Earlier in the week I along with colleagues from Wiltshire Council met up with other public library staff around the South West at Yate Library to attend the Six Steps Seminar.
This was a day of talks and information prompted by the SCL and Share the Vision’s six steps to library services for blind and partially sighted people. These six steps came from a project conducted in the North East by NEALIS (The North East Access Library and Information Services) who consulted with library users and professionals alike in ways to make the library more accessible for harder to reach user groups. The day was divided into talks from different organisations on a variety of topics from accessible platforms for blind and visually impaired people (VIP), guiding users around the library and things to consider when setting up a readers group for the visually impaired. We were also given time at the end of the day to get together in our local authority groups to start organising an event or promotion for Make a Noise in Libraries Fortnight (11th – 24th June).
After being very warmly welcomed by John Vincent and taking a check of where different authorities were in regards to the six steps (Wiltshire are in a very strong position) there was a presentation of different accessible platforms to navigate around the Internet and computer software from Scott Wood from Action for the Blind. He spent time showng us the different platforms available that could be adopted in a library environment from the more expensive Jaws, Zoomtext and Supernova to the relatively cheap and in some cases free NVDA and IVONA. These programmes provide magnification and screen reader properties to your computer which makes navigating and using these tools more accessible. Windows 7 and Apple also have built in magnification and screen reader programs as standard. The platforms varied in different ways from voices to text colours, usability and price. Scott mentioned that in the thirty years since he lost his sight there have been great advances in this technology, in the 1980s it would have been impossible for him to use a computer and yet now he spends most of his day browsing the Internet. As with anything though, the accessibility of a site is only as good as the original design, there is a group called Fix the Web who works with website authors to combat these problems. This is a volunteer led program that relies on donations and grants to keep up this essential work. Scott also mentioned the importance of applications such as Kindle for PC, ibooks and audioGo which make reading and enjoying books more accessible for the blind and VIP.
Next Pat Beech from the RNIB Library Service spoke to us about the current situation in the UK; approximately one eighth of people in the UK have problems with reading print and unfortunately only 7% of titles published in the UK are accessible to this part of the population. For a long time it used to only be 5% but the emergence of ebooks has resulted in a 2% increase. She commented that if her job was successful there would not be a need for an RNIB Library Service as reading material would be freely available in all formats and therefore accessible to all. Pat spent the majority of her talk explaining the role of the Reading Sight website (step 2) and how we as Librarians can use it to help provide support and advice for users with partial or no sight. Pat introduced the site as a working directory of best practice that is split into three areas:
- Reading Choices (including a useful questionnaire that can be used in libraries to help people identify what options and formats of reading are available to them and from where)
- Young Reading Lives (young people share their stories and advice given on how to support them in their reading future)
- Social Media (Blogs of current awareness etc)
The website is an accessible tool for all who have issues with sight or support those that do, by learning more about it we can now go back and filter this information through to library staff giving their more confidence in helping those users that may need extra help in finding accessible reading material.
Paula Hickey and Zoe Austen from Action for the Blind came in to talk to us about working with and supporting blind and visually impaired users in the library, basic tips and information was shared regarding guiding users around the library and communicating information, a lot of common sense advice including not changing your everyday language, trying not to be overly anxious or using overly grand hand gestures which will not help!
After some refreshment Eileen Hyder from the University of Reading shared her dissertation research regarding VIP reading groups. She found that the reading group she used in her research was set up for much the same reason many are; to share a love of reading and expand individual reading ranges. There were also pitfalls unfortunately due to the range of reading material available, (Calibre seemed a popular choice for multiple sets) and a fine balance between the social and discussion needs of the group. One of my colleagues runs a VIP reading group in her library and she commented on the same issues but each of the members is happy with the balance and like any reading group it depends on the individuals who attend. Issues that need to be addressed in these circumstances include:
- How to promote the group?
- Is it more important to integrate in with an existing reading group or have a specialist group?
- Reading materials
- General housekeeping and guidance in leading group and physically on location and lay out of reading group venue
With the range of information and services we had been talking about during the course of the day it was really good to have a chance to split off from everyone else to start preparing for Make a Noise in Libraries Fortnight in Wiltshire and we have some interesting things in store which will hopefully include some partnership work with the Wiltshire Blind Association and cross sector working within the Council.