Guide 3: What is visiting your library like for a visually-impaired visitor?

Blind and partially-sighted people in the UK , like everyone else, need library and information services to support their daily life. Public libraries are a vital link for people, and we need to make them as accessible as we can.

This good practice guidance introduces some key accessibility issues – and should, of course, also apply to all library users, and make the experience better for everybody.

The best way of assessing this is by ‘walking through’ the process yourself, preferably as a group activity so you can bounce comments and ideas off each other. It is also important to involve visually impaired people themselves in this assessment – do you have colleagues who could help? And do you have contacts in a local organisation for visually impaired people, who might be interested in taking part?

Pretend you’re a first-time visitor. Go outside and look at your library as if for the first time and ask yourself a few questions:

  • Look at the signage. Can you see the signs from the road? Will they attract passers-by or new people to the area? How visible will they be to someone with a visual impairment
  • How close do you have to get to your library to see the entrance? And the opening hours – are they visible to someone who is visually impaired?
  • What could be done to make the entrance more welcoming? Is the direction into the library clear? And clutter-free?

Inside the library:

  • What do you see first?
  • Do the first few steps into the library invite you to walk further and look around?
  • Is the library tidy and well-organised? For example, is the enquiry point tidy, or are surfaces covered in piles of leaflets and papers?
  • Is your passage through the library straightforward, or are there obstacles? Are these easily negotiated, or more major barriers? Are there guides (e.g. floor textures) for visually impaired people? (More on this in Guide 2)
  • Is it clear where a visitor needs to go to get help?
  • Are library staff/volunteers clearly in view and identifiable?

There will be things you discover that:

  • You can do something about straightaway (litter across the entrance-way, or tables partially blocking walkways, for example)
  • You can note and report, with the intention of the issue being resolved asap (e.g. one of the entrance doors is sticking as it opens)
  • You can note and report, but recognise that it is not likely to be rectified in the short-term (e.g. steps up to the library door)…
  • … so find some ways of getting round this, if possible.