren Henley (Chief Executive of Arts Council England) and Jessica Cecil (controller for the BBC’s Make It Digital programme).



The Universal Learning Offer is a strategic planning framework that allows public library services to plan, develop and promote their role and contribution to lifelong-learning. It will complement and support the existing SCL Universal Offers, which include the Reading Offer, the Information Offer, the Health Offer and the Digital Offer.

The development and roll out of this offer was funded and supported by Arts Council England and informed by a programme of research undertaken by Red Quadrant for the Society of Chief Librarians in early 2015, which can be found here.

The Universal Learning offer is supported by over 90% of library services across England and is based on the idea that:

Libraries are there for you throughout your learning journey because they are in your local area and they are open and accessible to all.

Those library services that are signed up to the Universal Learning Offer will all ensure they provide:

  • Free resources for study and learning, such as online resources and courses, text books and reference books
  • Study/learning spaces for children, young people and adults in the library service
  • Information about a range of free and low cost learning opportunities local to you, such as courses and study groups
  • Opportunities for you to explore and be creative,  including workshops, regular groups and/or special events for children, young people and families
  • Places where communities and individuals can develop and share ideas and learn together


Learning in libraries

In order to highlight the role that public libraries play in learning, the Society of Chief Librarians commissioned four films called “Lightbulb Moments” which show different ways in which learning happens in libraries and how it transforms people’s lives:

The Universal Learning Offer in public libraries has been developed so that children, young people and families will be able to build their confidence and skill with their creativity, coding and digital skills.

The Universal Learning Offer will give families more opportunities to learn together, on a variety of subjects, and help to move from literacy to fluency.

People will grow new skills, find more job opportunities and stimulating experiences in their local area, in a friendly and welcoming environment.


Developing libraries' learning offer further

Above and beyond this Universal Learning Offer there are many examples of innovative and exciting practice in public libraries across the country and a real appetite to develop libraries’ learning offer further.

  • Wigan Library Service has been using ipad apps to engage young people with severe sensory disabilities and people with dementia in digital music making.
  • Fablab Devon is the only digital fabrication laboratory in a public library in the UK and it is used by a wide cross section of the community, including local businesses, students and hobbyists. It also runs regular free courses in 3D printing, coding and other aspects of digital making.

Libraries across the country run a range of creative making, reading, writing and skills for employability classes with and for their local communities.


National partnership development

In response to the existing enthusiasm and appetite for developing learning opportunities on the ground in libraries, SCL is working with a range of partners to deliver and develop the new Universal Learning Offer including:

  • Working with the Publishers Licensing Society on the Access to Research project. Over 90% of library services have signed up to provide the public with free access to millions of academic research articles
  • Signing a partnership agreement with the BBC to support their Make It Digital initiative
  • Signing a partnership agreement with FutureLearn to explore the development of Massive Open Online Courses in libraries

SCL is also actively supporting piloting of new approaches to learning in libraries through two national initiatives.


Code Green: Digital Learning Kit


In response to huge demand from library services across the country, SCL have collaborated with the Association of Senior Children’s Librarians (ASCEL) to develop and launch Code Green: Digital Making Kit a ‘how to’ guide for libraries who wish to develop digital making services for children and young people.

The ‘How to’ guide contains ideas about the kinds of activities that libraries could offer including coding clubs, robotics workshops, Raspberry Pi Jams and much more.

It gives information about the resources library services will need to offer them and case study examples of library services that have already successfully developed digital making services and the difference it has made to them and for the children and young people they serve.


Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) pilots in partnership with FutureLearn

MOOCs offer people who are not in higher education courses the opportunity to study bite-sized, high quality university-level courses within their own communities. They also offer libraries the opportunity to support individual and community learning through the learning resources already available through the Universal Learning Offer.

The Society of Chief Librarians has partnered with FutureLearn to pilot MOOC study services in six public libraries across England over the course of autumn 2015. Each library service will be trialling a different model of supporting members of the public to benefit from MOOCs.

FutureLearn is collaborating with these pilots to share their expertise and explore opportunities for long term partnerships with libraries.


Find out more!

SCL is now looking to work with national and international partners to develop the potential for learning in libraries.

If you would like to find out more or explore partnership opportunities please get in touch with Alison Wheeler at who is the Universal Learning Offer lead, or with Ciara Eastell at who is the President of the Society of Chief Librarians.

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