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Anna Franca, Edge Hill University

Connecting with the community: Edge Hill University Library

The entry window for the THE Awards 2024 closed on 10th June and we’re looking forward to another fantastic year of sponsoring the ‘Outstanding Library Team’ award.

We spoke to Anna França, Head of Collections and Archives at Edge Hill University, about what it meant to be shortlisted for ‘Outstanding Library Team’ in 2023.

The impact of being shortlisted

The nominated library team from Edge Hill University were ‘Research Catalyst’, a research group behind initiatives to engage the local community with materials in the institution’s archive.

Anna said the nomination was ‘really exciting’, and marked the team’s ‘sector-leading work’, recognising ‘the impact it’s had on wider communities beyond the university’.

Being shortlisted was ‘a positive news story for the library, but also for the wider university’, she explained, which led to greater recognition of the research group’s work across the institution.

Creating a standout submission

The focus of Edge Hill’s submission to the THE Awards was around collaboration and connection between library and archives staff, academics, and students.

Anna observed that, through Research Catalyst, ‘we’ve built a community around the archive’ that has ‘gone on to act like a springboard for a range of exciting projects’.

One of the key aims was to make the archive more accessible and to demonstrate how the collections have relevance beyond the institution. So, a competition invited local school and college students to find new and unique ways of engaging with the archive material.

What’s even more remarkable about Edge Hill’s nomination is that, prior to 2018, they had no permanent space for the archive and their first archivist was only appointed in 2019. It’s now located within the Catalyst library building on the university’s campus in Ormskirk, Lancashire.

Since then the archive has developed quickly, with engagement placed firmly at the heart of the service design. ‘We’re a small archive,’ said Anna, ‘but I think we pack a punch’.

Edge Hill University Library archive

Developing an archive

Edge Hill was established in 1885, initially as a teacher training college for women. Much of the collection ‘is around women’s education and the wider role of women in society’. In fact, one of their active research projects ‘is focused on exploring the lives of the women who lived and studied at Edge Hill in our earliest days through a variety of angles’.

There is also the William and Charles Bradshaw Collection, with first-hand accounts of their time spent serving in the First World War and Second World War, respectively.

As a whole, the archive comprises photographs, drawings, diaries, letters, educational materials, films, and more, dating from the late nineteenth century to the present day.

Engaging with the community

Anna explained that the research group created an online showcase, launched in autumn 2022, with a competition encouraging local students to submit creative responses to the selections.

The competition was a great success. The students produced a range of materials including ‘written pieces ranging from short stories and prose interpreting things they’d seen in the archive, and some students created their own artworks based on pieces from the collection’.

Importantly, many of those students had never engaged with an archive or an academic library before. So ‘it was a really nice way of engaging with students and helping them to understand what an archive is about and the potential it can have for connecting different groups of people’.

Edge Hill University Catalyst library building

Welcoming all students

Finally, Anna shared some background information about the students and the library services at Edge Hill University.

‘Most of our students come from the surrounding area,’ she said, ‘and they tend to be first generation students, so often their parents won’t have been to university’. Edge Hill is also ‘seeing growing numbers of students with learning difficulties that require specialist support’.

As such, ‘we have a crucial role in the library to make sure we can level the playing field for these students,’ she observed, ‘so a lot of the work that we do is to ensure resources and services are accessible for all students – that’s a really important aim for us’.

There are a number of different services operating out of the Catalyst library building, including student services, careers and an integrated service desk.

‘The students who come to our library desk may have a range of different queries,’ Anna explained, ‘it might be about a book they want to borrow, it might be a financial query, an accommodation problem or something to do with their well-being’.

For the team at Edge Hill, it’s crucial that the library building is a welcoming space. ‘They might not utter a word to another soul while they’re in the library, but there’s something about being in the presence of others, so we want to create a space for our students to feel that’.

Building bridges

The archive project and the library ethos generally at Edge Hill University stem from the same values – connection, collaboration and inclusion.

For Anna, ‘I think libraries have always been more than just a building with some books, but that’s even more the case now … our submission demonstrated how an archive or library service can … act as a bridge between the university and the wider community’.

Thank you, Anna, for a really interesting conversation! To find about more about the Edge Hill University Library and Learning Services, tap here.

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