In the spotlight with Kelly Saini Badwal!

In the spotlight with Kelly Saini Badwal! Libraries have seen dramatic changes in the last several years because of COVID and other external forces. Therefore as librarians look to the future, we thought we’d ask movers and shakers in the library industry just what makes them tick.

Kelly Saini Badwal is, Head of Cultural Services at London Borough of Sutton and Chair of The Library Consortium. As the first of our movers and shakers we love that Kelly made the time to talk to us about her work so we asked her 10 coffee break questions.

In the spotlight with Kelly Saini Badwal!


Kelly has a passion for the empowerment and development of individuals and communities. She has built a 20-year career leading transformational change across the public, private and voluntary sectors.

She was instrumental in establishing, developing and chairing The Libraries Consortium , formerly the London Libraries Consortium which comprehensively redefined the library offer. This dramatically changed the library experience for customers across 21 local authorities. Kelly plays a key role in promoting equality, diversity, inclusion and intersectionality across the council, and is also the Lead Sponsor for the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic staff network.

Undoubtedly a confident and astute leader she thrives on making a visible and lasting difference to society. Kelly is also exceptionally experienced in engaging with communities on complex and emotive issues and shows real leadership in the library industry. In addition she has demonstrated great skill in establishing strong working partnerships that deliver change on the ground.

1. What does your current role involve?

That’s a great question! I was just describing my role as the golden thread in the council. My title suggests that I head up Cultural Services which cover libraries, heritage houses and art in Sutton. In reality I seem to have a finger in all sorts of pies! That can mean from the Platinum Jubilee celebrations, IT developments, Staff Networks to the London Borough of Culture. I also love reaching out and talking to communities who may not have considered coming into libraries or heritage houses. Recently Sutton has become a focal point for new Hong Kongers and we’ve joined up with them to celebrate the Lunar New Year. I enjoy being able to support so many projects across the council. 

2. What was your earliest ambition?

My earliest ambition was to be a police woman (too short), to be an air hostess (too short) and then somehow I fell into libraries, probably because there are no height requirements! But seriously, I grew up in a traditional indian household and ambition was not encouraged, so of course, I became ambitious! I was ambitious to become self reliant and to be able to support myself emotionally and financially.  

3. What has been the proudest moment in your career?

I delivered a symmposium at the House of Lords in my mother tongue Punjabi and my second language, English. I was also awarded the Linguistics Cup from Prince Michael of Kent for my work with promoting mother tongue languages. I am fluent in Punjabi and can get by in Hindi and Urdu.

Equally proud to be at the arrival of the first interpreters from Afghanistan at Brize Norton in 2015. It was such a humbling experience seeing young families arrive with so much hope in their eyes. They were exhausted and traumatised but you could see that they were hopeful. I was there to support the families and escort them to temporary accomodation where they would have the opportunity to rest and become familiar with the culture and customs in England. 

4. What drives you on?

I love sharing my background hence the need to achieve diversity drives me. Driven to be efficient and challenge traditional models means I am a bit of a disrupter! This comes from my upbringing where I did everything I could to break every mould that was applied to me. I didn’t want to be ‘just a girl’, ‘just a wife’. For me there was so much more I wanted and so to achieve it I learnt to be efficient and to challenge. Whilst I do challenge others, I also like to be challenged back and I am constantly challenging myself. 

5. Have you got any hidden talents?

I love Bollywood dancing and I am also a bit of a DIYer. I grew up in a family of electricians so I’ve been known to lift up floorboards, tile bathrooms and fix fuses. 

6. What’s the coolest (or most important) trend you see in libraries today?

Romance! Libraries were the one place I could genuinely go and meet ‘nice’ boys (usually) and I see that still happens in libraries.  

7. What three traits define you  

I have a very northern scarcasm and I am kind. Honesty – I am honest and I expect the same from those around me. 

8. What is the best thing about being part of a consortium? 

The best thing about being part of a consortium is peer support and peer challenge. It’s great when one of the consortium members find a solution to something no one else has been able to resolve. 

9. After the last year will you change anything about the way things used to run in your service?

We’re putting much more focus on digital and recruiting team members with digital backgrounds. We are building our services to support customers to access libraries digitally but also using digital to build our physical access. I want to build on having more partnerships in libraries with organisations like the NHS, the police, even retailers so that libraries expand further as community hubs.  

10. If money was no object, what would be your top priority?

 If money was no object my top priority for Libraries would be digital development.  

Watch this space!

We loved Kelly’s presentation at Internet Librarian on A People’s Network – A new Eco-System for empowering libraries and patrons!

In the spotlight with Kelly Saini Badwal! Kelly we love working with you and the Libraries Consortium! Thank you for this spotlight and for sharing your 10 coffee break answers with us at Solus. Watch this space for our next mover and shaker spotlight!


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