How does a grandmother who is blind share books with her grandchildren?

This post has been inspired by the fact that the first 2 weeks in June 2013 is Make a Noise in Libraries (MANIL) Fortnight which is an annual campaign to bring public libraries and blind and partially sighted people together to improve access to books and information.manil13pic

Eileen Finch is a grandmother who could not find any books on the market that were suitable for her to share with her grandchildren. She decided to create her own children’s books in a unique format – giant print with Braille and illustrations. If you want to see the range of books she has published then go to her website access2books  where you can also buy the books yourself. You could also ask your local library if they have them in stock – and if they don’t suggest that they so. The list of libraries that currently stock the books can be found here.

So why have I put this into my management musings blog? It is because the journey that Elaine went through is one that anyone with a passion and an idea can follow to make a change they believe in, or to create a new business.

The key things that Elaine did were to:

  • Identify a gap/ need
  • Research the potential solutions and current provision.
  • Obtain an IP Publishing licence
  • Negotiate with publishers to use 30 popular UK books
  • Painstakingly redesign the books into a format which is more accessible and shareable for people with a visual impairment.
  • Work out a way of printing and binding the finished work into a book format. The type of paper and binding used were particular problems. In the end she had to design and make her own binding equipment.
  • Find funding to keep the project going
  • Find outlets to access the mainstream library market – Peter’s Children’s books of Birmingham helped by ordering a set based on the prototype.
  • Create a business format to procedure and market the books – in this case a Community Interest Project.

The books look brilliant and having Braille as well as large print and pictures widens the range of people who can use them- have a look for yourself. 

This is an impressive story of determination and persistence that we can all learn from, in particular:

  1. Focus on the final outcome when things get difficult
  2. If you cannot find the solution you need then create them
  3. The road to success is not easy, but if your dream is big enough, and your desire is strong enough you will succeed.

Make a Noise in Libraries Fortnight is run by RNIB National Library Service.

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My views on the Arts Council England “The library of the future” report

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Dudley Library, West Midlands

I was very heartened when I started reading the ‘Library of the Future’ report that the consultation has shown that the Arts Council England (ACE) understand the importance of libraries in that:

They are much loved and expected to continue offering the same services as they have for many years, but they are also expected to respond to big changes in how people live their lives.

Alan Davey, Chief Executive, Arts Council England.

The four priorities to sustain and develop a 21st century library service are not ones that anyone with a passion for libraries would argue with:

  1. Place the library as the hub of a community
  2. Make the most of digital technology and creative media
  3. Ensure that libraries are resilient and sustainable
  4. Deliver the right skills for those who work for libraries.

My concern is that, at the start of the 21st Century, the excellent library services  in the country are already doing most of this (including Dudley which I managed until march 2013)- so what do they have to aspire to? They can continue to improve and develop as they have in the past, but they will be developing their own challenges.

The challenges listed in the report under each of these headline priorities take things a little further – although again a lot of this is already happening.

The challenge with the biggest change from the current situation is in the development of some of the digital and virtual offers in libraries. These are the areas which could be part of a national virtual library service as there are major economies of scale. Although this is referred to in passing there is little information about how this will be achieved. With the current budget situation and the fact that a harder future is anticipated there will not be many library services who will have the resources to develop the resources if they do not work together effectively. Maybe that is a role for the Society of Chief Librarians to take up – developing digital and virtual national offers for individual library services to buy into?

I am concerned about the promotion of a document previously published by ACE on Community Libraries being referred to in the section on making libraries resilient and sustainable. This earlier document describes libraries at very early stages of developing community led models and so it is not  proved that they are sustainable yet. In addition, ACE need to be aware that good quality professional libraries need professional librarians to manage them working with communities, not just strong communities. The way this is section is laid out does not make this as clear as I would have expected it to be as I know this was raised as part of the consultation which has informed this report.

I know that this report is a mark in the sand for ACE as part of their managing their role in relation to libraries. In some ways the report is not the major issue as it does clearly state why libraries are important. What is more important is what happens now as budgets tighten and decisions are made which will influence the effectiveness  of library services for the rest of this century. Many library services need clear leadership and support to develop effective plans for the future, not just an active debate.

There are a lot of good statements about libraries and their importance – so I will watch with interest to see what is done with them in the future.

I hope that I, through my consultancy and mentoring, will be able to support and work with colleagues in keeping the good quality and professional library services in the coming years by developing innovative, sustainable solutions.

The importance of marketing skills

Coming from a public authority background I have been made aware at how poor we often are at marketing the skills that we have. This is shown by the reaction of my colleagues when others start trying to tell us how to manage what we are doing better. The usual reaction is ‘what do they know’  or ‘they wouldn’t like it if we told them what to do’. 

In my view the real problem is that we are too quiet about what we do and how we do it. In public service, because it is public service, we assume that people know what we are doing  – and you know the saying – ‘ to assume makes an ass out of u and me’. It is not at all obvious to people who are experienced in working in one area the issues and difficulties of working in another.

For example in my back ground – libraries – I know that there are a range of skills needed to run libraries effectively including (this is not an exhaustive list):

  • knowledge of the people and areas you are serving
  • knowledge of the ranges and types of books available
  • the skills needed to put the two areas of knowledge above together in the most effective way
  • the ability to facilitate access to books, information and other resources
  • the ability to skilfully manage a range relationships with partners, local communities, staff and politicians
  • the ability to see what will be needed in the future and ensure that we have the right products and staff ready for this and manage the change process to get there
  • the ability to manage people and buildings as well as services
  • the ability to do the above within very tight budgets and so be creative in achieving outcomes
  • the ability to provide a service for a wide range of people and communities which often have conflicting requirements (e.g children wanting noise and excitement and students wanting peace to study as one of many examples).

But just because I know this why should someone who works in the book industry and does not have to get politicians to agree with proposed changes when and election is held 3 years out of 4? They have to work with shareholders and other stakeholders, yes, but not people who are wanting to be re-elected.

If we do not shout about our skills then who is going to do that for us?

In many ways librarians, and other public servants, have left it a little late to say:

 “look how good we are at what we do, we are proud of what we have achieved’. 

Lets start doing it now. Don’t be defensive, or blame the person who is criticising the service for not understanding, tell everyone what it is we do to help them understand. It is not arrogance to be proud of what we have done when we can show what a difference it has made to the communities we work with. In fact we are letting those communities down if we don’t champion the work we have, and can, do with them.