Development of a network of baby libraries in Flanders
A Baby Library is a handy lending system for baby stuff that is only needed for a short time. People who live on a small scale, have a limited budget, make a radical choice for less stuff or only have a niece visit a few times a year ... everyone was welcome at the baby library to borrow sustainable baby materials.
With this project, De Transformisten (formerly Netwerk Bewust Verbruiken) wanted to roll out the lending service further across Flanders. We focused on cooperation with the Houses of the Child.
Through site visits and in-depth interviews, we quickly mapped out where we could help start up new baby libraries. One by one, the Houses of the Child were provided with tailor-made guidance in their preparations: we delivered a start-up package with concrete tips and an extensive roadmap on how to keep a baby tea centre open, the necessary material support (basic baby materials, stickers and communication tools) and a training on the software for managing the catalogue. In this way, we wanted to unburden the local initiators as much as possible.
A wider distribution of the name and the concept of the baby library will ensure more recognition and acknowledgement and create a multiplier effect. Little by little, an ever-growing group of young parents, as well as anyone who looks after a child, temporarily or otherwise, gained access to this circular initiative.
We easily found our way into the network of the Houses of the Child. The interest and enthusiasm to work together was great. In barely three years' time, we went from one to 30 baby libraries all over Flanders.
The baby tea centre became widely known and the concept of 'use instead of possession' was disseminated among a wide audience. Various media paid attention to the concept and Van Dale even chose 'babytheek' as a candidate for Word of the Year 2019.
During the project, we created a framework to connect the baby libraries. This learning network existed both online and in physical meeting moments. It formed a solid basis for anchoring baby theatres in Flanders.
Important partnerships were created with both civil society players and commercial partners, such as distributors of baby materials. These collaborations will define the future lines of the project.
MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED
An online catalogue with reservation possibilities is crucial for a baby library. The American MyTurn system is cheap and has many advantages. The development of a local system specifically for baby libraries could possibly be even more advantageous.
To reach a diverse audience, cooperation was needed. A baby shop that starts out of social considerations is best off working together with local sustainability organisations. On the other hand, a baby shop that starts from an ecological point of view is best off working together with social organisations to reach out to underprivileged groups.
A good supply of baby items was the basis for a well-functioning baby library. The maintenance and development of a good catalogue was important and required attention. Making donations and continuing to invest in (second-hand) purchases ensured an attractive service for a broad public.
Everything depended on the enthusiasm that a local puller could convey to volunteers, donors and members of the baby library. A tractor without an affinity with families or circular thinking will find it difficult to build up a diverse membership base.
30new baby libraries
63learning network participants
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
The Transformists will continue to work on organising learning networks for baby libraries. The start-up package that has been updated remains available for new interested parties under the Creative Commons licence. For professional guidance, we have put together a package that can be requested through the municipality.
The basis has already been laid for the concept to grow further, either independently or otherwise. Flanders is really taking the lead in this field.