At a time where libraries face an uncertain future, stories of how libraries are being used to reach out to vulnerable people and bring together communities are greatly welcomed. Arguably the biggest accolade of libraries affecting their community is CILIP’s prestigious “Libraries Change Lives Award”.
In its 20th year, the Libraries Change Lives Awards provides a home to celebrate innovative projects across the country, such as: Bookstart, a project run by Sunderland Libraries and Booktrust and Across the Board: Autism support for families, run by Leeds Library and Information Service. This year’s award was announced at Umbrella and won by Kent Libraries and Archives who ran the Making a Difference project.
The Making a Difference project began with Kent Libraries working closely with the local district partnership to provide a venue, and a wide range of activities, for a group of adults with learning difficulties to socialise and to relax. The library worked in collaboration with partners that include statutory organisations, charities and volunteers. Carers were able to deliver regular Biblio Hour events, large themed evenings such as “Putting On the Ritz” (a 1920’s fashion evening), and a number of volunteering and work experience opportunities.
One of the work experience opportunities arose when Communities Future Kent met a mystery shopper service called Shopper Anonymous Kent. At the time there were no persons with learning difficulties on their books, but through the work with the library, Graham Seymour, the Managing Director provided training to the group. From there, eight trained mystery shoppers have visited most of the major libraries in the west of the county to provide advice how to improve the inside and outside of the library. The result was that a number of adults with learning difficulties were employed by the library and Easy Access collections of stock, chosen by adults of learning difficulties, being placed in town centre libraries.
So far, 721 adults with learning disabilities from across the county have taken part in library activities since April 2010, helping vulnerable people feel safe and to help themselves.