StoryTrails, the UK’s largest immersive storytelling project, drives library visits to pre-pandemic levels

  • Thousands of people head to public libraries to experience local stories and hidden histories
  • Legacy package includes training and immersive tech equipment to ensure communities can continue to access the power of immersive storytelling
  • Libraries across the UK have benefited from the project

This summer, StoryTrails, a unique immersive storytelling experience using augmented and virtual reality, toured to 15 libraries in towns and cities across the UK. Attracting visitors across the country, the project, taking place as part of UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK invited audiences to experience untold local stories and hidden histories in the places where they happened. StoryTrails features digital experiences that invite residents to experience their town or city like they’ve never seen before through augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and an immersive emotional map of the town or city. The experiences centred around their local library as well as on the streets of their town or city.

By working in partnership with libraries across the UK and Northern Ireland, StoryTrails aimed to support libraries through Covid recovery by increasing library visitor numbers, introducing new audiences into the library space, and celebrating their position within communities as centres of innovation and storytelling. The project also recruited 50 creative UK-based talent to help tell the stories of local communities. Led by StoryFutures Academy, StoryTrails wanted to ensure that the UK’s creative industries are not only the best trained in the use of emerging and immersive technologies but that the future workforce properly represents the diversity of the UK.

The libraries StoryTrails visited this summer have reported exceptionally high footfall, with many authorities experiencing visitor numbers not seen prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the high percentage of new visitors reported during the two-day event, 67% of people said they thought they were now more likely to visit the library as a result of experiencing StoryTrails. The public will have ongoing access to StoryTrails and can continue to experience the technology used in the project.

From October until March 2023, the 15 libraries that hosted the 2-day live events will launch their new ‘StoryTrails Stations’. The stations will include the unique collection of stories from the 15 communities and a table-top version of the augmented reality trail which tells an untold story of the town or city, including unseen archive footage as well as offering a range of curated activities for the local community to enjoy such as themed workshops and guided walking trails.

Librarians from the 15 authorities received training in immersive storytelling and technology from StoryFutures Academy, as well as through online training opportunities and a group training session in each of the libraries that held the 2-day event to enable them to effectively run the experiences in their library.

The project has invested extensively into the 15 libraries as part of the Storytrails legacy programme that includes training, and equipment to continue the exciting work with their communities in 2022 and into 2023. During the tour, libraries all over the country reported exceptionally high visitor numbers, with Bristol Libraries noting a threefold increase in visitors compared to their post-pandemic average.

Beyond the 15 towns and cities that have hosted the StoryTrails tour, 5000 librarians and teachers from all over the UK have engaged with immersive storytelling through a free activity pack and resource available on The Reading Agency’s website. Librarians across the country also attended a 2-part webinar series on immersive storytelling, featuring children’s augmented reality author Japhet Asher, whose book ‘The Ghostkeepers Journal’ has been gifted to over 100 libraries across the UK.

On the 9th October at the Odeon Covent Garden, a screening of the documentary film ‘The People’s Piazza: A History of Covent Garden’ presented by StoryTrails’ Executive Producer David Olusoga will take place. Produced by Uplands TV with partners, the BBC and BFI, the film has been created as part of the StoryTrails project and explores the importance and social history of one of the UK’s most famous public spaces.

Karen Napier, CEO, The Reading Agency said: “We are so pleased to see the huge success that StoryTrails has been for public libraries across the country. Using new technologies, this tour has highlighted how crucial libraries are to supporting storytelling in the local community.”

Isobel Hunter, Libraries Connected said: “We are delighted to see how many people have engaged with StoryTrails across the country. To see so many local and visiting audiences accessing public libraries as a resource and community hub for information and technology in such a creative way is really heartening and shows how vital our library services are.”

Professor James Bennett, Director StoryFutures said: “Through its collaboration with libraries, StoryTrails has provided thousands with their first taste of immersive storytelling: and they loved it! 91% rated our 3D local map experience 4* or 5* and most libraries reported a two- or three-fold increase in footfall, reconnecting visitors to their local library spaces which are such crucial centres of storytelling in our communities.”

The Reading Agency

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