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Libraries: more than books

Guest blog by Jo Milton from Replenish Oxfordshire

I love books, reading and libraries; I could happily spend hours browsing the shelves choosing my next read.   Libraries are an incredible resource; making books and reading freely available and accessible to all. I’m also a home library service volunteer, delivering books to those who can’t physically get to the library. Chatting to my customers about their favourite authors and sharing our love of reading fills me with joy.  

Recently, I have run children’s growing and composting activities at libraries as part of the Replenish Oxfordshire project. Funded by Oxfordshire County Council, Replenish supports people to cook and grow nutritious food with zero waste.  Libraries might seem an odd venue for teaching kids about where food comes from and how compost is made, but libraries are about more than books. For example, some have introduced seed libraries to share and swap flower and vegetable seeds like at Botley library

Two children holding pots of plants
Two happy six year old customers proudly holding their tomato and bean plants

One of the libraries I work with is Barton Library. Rachael Gordon, Peripatetic Customer Service Adviser, shared with me why they regularly run other activities.

"At Barton Library we aim to be an inclusive and accessible resource to the community offering meaningful engagement and promoting health, wellbeing, and lifelong learning. One of the ways we can do this is by running a variety of workshops. We have held school visits, storytimes and activities with the local Brownies to foster a love of reading. We also host external events with organisations such as Oxfordshire Breastfeeding Support to assist the community in a setting where they can easily access resources such as our Parent and Carers Collection."

In May half time I ran my first workshop at Thame library; the children loved getting their hands dirty sowing flower and vegetable seeds. Children and their parents took on the challenge of matching the seeds to the fruits they come from.  Everyone had a taste of the pea shoots I had grown earlier, with mixed reactions from ‘they are a bit grassy’ to 'just like peas'! Children are more likely to eat vegetables they have helped to grow, so it's great to get them started at a young age. Find resources to encourage kids to eat more veg at Veg Power.

Anita Bruce, Customer Service Advisor, let me know about their experience of expanding the services they offer.

“We are working hard to form lasting partnerships to enable us to build on our status as a valued community hub, and to increase awareness of what the library service has to offer. We have worked with local individuals and organisations to host a wide variety of events for our customers, with many more planned.
Recent events included author talks, craft activities and a talk about what the library service can offer the community. We also hosted an array of activities which linked to our wellbeing agenda, including family yoga and a chair exercise taster session.”

Environmental campaign group, 'Feedback Global' applied for a Replenish grant in collaboration with Thame library to host a ‘Food Choices’ tasting event for Food Waste Action Week in March. Anita shared more about the experience:

“This was a first for Thame Library, as we have never hosted an event which involved cooking before! It was especially important for us because it supported two of our main service priorities – climate action and health and wellbeing."
"We worked together with ‘Feedback Global’ and ‘Khepera CIC’, who delivered a fun and informative session. People said how much they enjoyed the interactive nature of the event and had been inspired to try new foods and recipes."
Quotes from attendees of the 'Food Choices' event
Quotes from attendees of the 'Food Choices' event at Thame library

I'll be running more library workshops over the summer, so keep an eye on the Replenish events page. Discover your local library and find out what's on at libraries across Oxfordshire. Rachael, from Barton library, shared their upcoming and holiday plans with me.

Another external event in the works is with Oxford Contemporary Music where pre-school children can develop their creativity and numeracy skills. This summer we will be holding a series of activities promoting the Summer Reading Challenge, which helps to bridge the learning gap for children during the summer holidays. We are also planning to have a drop-in session signposting local health and wellbeing initiatives for the whole community.

If you work at an Oxfordshire library and would be interested in hosting a Replenish talk or workshop for adults or children, email


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