Beyond Barriers – Improving Library Services for all in Solihull

As part of the Strengthening Disabled People’s User-Led Organisations programme, I’m always keen to hear about how DPULOs are doing interesting work in their local communities. Enable-Solihull is doing some fascinating work with their local council on the topic of libraries as community hubs – read below for more details. If you’d like to share a similar story/success, freel free to leave a comment and I’ll follow up.

Enable-Solihull is a User-Led Disability Organisation based in Solihull, West Midlands. In close partnership with Solihull Council’s Libraries and Action for Blind People, we are currently organising two Beyond Barriers events.

Solihull Borough’s libraries are vital community hubs; not only the gateway to a vast range of information and entertainment, but also valued community meeting places. Our libraries should be readily available and fully accessible to all members of our community.

Although Solihull libraries provide a range of support services for disabled people, people are not necessarily aware of these. In addition, there may be other physical and social barriers that prevent disabled people from using these services. It is vital to engage with the local community to understand what their needs are and to be able to respond to them.

These events aim to raise awareness of these specialised services and to explore with disabled people any barriers they face in accessing these services.

Following the two sessions, Enable-Solihull and Action for Blind People will work with Solihull Council to put together an action plan to make improvements and address any concerns that are raised by this engagement.

The first of the two open mornings takes place at Chelmsley Wood Library on Thursday 6th December, with the second event at Solihull Central Library on Tuesday 22nd January 2013. Both events run from 11:00am – 1:00pm, with an optional tour of our library facilities beginning at 11:00am. Please see flyer for full details.

Independent Living Information Points

In January, a brand-new disability and social care signposting and information service Independent Living Information Points will be launched. This will be available to the public on a drop-in basis and based in community libraries.

This will initially be a pilot scheme, with the service initially available in the two main libraries in the Borough: Chelmsley Wood Library and Solihull Central Library.

This new service will be delivered by trained volunteers and is seen as being the first step to developing a Centre of Independent Living (CIL) for disabled people and carers in Solihull.

This new service is being provided by Solihull Independent Living Consortium (SILC). SILC is led by Enable-Solihull and is a partnership of local charities involved in providing health and social care services to Solihull people.

Services offered by SILC members include home care, advice and information services, day services, leisure activities and care homes. The members of SILC are Enable-Solihull, SoLO, Family Care Trust, DIAL Solihull, Solihull Carers Centre, Age UK Solihull, Solihull Care Ltd and SWICDA (Solihull Workforce in Care Development Association).

For more information on Enable-Solihull visit:

For more information on SILC Visit:


Man walks into a column, no.44: Librarians

The second in an occasional series – hopefully very occasional – of posts about conferences Phil’s been to in god awful places at antisocial times. 

As anyone who follows me on Twitter will, despite their best efforts, have been unable to miss, I was stuck in what can only be described, in all honesty, as ‘deepest’ and ‘darkest’ Nottinghamshire; this Friday evening and Saturday morning just passed. Seriously: the most notable and indeed only local landmark appeared to be a vast coal power station. Charming.

The ray of light amidst the mire was the event that had lured me there: the annual conference of the Association of Senior Children’s and Education Librarians (ASCEL). Without wishing to get into ‘lovely people, those librarians’ territory, it is nevertheless only fair to note that I have never, in all my legged life, felt anywhere near as welcomed at such a shindig; all the more remarkable when one considers that I was very much an outsider intruding upon a gathering of people who have every reason to feel resentful and angry at the moment.

Why was I there (well may you ask)? Someone from ASCEL had been to one of OPM’s events about mutuals and social enterprises, and felt that it would be helpful to spend part of the conference thinking about the potential of these and other ‘different models’ of public service management and delivery in the school and public library context. The actual title of my session was ‘the future of library services…’ which in current circumstances had a distinctly oxymoronic ring to it.

Again, without wishing to sound patronising (I was less surprised, more simply relieved, given the prevailing winds) the only reason the session went off okay was because of the willingness of the participants to get stuck in. What emerged from the scenario-based group work was an intriguing mix of creative and astute tactical responses, which included:

  1. Political piggy-backing: if ‘saving libraries’ doesn’t have sufficient political salience, find an agenda that does – safeguarding children, for example – and do everything you can to make it impossible for local politicians to miss the full implications of closing libraries.
  2. Going where the money is: free schools, for example, were mentioned as one potentially lucrative (and indeed sensible) set of local partners, as were local leisure companies looking for space to expand (what better way to relax after exercising than exercising your mind with a good book?).
  3. Mixing and matching: several groups mentioned additional services that could be woven into the fabric of a library, ranging from the obvious cafes and community spaces, to things like job centres. Partly in the interest of adding revenue streams, but also demonstrating maximum bang for local buck: child learns to read, mum or dad finds a job etc.
  4. Networked libraries: all of the descriptions of ‘the library of the future’ contained tech elements, as one would expect, but more interesting were those that emphasised libraries as community hubs: not just for isolated older people, but for stay-at-home parents and homeworkers too.

There were plenty more besides, these are just the ones that stuck in my mind the most. The pressures on library services are such that no blame could reasonably be assigned to managers such as these if solutions aren’t found. But I thought the quality of this discussion bodes well: with people like this in charge, one would hope that libraries have at least a fighting chance. In the meantime I’m simply hoping that I can busy myself around the office for the next few weeks.

Man walks into a column, no.5: Libraries

This is a post by Phil

It’s tempting for a fledgling blogger to write something controversial for the sake of courting attention. That’s not what this is about, honestly. The fact is that I found the text of Philip Pullman’s recent speech in defence of public libraries to be at once impassioned, forceful, moving and… well… a little simplistic.

There’s tons of stuff to agree with, and particularly cogent arguments against the blasé assumption that volunteers are the answer to all the world’s problems. Do we really think that the job of the librarian is so simple that anyone could step in and do it, Pullman asks? How on earth will local people find the time to volunteer when they find it difficult enough to squeeze in work, family responsibilities and everything else? Won’t a strategy that revolves around communities bidding for the right to run libraries favour folk in more affluent areas who are better placed to put together winning bids?

Exceptionally sound points all. But what motivates Pullman at base is his fundamental, deeply-held love for libraries. He recounts his delight upon being enrolled at the first library he ever visited: ‘All those books, and I was allowed to borrow whichever I wanted!’. He goes on to say that:

Somewhere in Blackbird Leys, somewhere in Berinsfield, somewhere in Botley, somewhere in Benson or in Bampton, to name only the communities beginning with B whose libraries are going to be abolished, somewhere in each of them there is a child right now, there are children, just like me at that age in Battersea, children who only need to make that discovery to learn that they too are citizens of the republic of reading. Only the public library can give them that gift.

And that last point is where I found myself disagreeing. Because however brilliant many libraries are, as buildings and as spaces for people to come together, isn’t free access to books the basic human right, rather than free access to libraries? And are libraries really the only way of achieving that goal?

I think we’re in danger of confusing ends with means. As anyone who works behind the scenes at a council department responsible for library funding will know, it costs an astonishing amount for every book loaned. Much of this comes from the costs of maintaining a large number of ageing, often dilapidated buildings, but also from the inefficiencies caused by the system of distributing books amongst so many points of access.

In a time of severe financial constraints I think the ‘this is the way we’ve always done things’ complaint just isn’t good enough. We need to focus on the outcomes that are important, and find imaginative, genuinely workable ways of achieving them with fewer resources.

If to solve the libraries funding crisis we have to turn to a LoveFilm-esque subscription service, with books posted out from a central depository, and/or a smaller number of ‘hub’ libraries with good transport links and much larger, more efficiently managed collections, is that such a terrible thing as long as people get free or low-cost access to a wide range of books?

I know that libraries have other benefits too, but again we should ask: are the libraries as currently provided the best and most efficient way to achieve the goals of e.g. access to the internet or a place for isolated older people to come together? Maybe they are, but let’s start with the things we want to achieve and work back from there, rather than assuming that the current model of service provision is necessarily the right one for the future.