I’ve previously covered research that shows the importance of reading for blind and partially sighted people, so in this blog post I am focusing on the ways libraries can help visually impaired people.
In Sept 2011 (most) public libraries across the UK signed up to adopt the Six Steps for improving access to library services for blind and partially sighted people. All 22 local authority library services in Wales pledged their support for this scheme. Libraries that have adopted the six steps provide collections of large print and audio books, make sure that accessible technology is available, and have a library champion for the reading needs of blind and partially sighted people (among other things – see below for the list of the six steps).
A year later and 88% of the UK public library authorities have signed up, and a survey was undertaken to see how well the Six Steps scheme is being met. The report is available on the Reading Sight website. Although based on responses from a relatively small number of people, it is interesting and useful, and librarians may find it helpful for little tips and nuggets of ways to help improve the library experience for blind and visually impaired people.
The report’s conclusions are that there are some excellent services on offer, and very helpful and informative library staff who go out of their way to assist blind and partially sighted people, but that there is still room for improvement. One person is quoted as saying “I got no suggestions. In my opinion the librarian gave the distinct impression I was an alien and should not have been there.” (Fortunately that was not from someone in Wales!) Something we could take away for future consideration in Wales though is the level of engagement with Make a Noise in Libraries – which libraries in Wales currently get involved with this campaign?
The Six Steps are:
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
2. Use Reading Sight, 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 run annually by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB).
Since the launch of the Six Steps the work has developed and there is a now a Six Steps JISCMAIL list for librarians who wish to share information, raise questions and keep up with relevant news. Join via the JISCMAIL website.
In addition, from spring 2013, The Network will be running a series of workshops, supported by Share the Vision, looking at engaging with the Six Steps and also preparing for Make A Noise In Libraries fortnight which will run from 3 to 14 June in 2013.
What else? Well, you may not have come across the Sightline Directory run by the RNIB. As its name suggests, it’s a directory of useful people, organisations and services which can be searched by type and location. The RNIB is requesting users to submit details of organisations not included – maybe public library service could check their local listings in Sightline against their local community information database and submit details of any notable omissions.
And with a growing number of visually impaired people taking up e-books, now is a great opportunity for public libraries in Wales to work with local groups to promote not only the new e-books service in Wales but all the other services they offer for blind and visually impaired people.
Update 4th Jan 2013 – Today I came across another relevant guide for librarians – it’s a guide to the most helpful and easy-to-use free open source tools on a range of disability issues. The guide can show you what tools are available to help your library users gain access to the resources you have available and has step-by-step instructions on installing the relevant free software tools. The guide has been created by EIFL (Electronic Information for Libraries) whose strapline is ‘knowledge without boundaries’.