Tag Archives: disability

Public Libraries Committed to Improve Access for Blind and Partially Sighted People

Public libraries are adopting six steps in a UK-wide effort to improve access for blind and partially sighted people. For the two million blind and partially sighted people in the UK this will be a lifeline to the leisure, learning and information resources offered by public libraries.

Libraries that have adopted the six steps are providing collections of large print and audio books, making sure accessible technology is available, and have a library champion for the reading needs of blind and partially sighted people.

Six Steps to Library Services for Blind and Partially Sighted Peopleis a joint initiative by the Society of Chief Librarians, Scottish Library & Information Council and Share the Vision.

Mark Freeman, Acting Chair of Share the Vision, said: “Public libraries are obliged to provide services to everyone. Many libraries are already doing an excellent job but standards of provision for blind and partially sighted people vary from place to place. The six steps make it clear what libraries can do to improve access.”

These steps are already making a huge difference to library users.

“I am so glad that Inverurie Library organised this event. I had given up trying to read books with my younger son and missed this time with him dearly but I can once again enjoy doing this. I also now receive the local paper in audio format, am a member of the local book club, have a better idea of the titles available and how to order audio books and lastly the confidence to ask for help if I need it.” Heather Watson, library customer, Inverurie, Aberdeenshire.

Already, 176 out of 210 library authorities have pledged.* “We call on every library in the UK to sign up,” said President of SCL, Nicky Parker. “We are determined to break down the barriers that prevent blind and partially sighted people from using the public library like everyone else.”

Scottish Library & Information Council Director, Elaine Fulton, said: “All of Scotland’s public libraries have already pledged their support for this very welcome initiative.”

Six Steps to Library Services for Blind and Partially Sighted People

1. Use Your Reading Choices with blind and partially sighted customers to assess their reading needs and facilitate access to public libraries and other relevant services (http://tinyurl.com/rnib2)

2. Use Reading Sight (www.readingsight.org.uk), the free website for library staff supporting blind and partially sighted people to access reading and reading services

3. Provide local collections of large print and audio books

4. Have a strategy in place for provision of access technology throughout your library service

5. Designate a “champion” for the reading needs of blind and partially sighted people

6. Participate in Make a Noise in Libraries Fortnight (www.rnib.org.uk/manil) run annually by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB)

* For the full list of library authorities signed up to Six Steps see www.goscl.com

(Press release provided by Society of Chief Librarians)

Mobile Libraries: Past Successes; Future Directions?

Thanks to Richard, a former mobile librarian in the Scottish highlands, who sent us this post highlighting the importance of mobile library services.


Coincidences can be serendipitous. The other day, a chance encounter in town found me chatting to Marie; one time head of a primary school on my old mobile itinerary, and now like me retired. We caught up on the intervening years, and recalled the many happy and productive days of our previous association. Later the same day, while visiting my centenarian mother in her care home, I was delighted to see a new resident, Annie; a partially disabled lady for whom I had undertaken regular home visits with books. Now ninety three, her mind remained sharp and clear; a reminder that a fondness for light romance need not dull the brain!

These two meetings brought home to me, not just the personal joys of my life as a mobile librarian in the Scottish highlands, but also a very real sense of the good my colleagues and I were able to achieve in our work. Today, when the speed and uncertainty of change threatens the very existence of mobiles, past achievements may hold pointers to a continuing future. Once, our remit was to supply the widest possible range of library services to rural communities; a situation we recognize to be no longer sustainable as a whole. But, exemplified here in the stories of Annie and Marie, there exist areas within which I believe a mobile library service offers a positive, cost-effective way forward.

Marie was the best kind of primary teacher; an enthusiastic polymath who drew no false distinctions between art and science, inspiring her pupils to learn through the shared joys of the spoken word: in debate, song, drama and reading aloud. She always encouraged me to play a proactive part in school life, and thus I became in addition to my normal library duties a storyteller, a shennachie in the local scots; a role I was able to develop to include all the dozen or so schools on my regular round. Issues soared. Beginning with simple stories for nursery classes and pre-school groups, I expanded my scope to include all ages up to twelve; giving readings of classics old and new, poetry, even some of the more dramatic exerts from Shakespeare. I have a particular abiding memory of holding one class spellbound by a recitation of Kipling’s Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.

Writers like Kipling may be anathema to modernists, but the themes of courage and resourcefulness displayed in tales such as Rikki bear comparison with those seen in, say, The Gruffalo; and can be equally enjoyable, both to read and to hear. The key to that enjoyment is the human voice and its use to convey all the excitement, colour and meaning which a given text may contain. Once you establish the links between the written word and the endlessly vivid world of a child’s imagination then the act of their learning to read becomes a pleasure, and, once achieved, a lifelong joy. Those manning mobile libraries with school clients are uniquely placed to provide such inspiration, having all the necessary resources to hand. Where a suitable bond of trust has been created, teaching staff are only too delighted to accept our assistance.

Mobile library comes to Beckford (Jonathan Billinger)

Mobile library comes to Beckford (Jonathan Billinger)

Trust, and the human voice, is just as important at the other end of life’s spectrum. Annie, recently widowed and with her family far away, lived in relative isolation in an anonymous housing scheme. As the years passed and her health deteriorated visits to the mobile became more and more difficult; a situation mirrored in the experiences of many of our older customers. Whereas a dedicated housebound mobile served the needs of the city of Inverness no such facility existed for the country areas. I began to adjust our timetables accordingly, in order to accommodate home visits. These were well received, and, as word spread, we began to receive requests to visit from folk who had never previously been able to access library services. Once again our issues climbed. More than that, we found these visits to be doubly rewarding; not only were our clients able to enjoy their books, but they also gained from regularly seeing a friendly face and a few minutes of craic – not to mention the odd cuppa. And, for our part, many lasting friendships were forged; together with the occasional sadness as time took its inevitable toll.

Dear gentle Annie passed away only a short time after her admission to the home; despite crippling disabilities she had managed on her own for nearly twenty years beforehand. Did our home visits play any part in helping her stay independent, happy and content; and perhaps less of a burden to the exchequer? Accountants, necessary though they are, cannot quantify such factors, any more than they can supply a monetary value for improved reading performance in schools; but my answer would be a resounding yes, just one factor amongst several, no doubt, but a vital one nevertheless. Marie has no doubts either, yes she saw the mobile primarily as another tool in her workshop; but that is surely a good thing, a good place to be. What seems too often overlooked is just what a powerful tool that can be.

There has always been a tendency, in Britain at least, to view mobile libraries as slightly eccentric, a bit of an anachronism, certainly expendable once the financial chips are down. But, give them the opportunity to show what they can do, how much they can achieve, and a very different picture emerges. I do not doubt that I was fortunate; I had the advantage of an enlightened management, willing to indulge my hunches, allowing me space and time to experiment; nor was I alone, with other colleagues from within our fleet of twelve also happy to respond to changing circumstances. But the bottom line rests with the individual; you have got to want to do it, to be prepared to move the boundaries and to make the time.

That time has passed for me, but I am happy to report that, despite some inevitable cut-backs, mobile usage here remains healthy. Suzi, my successor, continues to make improvements and adaptations of her own. New faces at Marie’s old school make her as welcome as ever, and utilize her skills to the full. The numbers of older and disadvantaged folk following in Annie’s footsteps will carry on growing. Mobiles are not only uniquely valued; more to the point they are needed. But, if you are going to make that point, and make it stick, you are going to have to demonstrate its inherent value.

And there is only one way to do that; get out on the road and prove it. Get the results in loans; printed, pictorial, digital; get the backing of public and professionals alike; use the media, local papers love positive stories; don’t wait to be asked, volunteer where you see a need you can fill; above all, be prepared to give of yourself. Mobiles can have a real future; and ensuring that future is a task that can be immensely rewarding – to all concerned.

Make a Noise in Libraries Fortnight – 6 to 19 June 2011

Reach out to blind and partially sighted people in your community by
joining RNIB’s Make a Noise in Libraries Fortnight (MANIL). This year
marks the 10th anniversary of the campaign, which runs to 19 June 2011

Hundreds of libraries take part each year to highlight the services they
provide for people with sight loss and to promote the importance of
accessible books and information.

It’s not too late for libraries to get involved by holding an event
or organising a display of audio and large print books.

And readers like it too – “I am so glad that my library organised
their MANIL event”, says Heather Watson from Inverurie, Aberdeenshire.
“I can honestly say it has made a huge difference to me. I had given up
trying to read books with my younger son and missed this time with him
dearly but I can once again enjoy doing this. I also now receive the
local paper in audio format, am a member of the local book club, have a
better idea of the titles available and how to order audio books and
lastly the confidence to ask for help if I need it.”

For free resources, activity ideas and lists of events visit

‘So important in an area of social deprivation…’ Becky’s story

I grew up in a household where reading was like breathing. As well has having bookshelves that were crammed full – double stacked where possible – from the age of 3 I paid a weekly visit to my local library in Putney. The sheer variety of books enabled me to end up with a reading age of 11 by the time I was 6. I credit it with giving me a passion for literature that helped me survive school and do well academically in spite of being disabled.
The pattern of visiting the library didn’t diminish even as I got older – even when I worked for a bookshop and spent 5 years in book publishing, the library was invaluable at allowing me to see + read the books from other publishing houses.

I still go to my library pretty much on a weekly basis; it’s my refuge from my hectic life in sales. I love the solemn silence when you go into a library – it’s very reverential! I love browsing all the different books – some just published, others that came out 20-30 years ago. Without my library I never would have read Margaret Atwood, Douglas Coupland, Diana Gabaldon, Jackie Collins, Jilly Cooper and many more.
Additionally my current library in Streatham has excellent facilities that many other local residents use – internet access, job clubs, homework clubs, book clubs, the local society as well as the excellent children’s section. Whenever I am in the library there are always kids checking out books, so important in an area of social deprivation. Streatham Library is so cool, we even had a VIP visitor recently – Santa!
I don’t have kids yet but when I do, I really hope that libraries will still be around for them.

Lisa’s story

I was sad to hear that Richmond upon Thames Library Service is considering making cuts. Some years ago I was a library assistant employed in two branches in this borough. So I thought I would write and share my experiences of working there.

Your first thoughts about the residents of this affluent area of south-west London are possibly that they are very privileged and wealthy and that they don’t use public services much – but that ain’t necessarily so. In among the districts where houses changed hands for seven figures, there were plenty of less affluent areas, areas of public housing, areas where residents relied heavily on public services like libraries.

This meant that the library service was used by a huge variety of people from all walks of life. Children at the local state primaries and secondaries came in to borrow books and use reference materials for homework. Often they were studying alongside pupils from nearby public schools that enjoyed national acclaim and whose parents were paying thousands of pounds a year for their education – but who were still relying on the local free-to-use public library to get the homework support they needed.

Our branch provided resources for parents home-schooling their children and for tutors working individually with children identified by the education authority as needing additional support. This is an excellent example of how a public library service has roots in a community and in that community’s wellbeing that are much, much deeper than many might initially suppose. How do we put a financial value on these roots? What happens if we pull them up?

Parents seeking opportunities for themselves and for their pre-school children to meet and socialise numbered high among the users, as did older people who might not have seen a friendly face all day had they not been able to pop in. We also ran reading events, holiday activities and a service for elderly and disabled people who were unable to come into the branch, choosing books for them each fortnight with great care and attention.

Every time a new best-selling book was released we had huge waiting lists of people wanting to read them. Our community noticeboards were covered with cards, posters and flyers for local events. There was a strong demand for local history and archive services and we were constantly making referrals to the specialists working in those areas.

Job-hunters came in to look at the papers, consult directories, use computers or the photocopier, borrow books and to get a little bit of moral support at a lonely and difficult time. And I met countless people pursuing an interest, embarking on further education, getting the information they needed to make some major life change involving moving, or study, or a change of direction. Suggesting that all this can now simply be done online from home presupposes an awful lot – that people have the access, the confidence, the motivation and the information-processing skills to find trusted sources. And, if they
don’t, who’s going to offer to help them, sitting alone at their computer?

Who on earth gets to decide that the needs and wishes and experiences of all these people, and all the others like them around Britain, count for nothing?

To me the most important function of Richmond’s libraries was their role in providing public space – a role that is almost more important in the small branches than in the bigger ones. And this is the reason why the borough should think extremely hard before closing them.

Libraries are places where people of all ages, outlooks, backgrounds, incomes, circumstances and opinions meet and mix. By doing this they get to know each other, dispel the demons of difference and realise that, actually, the things we have in common are much stronger than the things that separate us. These are the places where society is built. And they are not replaced by upscale book shops, town-centre coffee shops, health clubs with expensive subscription fees or anywhere where you need to spend money in order to belong.

We live in an time where public services are portrayed as services of last resort. This is a crying shame – and it is one reason why, rather than becoming less necessary, our libraries are more valuable than ever. They are places where we meet people who are different to ourselves and benefit from so doing. The damage we will do by cutting them is immense and lasting and goes far beyond the perhaps deliberately short-sighted debate over whether the Internet has replaced print and whether books are dead.

Libraries are about reading, and about so much more. And we can’t afford to lose them in order to have that brought home to us.