The Experiential Library

The future of family learning

About this project

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This research project explores how families use local libraries to learn new skills and develop relationships. We examine a range of activities that encourage different generations, and young families, to participate together in local community life.

With the decline of the traditional town centre and new forms of technology facilitating social interaction, the ways in which we form and strengthen relationships are changing. This applies to relationships within families as much as other social groups.

Common Vision, in partnership with the Society of Chief Librarians and Arts Council England, set out to explore how families use local assets and community resources, with a specific focus on family learning. How can people utilise local assets and community services to learn new skills? What sorts of activities encourage different generations to participate together?

As a term, “family learning” broadly describes activities where different generations of a family are present, and where both adults and children benefit from learning. In practice, family learning is an approach applied to lots of different workshops, classes and community events delivered by a variety of local agents including libraries, schools, museums and arts and cultural organisations.

The report provides an analysis of family learning activities in local communities today, using examples from libraries across England. These case studies provide insights into the community activities that help make places safe, fun and conducive to improved relationships within families, and healthy and resilient communities.

This project contributes to our vision of the experiential community. If local places are to thrive as they did in previous decades, then local institutions and government have a role to facilitate opportunities to bring people together, find active ways to improve wellbeing and community cohesion, and wider social prosperity.


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In early 2017 we conducted a survey of library authorities and librarians about their views and experiences of family learning. We also engaged with other stakeholders from outside the library sector on their views of family learning and what role libraries play in this.

From the survey responses, five case studies were developed through semi-structured interviews by telephone with library staff at each of the five local authorities. These were selected across the variables of geographic diversity, socioeconomic make-up, and covering authorities who self-reported undertaking lots or some family learning activities.

Concurrently, we conducted a background literature and policy review of existing research into family learning, including a review of government policy and evaluation of schemes such as the Family Learning Impact Fund Programme (2008-2011). We also looked at a range of recent literature on the purpose, direction and perceptions of the role of libraries in local communities, to define where family learning overlaps with the direction of travel on libraries policy.

Key questions

• How is family learning defined by different stakeholders at a policy and delivery level?
• How are family learning approaches applied to specific opportunities and challenges in local communities?
• What types of planned family learning activities exist, within libraries and other local hubs?
• What best practice exists amongst community anchors and local groups who deliver family learning?
• Specific to libraries, are there opportunities to develop family learning provision in conjunction with wider strategic development?

Further information

Contact for more information


The Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) leads and manages public libraries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is made up of the head of service of every authority and takes a leading role in the development of public libraries through sharing best practice, advocating for continuous improvement on behalf of local people and leading the debate on the future of the public library service.

Arts Council England champions, develops and invests in artistic and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives. It supports a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to digital art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Between 2015 and 2018, it plans to invest £1.1 billion of public money from government and an estimated £700 million from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country.