Libraries Working Internationally for Children & Young People

In 2019, CILIP – The UK Library and Information Association initiated a two-year project funded by Arts Council England to promote collaboration and partnership between public libraries in England and their international counterparts. Two years and a global pandemic later, Rabeea Arif – project manager for CILIP’s ‘Working Internationally for Libraries’ project shares two of the sub-projects funded by CILIP…

By Rabeea Arif

‘Building Bridges’ 

Logo: Working Internationally #BuildingBridgesNotWalls

The Building Bridges programme under the Working Internationally for Libraries project offered grants to four public library services in England to work collaboratively with international libraries. 

Three key themes underpinned these collaborative projects: technology, refugees and migrants, and children and young people. Here we look at two library services focusing on collaboration with overseas colleagues around services for children and young people. 


Coding collaboration – Redbridge, UK and Kerala, India

The big idea

Libraries in the London Borough of Redbridge set out to build long-lasting partnerships with public libraries in Kerala, India by collaborating to create innovative makerspaces for children and young people in Kerala – the city of origin for the largest percentage of migrant population in Redbridge.

Collaborators and supporters

Redbridge worked with colleagues from PKV Vanitha Library in Kangadoor and the Quilon Public Library and Research Centre in Kollam to develop and test a Come and Code programme for children. Redbridge also worked with KALA UK – a charity promoting Kerala art and culture in the UK – to produce a series of video stories about Kerala legends, told by young people.

The pandemic and online meetings

While the original plan was to use some of the project funding to travel and meet partners in their respective libraries, pandemic restrictions meant all activities and coding workshops had to be conducted online. The main partners met online 124 times to plan logistics and learn to use collaborative e-tools. 

Saturday Coding Sessions for children

The libraries launched Saturday Coding Sessions for children in Redbridge, UK and Kingadoor, Kollam and Thrissur in India. Library staff and volunteers in both regions were trained to promote and deliver online activities, resulting in 17 live coding sessions and 268 coding projects. The funding also helped provide equipment for the Indian libraries. The team was also able to develop a Toolkit for potential use by other libraries interested in delivering coding sessions for children, and a collection of Come and Code Youtube videos. Despite all the coding achievements, participants maintain that the most important outcome was the long-lasting friendships and the potential for further collaborations.

Photo of a local newspaper article from Kerala, India featuring the coding project
The coding project makes headlines in a local newspaper in Kerala, India.

Maria Reguera, Development Librarian at Redbridge Libraries, was project lead for Come and Code. She said the global pandemic and environmental crisis put international collaboration – or Building Bridges – at the forefront of people’s minds: “Both remind us that we need to work together to find solutions to global and local issues – and that we are more effective by doing so.”

Maria said all involved in the project increased their knowledge of technology and remote working ‘exponentially’. She hopes the successful Redbridge/Kerala collaboration will lead to a network of library makerspaces across India. Moreover, she is optimistic about libraries’ ability to innovate and remain relevant to the communities they serve: “I am particularly in awe of the incredible network of library professionals willing to share their knowledge and experience without asking for anything in exchange.” 

Her top tips for working internationally are: adopt a ‘learning attitude’, don’t be deterred by different languages and time zones, and “celebrate wins along the way…no matter how small.”

Watch the project presentation video here.


Virtual storytelling – Oxfordshire and Norway

The big idea

Oxfordshire Libraries collaborated with Bergen Public Library – the second largest in Norway – to develop and test a web application and workshop model for creating virtual reality (VR) interactive stories. The goal was to engage young people with their libraries by helping them create VR stories about their relationship with places and the barriers they face in everyday-life. This would also help communities experience a young person’s life.

Technology to the rescue!

Similar to Redbridge, the pandemic and travel restrictions meant all planning and exchange between the two libraries had to take place virtually.  The project leads arranged e-workshops to explore Virtual Reality tools, share and develop workshop plans, and trial software. Workshops were also moved online.

Interactive storytelling

Still image from the Virtual Story by one of the Oxfordshire participants
Still image from the Virtual Story by one of the Oxfordshire participants

A small group of young people from Ark-T Centre – a creative arts group for disabled and under-represented young people in Oxfordshire – were encouraged to use VSAT (Virtual Simulation and Training) technology to tell their stories to others as an ‘interactive experience’. A video guide or ‘trailer’ was produced to help the testers develop their content – using 360 degree images and soundtrack known as ‘soundscape’.

Bergen library is set to adapt the same technology to help young immigrants tell their stories in a ‘Local History discovery’ project – creating Wikipedia entries for streets and local areas, then incorporating them into stories. The project is also helping to facilitate language learning. 

Despite pandemic-related setbacks and delays, the ongoing project has successfully developed a working app and workshop model, and is confident about further international collaborations. 

Watch the project presentation video here.


Photo of Rabeea Arif

Rabeea Arif is the Projects & Programmes Manager at CILIP – the UK Library & Information Association. She manages a diverse portfolio of projects including ‘Working Internationally for Libraries’– an initiative to promote international working and knowledge-exchange for public libraries in England. Rabeea has a degree in Communication Design and English Literature, and a postgrad fellowship in Social Innovation. She is a strong believer in the power of art, books, music, and a good cup of coffee! She can be contacted at