Guide 6: Making community contacts

You may be in the lucky position of working in a library which is already well used by visually-impaired people and their families and friends – maybe even by groups of visually-impaired people from a local club or society.

If you are in this position, then it is relatively easy to talk to library users about what they think of the library, and gather suggestions, comments, criticisms. From this, you will almost certainly get leads on how to contact more local groups and/or individuals.

However, what happens if your library seems to have very few visually-impaired users and no one from local groups visiting?

Here are some ideas for developing contacts and building up activities:

  • How much do you know about the area around the library? Are there local groups or clubs for blind/partially-sighted people within fairly easy reach of the library building? What sorts of activities do they organise? Does anyone in the library know if they have ever visited the library? Or someone from the library has visited them?
  • It’s important to do a bit of background research, otherwise you may find you create ‘crossed wires’ before you start (e.g. contacting a group that has already had several library visits in the past, so knows quite a lot about what the library can offer). A good library service will have kept records of the names and phone numbers of contacts and notes about previous visits – are there such things from the past? What do they tell you about the level of previous contact?
  • Whether you discover previous records or are starting from scratch, it’s a good idea to build up some basic information about the groups, e.g. address; phone number; name of key contact(s); email addresses; hours of operation; main activities (especially those where the library could bring real benefits); whether they make external visits (e.g. to a library) or whether they need you to visit them.
  • Before making contact with the group, talk it through with colleagues. What are you contacting them for? What’s the ‘library offer’? Once you make contact and start talking about library services, you’re beginning to make a commitment to the group – can the library service cope with this? Are there levels of service that you can/can’t offer? What happens if you are off sick? Is someone else going to deliver whatever you promised? Are there some ‘bottom lines’? For example, if the group wants to set up regular visits to the library, will there be enough people on duty to deal with that? Would these visits clash with anything else?
  • Once the ground rules are agreed internally, then arrange to talk to the group’s contact. What would they like to happen? Is this something that the library can cope with? If not, is there something that they and you can agree to, that the library can deliver? Are there arrangements that the group will need to make prior to a visit to the library (e.g. getting in extra support for people who may have mobility problems)? And what will the library need to do to accommodate them?
  • There may be some principles involved, which you would want to talk to your colleagues about. For example, some groups ask if their members can visit when the library is closed (often because they assume they’ll get criticisms from other library users) – this may not be something that the library can or wants to accommodate. Making the arrangements with groups often involves some delicate negotiations!
  • Whatever the group and you decide as the first activity (and it might be a visit to the library that falls within Make A Noise In Libraries fortnight; or a visit to the group to talk about the library offers, and, maybe, introduce some new spoken word resources), it needs to be well planned between you and the group’s contact.
  • Keep a record of what you plan – and also of how it actually went! If you can get feedback from participants, even better. It’s important to get evaluation from the group’s contact too – is it what they were expecting? How did they think it went? Is there something that made a real difference to the group? Is there anything that they thought could be done better next time? This will be the start of planning future activities with the group.
  • What happens if there are not any groups/clubs within easy reach of the library? Who could we contact? Some ideas include: