Out of sight but not out of mind

Visually impaired people’s perspectives
of library & information services

J Eric Davies, Stella Wisdom and Claire Creaser


LISU Occasional Paper no. 29

Loughborough: Library & Information Statistics Unit (LISU), 2001

November 2001


Library and Information Commission Report 123

ISSN 1466-2949

© Resource: The Council for Museums, Archives and Libraries, 2001


Published and distributed by

Library & Information Statistics Unit (LISU)
Loughborough University • Loughborough • Leicestershire • LE11 3TU
Tel: +44 (0)1509 223071 • Fax: +44 (0)1509 223072
Email: lisu@lboro.ac.uk





Literature Review


Results - Overview

Demographic Analysis

Preferred Formats

Use of Information Technology

Use of Public Libraries

RNIB Talking Books Service

Calibre Cassette Library

The National Library for the Blind

The Talking Newspaper Association of the UK

Conclusions and Recommendations

List of Sources Consulted

APPENDIX 1 - Report on Visits

APPENDIX 2 - Summary of Seminar 14 May 2001

APPENDIX 3 – Interview Schedule

APPENDIX 4 – A Note on the Research Process




The LISU approach to undertaking successful projects is always based on team working that applies appropriate knowledge and skills to our projects. The people who, in some way or another, contributed to the success of this important study are many and we thank them most sincerely. In no particular order, they are:

Marina Pickles who provided considerable assistance with data gathering in fieldwork and telephone interviewing, often under difficult conditions.

Sarah Gamble, Tracey Hebdon, Wayne Rowe, Hannah Snelson, and Charlotte Webster, students in the University, who augmented our team of telephone interviewers, acquiring new skills and experience in the process.

Bec Smith and Mandy Stace (also students), who, as well as helping with the telephone interviews, diligently, patiently and (most importantly) accurately transcribed information in interview sheets into usable data in our database.

Sonya White, our Assistant Statistician, who skilfully performed much of the preliminary synthesis and manipulation of data to reveal meaningful information.

Sally Maynard who rendered her customary service of scrutinising what the rest of us have drafted and giving it the final polish that only she can.

Mary Ashworth and Sharon Fletcher who, in addition to managing a great deal of the administration of the Project, applied their considerable desktop publishing skills to converting a plain manuscript into something worthy of the name – publication.

We are also grateful to members of the Project Advisory Group (mentioned later in the report) and representatives of the several institutions concerned with visually impaired people that gave us advice and information, as well as, in some cases, hospitality.



This report documents the outcomes of a project undertaken by LISU and funded by Resource under the auspices of the Share the Vision Programme, which is concerned with information access for visually impaired people. The project featured an extensive survey of people with visual impairment with the aim of determining their perceptions, opinions and activities regarding relevant information sources and library services that are available to them. The research sought to derive reliable data on the needs of visually impaired people with a view to informing and assisting the development of appropriate and relevant policies and practices by the various service providers. It was hoped that the statistics and findings from the survey would provide useful input to evidence-based decision making and would be acted upon positively.

The Context

Share the Vision Programme research initiatives have as their foundation the need to contribute timely and relevant findings to the wider framework of social inclusion. The social inclusion agenda has powerful backing from government and it embraces many aspects of policy and practice including the Disability Discrimination Act as well as a range of special initiatives and projects. Managers and others are becoming aware of the need to assess services and respond positively to the challenge of providing for social inclusion. Optimal planning of service delivery requires adequate information regarding individual client groups. There needs to be a full awareness that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ service approach serves no one particularly well and that the many options for targeting services offer positive benefits. It is important that access issues are examined by research projects such as this one in order that more knowledge can be gained which will enable institutions and agencies to sharpen the focus of, and thereby enhance, services and practices.

A fundamental tenet is the need for information and library agencies to be accessible and relevant to the entire user (and potential user) community regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or disability. In terms of inclusiveness, the needs of visually impaired people feature strongly in any activity which seeks to translate aspiration into reality.

The project has generated much interest and indeed anticipation as the results have been eagerly (if not impatiently) awaited. This is encouraging and it points to the fact that the provider community is very open to information that will enable services to visually impaired people to be better focused.

Project Scope

The scope of this report has, to a large extent, been determined by the community of visually impaired people that was interviewed. This, in a study with a ‘user focus’, is as it should be. The project began with a clear focus on public library provision with the recognition that other agencies also had important roles in information access. The core group that feature in the discussion derive from the range of services and agencies that people identified in their responses. Thus, the scope of this study is not confined to visually impaired users of public libraries, but includes The RNIB Talking Books Service, The Calibre Cassette Library, The National Library for the Blind, Talking Newspapers of the UK and any other information related service the respondents used. Moreover, the study did not confine itself to users of these services. Former users and non-users were also interviewed to seek reasons why people discontinue using services, and why they have never used them.

It is worth noting that the project breaks new ground insofar as there has never before been a national study on this scale which has examined library services and related information providers for visually impaired people from the users’ perspective.

LISU’s independence from service provision to visually impaired persons was regarded as a particular virtue and was one of the features contributing to the success of the research. As a research organisation without a direct role in service provision to visually impaired persons it was hoped that LISU would find participants more candid and forthcoming in their responses than they might be if approached by service providers. It is sometimes thought that people hesitate to be openly critical of non-commercial services of the kind studied in this project for fear of offending service providers. There may even be a perception or fear – unfounded – that services may be cut if people are too negative in their responses. It should be noted, however, that the survey data presented here generally reflect favourably on the organisations that are mentioned. That notwithstanding, there are some critical comments reported. Insofar as they reflect people’s experiences and perceptions – whether accurate or misconceived – they should be heeded. All the material contributes to an understanding of the way in which users regard the things that impinge on their access to, and enjoyment of, information sources.

The Project Advisory Group

The project benefited greatly from the considerable commitment, support and assistance of its Advisory Group. The Group brought a diverse range of specialist experience and knowledge to the endeavour. It comprised:

Margaret Bennett (Executive Director - National Library for the Blind)

Jeanette Binns (Equal Opportunities Officer - Lancashire County Council)

Simon Matty (Research Project Coordinator - Resource)

David Owen (Executive Director - Share the Vision)

David Taylor (Products and Publications Officer - RNIB)

Cathy Wright (Librarian - RNIB College, Worcester).


J Eric Davies (LISU Director) acted as Chair of the Group and Stella Wisdom (Project Officer) as Secretary.

The Advisory Group met on several occasions and members were also individually consulted as appropriate throughout the various stages of the project. The LISU research team is immensely grateful to them for their very valuable contribution to the success of this study.


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Literature Review

As a preliminary to the collection of data for this study a review of relevant literature was conducted. There is a scarcity of material which draws on first hand information from users and in that respect this study covers fresh ground. Research that examines information provision for visually impaired people has been undertaken before. However, such studies have tended to focus on the information providers’ perspective and many have not fully examined the opinions and needs of the user in depth. Moreover, they are not too plentiful. The needs of visually impaired people are met by a range of agencies in the UK. Studies may be focused on a particular provider and some of the smaller agencies may not have the resources to undertake major investigations. This may partly explain the relative scarcity of UK based literature regarding the information needs of visually impaired people.

A general search of the literature published in this area revealed a body of material published in the 1980s in the United States of America. Although some general comparisons may be made against these analyses, because of their date of publication and their location specific content, they afford little of practical relevance to current UK provision. The UK has a wide spectrum of information providers serving visually impaired people and developments in disability discrimination legislation as well as technological advancement has meant there have been many changes to services in recent years. This literature review concentrates on UK material published in the last ten years.

An important and informative piece of research into the demographic breakdown of visually impaired people living in the UK was undertaken by the RNIB (Bruce et al, 1991). This survey used as its basis the same sample that was used by the UK Government Department responsible for the National Census. Although the survey did not directly investigate information retrieval and manipulation activity, it did provide useful profiles of the visually impaired community in the United Kingdom. It offered such insights as the fact that there is a very low proportion of Braille users (3% of the estimated one million visually impaired people in this country).

One of the most important documents in nurturing a general understanding of information access and visually impaired people is the manual developed under the auspices of the Share the Vision programme and entitled: Library Services for Visually Impaired People: A Manual of Best Practice (National Library for the Blind, 2001). It is already becoming an influential guide to policy and practice, some aspects of which will be discussed later. Indeed, in the last year or two there have been several research projects operating within the Share The Vision Programme which have examined many different aspects of visually impaired people’s access to information.

The Library Association published its own advice and guidance in 1996. Library and Information Services for Visually Impaired People: National Guidelines(Machell, 1996) is a clear and concise manual for use by public librarians. It discusses how the Disability Discrimination Act affects public library provision to visually impaired people. The advice is detailed in ten different areas, namely:

·      Equality of access

·      Physical access to buildings and services

·      Staffing

·      Service provision

·      Service delivery

·      Client groups

·      Reading resources

·      Reading aids and equipment

·      Information

·      Promotion and publicity

The guidelines emphasise the importance of a wide spectrum of provision in order that individuals can choose services that best suit their needs.

A key theme in the subject is the nature and extent of access to information resources and the delivery configuration for those resources. A significant early study was conducted by Peter Craddock in the mid 1980s (Craddock, 1985). This entailed an in-depth investigation into library provision for visually impaired people and was the first large scale study of this type in the UK, and it has set precedents for subsequent studies. The data provide a detailed picture of information provision to visually impaired people in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The growth in national and local voluntary agencies is described and their significance in what is a multi-faceted field of information supply to visually impaired people is discussed. Craddock claims that the introduction of free postal services for blind people loosened the links between public libraries and the specialist agencies which serve visually impaired people. He describes how free postage created centralised stockholding centres instead of smaller scale localised provision. This discussion is particularly germane to the LISU study; one of the issues being examined is the scope and opportunity for local holding and distribution of alternative format titles. This issue has been topical from the mid 1990s and is being investigated through several projects.

An informative study was undertaken in Gloucestershire (Chartres, 1996). In January 1995 Gloucestershire Library, Arts and Museums Service launched a project designed to assess the feasibility of providing a mainstream public library service which was coordinated and delivered locally, but which borrowed resources from national organisations to supplement locally held collections. Two important findings came from the analysis of this project. Firstly, having a local access point to national services greatly increased usage levels and membership numbers; secondly, the operation of multiple storage and distribution sites is not efficient or feasible in terms of costs. The Report states:

“One of the main reasons for running the Gloucestershire Pilot Project and central to this evaluation was to look at the wider possibilities of joint partnerships with local authority library services as part of the RNIB’s overall strategy for service delivery. The conclusions which can be drawn from the pilot project are clear. Given the financial costs involved and the additional work and operational logistics of distributing Talking Book Service from two sites, we believe that the model as applied to the Gloucestershire Project is not sustainable for RNIB if applied on a national scale. However we recognise that the increase in membership and the overall complementary services that are available to visually impaired people is directly attributable to the VIP service and the local provision of service it provides.” (Chartres, 1996 p 5)

More recently, Deborah Ryan has investigated the possibilities of inter-library and inter-organisation lending of alternative formats in Chapter 11 of Library Services for Visually Impaired People: A Manual of Best Practice  (National Library for the Blind, 2001). She notes how the Disability Discrimination Act will impel public libraries to examine their provision to visually impaired people:

“Although an inter-library lending (ILL) system has been established for many decades for standard print material, alternative format material has been excluded from this co-operative network. This has resulted in visually impaired people being offered a much reduced service in accessing a range of reading and information material in a format, which meets their needs. Under the terms of the Disability Discrimination Act, it will be unlawful for libraries to refuse a request for alternative format materials, and the inter-lending system must therefore be able to process this requirement.”
(National Library for the Blind, 2001 Chapter 11)

Ryan’s work offers a perspective on how public libraries can work with national organisations such as Calibre, NLB, RNIB and TNAUK to open up access to resources with the Bee Aware campaign facilitating promotion and publicity (National Library for the Blind, 2001). She points to the need for adequate bibliographic and locational tools to avoid the expense and frustration of speculative requests for material. The REVEIL project is addressing the issue through co-ordinating a national database of resources in accessible formats. The thinking behind this approach to inter organisation/library lending has relevance to the LISU survey which has sought to discover whether visually impaired people would prefer to borrow material from the various specialised organisations through their public library, or whether they would prefer the ‘traditional’ method of obtaining material directly. Information regarding this issue is crucial in determining whether and how public libraries develop themselves as ‘one-stop’ information shops for visually impaired people.

In 1996 Peter Craddock revisited the issue of public library provision in his report of Project LIBRA. (Craddock 1996). The report includes a survey of library provision, a survey of equipment vendors and a selection of case studies drawn from interviews with visually impaired people. He reported a generally improving situation:

“… there have been significant  developments in services for visually impaired people since 1985. More library authorities are now involved, there is a more general acceptance of the service obligations, a much greater professional consciousness for this area of service, and a clearer perception  of the role that public libraries can play in serving this section of the public.” (Craddock 1996, p 7)

Nonetheless, his data show that, of an admittedly small number of public library respondents to a question on development policies, some 20% had no plans for the provision of reading aids. He identified a range of provision ranging from the basic, such as magnifiers, to the more advanced including OCR scanners and Braille transcription equipment.

The Project's objective was:

“To identify ways in which reading aids provided by public libraries can be more fully utilised for the benefit of visually impaired and other print handicapped people.” (Craddock 1996, p 16).

Implicit in the objective is that the uptake of provision is generally low. This may have conditioned some authorities' attitude towards investment in extending or even maintaining provision. Countering the mere 'head counting' approach Craddock maintains that:

“It is also necessary to accept that expectations of demand are not measured by normal use criteria but by needs fulfilled and by long term prospects built upon the fostering of relationships with individual users.” (Craddock 1996, p 130)

The same could be said of the generality of public library services and the argument may not convince those who are voting resources for services or policy makers that seek evidence for maximising return on investment in these resource straitened times. In the circumstances the fact that many people who could benefit from such services and facilities do not do so is an important issue. Craddock identifies several factors including awareness and access as components of the problem.

A recent LISU based project (Kinnell et al, 2000) published a much-needed account of the state of public library provision to visually impaired people. The project surveyed 141 public library authorities. It assessed their progress in meeting the Library Association’s National Guidelines for Provision (Machell, 1996). The survey discovered that only 5% of the responding public library authorities had a specific policy statement covering visually impaired users, 15% had a policy for all disabled users (including visually impaired people) and 43% included policies for disabled people within more general library policy documents. It is a cause for some concern that 42% of the authorities that responded did not have any written policies concerning visually impaired people. The research correlated the presence of such policy statement with the authorities’ level of spending on specialist stock, their relationships with relevant external agencies and their provision of specialised equipment such as CCTV. The research revealed that authorities with a written policy for visually impaired people were more likely to meet a wider range of the needs of visually impaired people. Moreover, fewer than 20% of local library authorities surveyed used the Library Association National Guidelines (Machell, 1996) to evaluate their services to this group. The study highlighted the fact that there is much still to be done to improve access to information for all members of the community.

Another major issue centres upon the way in which visually impaired people are regarded by others – including information providers. There is sometimes a tendency to view all clients as similar and this can extend to regarding visually impaired people stereotypically. A ‘one size fits all’ service outlook is less than helpful. Craddock (1985) addresses the issue of definitions and stereotypes of blind and partially sighted people and reminds us that individual needs are the arbiter of service delivery.

“In the public library context, blindness begins at the cul de sac end of a continuum which extends through diminishing degrees of visual handicap. But the scale is multidimensional as well as linear with many variables of age, other disabilities, needs abilities and opportunities of which librarians are well aware and which refute simple definitions. Rather than clinical analysis the only true criteria which could be applied in the provision of services might well be the needs of individual people, expressed or otherwise. This questions whether, in these circumstances, it is possible to isolate the blind as an identifiable group among the disabled – or more importantly the extent to which this should be necessary.” (Craddock, 1985 p 13).

This quotation, insofar as it reminds us that it is impossible to design services using assumptions and stereotypes, addresses a major facet of the LISU study – the individual nature of people’s circumstances and their information gathering experience, and the consequent need to learn about those by asking them.

The same theme is picked up in the Library Association Guidelines:

“While statistics indicate that most visually impaired people will be in the upper age group and female, there are many who do not conform to the stereotype. The ability to read print will vary. Some may be able to read standard print with a reading aid. Some will find it difficult to read large print, even with a reading aid. Mobility may be affected to varying degrees in getting to the library and around the building. Some visually impaired people, particularly in the upper age ranges, are multi-handicapped, and have other sensory and physical disabilities, which affect their ability to use libraries. The degree to which each person is handicapped by their disability will determine the services they need, and the range of services provided should be sufficiently comprehensive to enable them to pick and choose those elements which will serve their particular needs.” (Machell, 1996 p xv).

Format preferences are another issue that has been explored. Nigel Eling of the University of Sheffield produced a useful piece of student research in 1999 regarding the use of spoken words cassettes held by three public libraries in Sheffield (Eling, 1999). His use of the term “Talking Books” is somewhat confusing as the thesis focuses on standard cassettes; not the distinctive multi-track cassettes used by the RNIB Talking Books Service. This points to the need to be careful concerning terminology regarding formats.

There appears to be little information regarding the use of commercially produced audio books by visually impaired people. In an article for The Bookseller supplement Audiobookseller, Nicholas Soames (Managing Director of Naxos Audiobooks) estimates that visually impaired people constitute about 20% of the general market for commercial audio books (Page, 2001).

There is an ongoing debate as to whether or not it is desirable to abridge books for audio presentation. Regarding the abridged and unabridged debate, the publishers of audio books appear to have to balance commercial considerations with equality of access. Caroline Page discusses the issue in the Audiobookseller supplement under the headline: “The Full Monty: Caroline Page asks why some audiobook publishers prefer to produce abridged versions of books, while others think that only the complete work will suffice” (Page, 2001). Nicole Kirkman, Publishing Director of Chivers Press is reported as saying:-

“If the retail trade doesn’t get behind the unabridged audio and the consumer is not aware of a difference, then the demand is not great. Therefore the publishers cannot produce titles in the quantities they need to be able to offer them at competitive prices the retail trade says it needs in order to sell them.” (Page, 2001 p 6)

However, there are some firms who adhere to the principle of producing unabridged audio formats. Cover to Cover produces unabridged titles solely and it sells its products to public libraries as well as making them available through retailer outlets.

The literature regarding information access and reading habits of visually impaired people is limited but it covers several important aspects such as the demographic breakdown, disability legislation, good practice guidance access issues and service delivery as well as the range and nature of visual impairment and users habits and preferences. All provide a useful context in which to place this survey.

Full details of all the items mentioned can be found in the List of Sources.


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In addition to a review of the literature noted above, initial information gathering for this study featured visits to relevant exhibitions, seminars and meetings with a selection of appropriate agencies. These activities enabled a clearer perspective of the issues relating to the research to be achieved and enabled better survey design to be achieved. Details of these visits and meetings are summarised in Appendix 1.

A great deal of thought was put into the design and the logistics of administering the survey. The process was iterative and is discussed below. After devising a routine for interviewing respondents and determining the sampling frame to be used, the preliminary design of the survey instrument was pilot tested. Following some minor amendments, the final version was used for collecting the empirical data through a series of interviews. The data were assembled and analysed using SPSS software. The resulting draft analysis was sent to appropriate individuals for comment before the project report received its final editing.

[Some more detailed working notes regarding the conduct of the research have been appended (Appendix 4) in order to inform and assist the general progress of research in this important area.]

How to Collect Data

A fundamental issue affecting the methodology of the survey was the choice of data collection method. Some of the conventional options available to other surveys were inappropriate and had to be discounted because of the inherent nature of the group taking part. It would, for example, have been both insensitive and impractical to send out printed postal questionnaires to those whom we were wishing to survey.

A possible option would have been the distribution of questionnaires electronically via the Internet and these could then have been accessed via speech or screen magnification software or through a refreshable Braille display. However, this mode of delivery would have biased the return rate towards those who can afford computers, or have access to them and possess the necessary skills to use them. In view of the fact that the majority of visually impaired people in the UK are elderly people, and few have adequate access to the technology, it was felt that an electronic survey would not reach and thus accurately represent this group.

Another option; the transcription of the questionnaire into different media and formats (including Braille) for different groups was ruled out on the basis of cost and time. Not only would the questionnaire need to be transcribed, but the answers would need ‘reverse’ transcription for processing and analysis.

After consideration, it was determined that face-to-face and telephone administered structured interviews offered the most equitable and effective method of surveying for this study. This approach also offered the advantage that it would enable standardisation of conditions for each respondent; everyone would have an interviewer who could explain the questions and respond to any misunderstanding or confusion.

Who to Survey, and How to Find Them

The identification of a suitable sample offered challenges to the research team. There are serious legal and ethical issues surrounding the identification of individuals in relation to their health data. It was therefore not appropriate to obtain individual’s details via the health authorities, social services or from the member databases of other specialised organisations. The main options available for identifying suitable respondents were through a series of open promotional activities that brought the project to people’s attention. Methods employed included: advertising through newsletters, Internet newsgroups, mailing lists and personal visits by the Research Officer to clubs and societies in order to tell groups about the project and request their assistance.

The original conception of the research envisaged a study that was to interview 2000 visually impaired people divided into three groups, namely: users of public libraries (500), users of other organisations that provide library and information facilities for visually impaired people (1000) and non users (500). It soon became clear that these were very ambitious targets given the nature of the study, the potential participant population, and the workable options for the methodology. It quickly became apparent that it was impractical to identify and divide people rigidly into the three groupings of public library users, agency users and non-users. Those using libraries might also use agencies and vice versa. There was no adequate way of grouping former users or users of several services. This original sampling method would involve placing individuals into rigid definitions that might not reflect their situation accurately. Moreover, any attempt to pre-select respondents in this way would not give a true picture of activity; the percentages of users and non-users would be contrived. The issue was resolved through the decision to seek a random sample of visually impaired people. This was raised with the project Advisory Group and after consultation it was decided to change the sampling frame from that specified in the initial project proposal. It was agreed that a random sample would be more workable and generate more useful statistics.

Pilot Study

The pilot study enabled the research instrument and the overall methodology, including many practical considerations, to be refined prior to full implementation. It also provided valuable training for the researchers involved.

For convenience it was decided to conduct the pilot study locally in the Loughborough area. In August 2000 a national drama group for visually impaired people were attending an event at Loughborough University and were resident at Hazlerigg Hall on campus. The event organiser agreed for a pilot study to be undertaken and five of the group’s members were interviewed on the afternoon of Thursday 3 August 2000.

The pilot study identified a number of problems with the questions in the initial interview schedule and it was amended for the final version. There was a need for more clarity in defining different information providing agencies and this was addressed. In addition, provision was made for respondents to specify additional agencies and information providers. The pilot study also revealed that it would be helpful to be able to provide material on appropriate support organisations and providers to those interviewed. Copies of Carry On Reading leaflets and tapes from the RNIB were acquired for distribution. This leaflet contains details of TNAUK, Talking Books, Calibre, RNIB and a general help line.

Main Study

Over the course of six months the Research Officer and an assistant contacted and visited a large number of clubs and societies with visually impaired members. Some members were interviewed in person; others provided telephone contact details and were subsequently followed up by appointment. Further individuals contacted the project team after they had heard about the study elsewhere and volunteered to be interviewed. These interviews were also conducted over the telephone. Where appropriate, and with the permission of the interviewees, responses were sometimes recorded in order to glean fuller information and comment. The text of the Interview Schedule is included in Appendix 3.

A total of 582 interviews was obtained and analysed. All parts of Great Britain were visited, including Wales and Scotland. Particular emphasis was placed on obtaining interviews with those aged under 65; although children were not targeted. It is recognised that this approach does not mirror the general population of visually impaired people and due account has been taken of this in the analysis.

It should be noted that this survey presents a ‘snapshot’ of user and non-user activities as well as their views and perceptions of the services available and, importantly, the way in which they were available at the time of the interviews (during the winter of 2000-2001). Realistically, it could do no other. The range and intensity of services provided are, however, under continuous review as new ideas and challenges emerge, and as technology enables increased provision and the development of existing services. After being given sight of an initial draft of the project’s findings relevant to their own situation, a number of agencies pointed out that their services had ‘moved on’ from the position at the beginning of the project. This text incorporates such comments appropriately.


A Seminar was held at Loughborough University in May to share preliminary results with an invited audience representing, amongst others, agencies that were interested in information provision to visually impaired people. The event also enabled the project team to receive a range of views and reactions to the research and to acquire additional information regarding service provision and demand. The Seminar was very successful and the proceedings are summarised in Appendix 2.


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Results - Overview

The survey sought information on five identified key information providers offering specialist services for visually impaired people. These were:

·      Public libraries

·      RNIB Talking Books service

·      Calibre Cassette Library

·      National Library for the Blind

·      The Talking Newspaper Association of the UK (TNAUK)


The results for each organisation will be discussed separately in the sections which follow.

Overall, 37% of respondents were current users of their public library service, 37% used the RNIB Talking Books service, 16% used TNAUK, 13% used Calibre Cassette Library, and 10% used the National Library for the Blind. 31% did not use any of these services.

The majority of participants (53% of those using any service) only used one service, but 34% used two. Only three respondents claimed to use all five services investigated.

Interviewees were also asked whether they used any other sources of information and reading material. More than half (54%) said that they did. The sources most commonly referred to were small collections of material held by local societies, drop-in centres and social services departments. Some respondents included their local talking newspaper service in this section. Because of the diverse nature of the sources used, no further analysis of these has been carried out


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Demographic Analysis


The survey was aimed at adults, although a small number of people aged between 12 and 16 were interviewed. There was also an intentional bias towards interviewing people below retirement age.

The age breakdown of the sample was as follows:

up to 15 years

21 respondents


of the total


19 respondents




22 respondents




34 respondents




52 respondents




46 respondents




86 respondents




183 respondents



86 and over

119 respondents




Less detail is available for the visually impaired population as a whole, where the breakdown is:


aged 0-15 years


aged 16-64


aged 65-74, and


aged 75 and over

Source: Office of National Statistics (RNIB, 2000)

Comparative figures for the sample are:


aged 0-15


aged 16-64


aged 65-74, and


aged 75 and over


Throughout the analysis of the survey, we have commented where the difference between the sample and the population age distributions may have had a bearing on the results obtained.

The age breakdown used in the analysis is:


40 respondents


of the total


154 respondents




86 respondents




183 respondents




119 respondents




This was chosen as a compromise between even-sized groups for analysis, and a meaningful distinction between life stages (studying, working and retirement).


We also asked respondents whether they were in paid employment, and/or in full-time education. 36 respondents (6% of the total) were in paid employment, 53 (9%) were in full-time education and five (1%) were in both paid employment and full-time education. These five people were all aged between 25 and 74.

Of the 40 respondents aged under 25, all but one (98%) were in full-time education, and one (2%) was in paid employment. It seems unlikely that this would be the picture for all visually impaired young people in Great Britain.

Of the 151 respondents who may be considered of working age (25-64 years of age), 2.6% were both working and in education, 22% were employed and 9.3% were students. The remainder, 100 respondents (66% of the age group, and 17% of the whole sample), can be considered as unemployed, although some of these may have formally retired from paid employment.

These proportions are comparable to the findings of an earlier study, which estimated that 25% of blind and partially sighted people of working age are in paid employment, and that 46% of those who were economically inactive said that they wanted to work (Bruce et al, 1991).

Of those over 65 only one was employed, and also a student. The rest, 66% of the total sample, were neither employed nor studying, and of statutory retirement age.


One third of survey respondents were male (191) and two thirds female (391). The 1991 RNIB survey (Bruce et al, 1991) produced some statistics regarding gender of the adult visually impaired population, finding that 72% of visually impaired people over 16 were female, compared to 52% of the general population. This is a higher proportion of women than was interviewed by LISU, and the difference is exacerbated by the difference in age distribution between the LISU sample and the population as a whole. Although the age breakdowns used in the RNIB survey do not correspond exactly with those available to LISU, the indications are that LISU interviewed a disproportionately large number of men aged 16-64. The RNIB survey showed that 43% of visually impaired people aged 16-59 were men, whereas 50% of the LISU sample aged 16-64 were men. The gender distribution of the LISU sample is statistically significantly different from the visually impaired population as a whole, at the 1% level. Where the responses of men and women to any part of the survey are different, this will be noted in the text.


The majority of survey respondents – 560, 97% of the total – were white, with 1% coming from each of Black Caribbean, Indian and Pakistani ethnic backgrounds. There are no available figures on the ethnicity of the visually impaired population as a whole, or how this might differ from the general population. However, in 1999 93.5% of the UK population were white, 0.9% were Black Caribbean, 1.6% Indian and 1.1% Pakistani. The very small numbers of ethnic minority people interviewed preclude any detailed analysis by this factor.


Survey respondents were asked whether they were registered as blind or partially sighted. The majority – 67% – were registered as blind, 29% were registered as partially sighted, and 4% were not registered. These figures compare to RNIB estimates of just 18% of visually impaired people registered as blind and 15% registered as partially sighted (RNIB, 2000).

This imbalance is only to be expected given the survey methodology of predominately contacting people through clubs and other organisations for visually impaired people. It is very difficult to identify those with visual impairment who are not registered. They are less likely to be aware of the range of services available to them (Bruce et al, 1991).

Multiple disability

Respondents were asked if they had hearing problems, mobility problems, or any problems affecting the use of their hands. 184 respondents, 32% of the total, reported hearing problems. This compares with the 1991 RNIB survey findings that 22% of visually impaired people also used a hearing aid, although the proportion with hearing problems was rather higher, at 35% (Bruce et al, 1991).

134 respondents, 23% of the total interviewed, reported problems, such as arthritis, which affected the use of their hands. Rather more, 233 respondents, 40% of the total, reported difficulty with walking and moving around. These figures cannot be directly compared with the earlier survey, although 45% of respondents then indicated that it was “difficult to do things in the house or get about outside” (Bruce et al, 1991).


The LISU sample of 582 respondents has a younger age profile, and more even gender distribution than the population of all visually impaired people in Great Britain. Where these factors may have affected the conclusions drawn from the rest of the analysis, this will be noted in the text.

A range of ethnic groups were covered, however the small proportions of ethnic minority people in the population as a whole and the consequent low numbers in the sample prevent any analysis of this aspect.

Data on additional disability suggests that the sample is similar to the visually impaired population as a whole. Some of this additional disability is age related, but not all.

The vast majority of the sample were registered as either blind or partially sighted, in contrast to the position estimated for the visually impaired population as a whole. There are implications here for the provision of information services, as those who are not registered are more likely to be unaware of the range of services available to them.


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Preferred Formats

Research into which formats people can and prefer to use is helpful to information providers, as it assists decisions concerning the purchase of stock and equipment. Libraries and information services need to provide facilities which accurately reflect the needs of their clientele. This survey investigated the choice of preferred format in four sections: small items (such as leaflets), magazines and newspapers, fiction and non-fiction. It is common for people to prefer different formats according to such factors as the length of the text and the location in which they wish to read.

Small items

For small items most of the conventional formats were not used – often because they were not available or inconvenient. 59% (337 respondents) chose “other” and quoted someone reading or a simple magnifier as their preferred way of accessing this type of information. 59 respondents, 10%, had no fixed preference, giving more than one answer. Of the conventional formats, large print was most popular, preferred by 14%, with sound recording and Braille each preferred by 6%, standard print by 3%, a computer file by 1% (5 respondents) and just one respondent choosing Moon.

Preferences for this type of material are similar for both men and women, although there are significant differences by age. Younger respondents (those aged under 65) were more likely to prefer Braille, and less likely to prefer “other” formats such as magnifiers and people reading. The most elderly - those over 75 - did not like Braille. The reasons were not investigated but some light may be shed on this by the responses to the section on the National Library for the Blind.

Magazines and Newspapers

For magazines and newspapers sound recording was the most popular choice, 226 respondents (48%) selected this option. Once more the “other” option, including someone reading and magnifying aids, was frequently quoted by 20% of respondents. 13% had no single preference, 9% preferred large print, 6% Braille, 4% standard print and 2% a computer file. No respondents mentioned preferring Moon for this type of material.

As with small items, there is no difference in the patterns of preferred formats between men and women, but there is an age-related effect. Those aged under 65 were more likely to prefer Braille, or have no single choice, whereas older people were more likely to prefer sound recordings.


Sound recording was also the most popular choice for fiction materials, quoted by 62% of respondents. 15% did not have a single preferred format, 8% each chose large print and other formats, 4% preferred Braille, and 2% standard print. Just one respondent each preferred Moon or a computer file.

There was a clearly marked trend for the preference of sound recordings for fiction materials to increase with age. More than half those under 24 did not have a single preferred choice, although this proportion dropped rapidly with increasing age. The 25-64 age group were more likely than any of the others to choose Braille, with 10% preferring this format.


For non-fiction “other” choices such as magnifiers and readers were the most used by 232 respondents (49%). The second most preferred choice was audio recordings by 18%, 10% chose large print, 7% preferred Braille, 2% each preferred standard print or chose a computer file and one respondent preferred Moon.

Once again, there was a marked difference between the age groups. Those under 65 were more likely to choose Braille, or have no overall preference, while the more elderly overwhelmingly preferred “other” formats such as magnifiers or people reading.


There is a marked difference in format preferences for various types of material, and different age groups. Younger respondents, under 65, showed more variation in their choices, and were more likely than older people to prefer Braille, whatever the information, or to have no overall favourite format.

The difference in preferences for different types of information is clear. When reading for pleasure - fiction, newspapers and magazines - the majority of respondents clearly preferred sound recordings. For information, however - leaflets and non-fiction material - “other” formats, such as magnifiers or people reading aloud, were the clear favourite. The extent to which such preferences were tempered by expectation and experience of the formats most commonly available was not investigated.

Relatively few respondents preferred computer files for any material, and all were aged under 64. Only one respondent preferred Moon.

Use of Sound Recordings

482 respondents, 83% of the total, used sound recordings as a reading format. Of these:

51% preferred standard single-track cassettes
24% preferred multi-track cassettes
3% preferred CDs (mostly aged under 65)
and 21% expressed no preference.

Reasons given why single-track cassettes are the most popular type of sound recording used included:

·      they are readily available

·      they can be used on any standard cassette player/personal stereo

·      they are portable, and can be used when travelling and on holiday.


Some users of single-track cassettes said that they disliked multi-track cassettes because they did not like the equipment needed, finding it bulky and inconvenient. Older respondents were more likely to prefer this format than those under 65. A quarter of sound recording users prefer multi-track cassettes, showing that there is a significant demand for this format. One reason given for preferring multi-track cassettes was that there are fewer tapes per book and hence less struggling to change tapes and sort them into the correct listening order. It is all too easy to overlook the fact that sorting tapes into the correct order can be a big problem for a visually impaired person.

Only 3% of respondents said that they preferred CDs - many reasons can be offered to explain this low figure. CDs are a newer format than both types of cassette and hence there are fewer books available on CD as yet. They are also more costly. The high cost of CD players compared to tape players is another reason why CDs are the least used sound recording format; many people already possess a cassette player and they are relatively cheap to acquire. It should be noted that The British Wireless for the Blind Fund provides cassette players free of charge to registered blind people if they cannot afford to purchase equipment.

The survey discovered that CDs were more likely to be preferred by younger respondents - 15% of those under 25, and 7% of those between 25 and 64 preferred CDs. This may explain further the low appeal of CDs given that a large proportion of visually impaired people are elderly and may be less comfortable in adjusting to the new technology.

It is very likely that preferences will change in future and the number of people who use spoken word CD recordings will rise as more material becomes available in the format, CD players become cheaper and a new generation of users more comfortable with new technology emerges.

Preferences regarding abridged and unabridged audio books were explored. Some 63% of the interviewees that use sound recordings prefer unabridged audio books, 23% have no preference either way and 9% prefer abridged. (5% did not understand the question). There was no difference by age or gender. These figures suggest that although the majority of visually impaired people prefer unabridged sound recordings, there is a small market for abridged materials and there should be provision for those users who prefer abridged works. Most interviewees said that they preferred unabridged audio books because they wanted equality of access to that of a sighted person. If they had the whole version of a book, then they had the option of reading those sections they wanted.

Only 75 respondents (13%) had used RNIB audio-described videos. This small percentage is mostly because people have not heard about them. There is also a clear association here with age. 60% of under 25s have used audio-described videos, compared to 19% of those aged 25-64, 12% of 65-74 year olds, 6% of those aged 75-85, and just 2% of those over 85.

There is also a slight association with gender, 18% of men have used audio-described videos, compared to 11% of women. The extent to which this is related to age differences and the imbalance in the sample cannot be fully ascertained on the current data.

Those that do use audio described videos get them from a variety of sources: 16% have borrowed them from the library, 36% have ordered them from the RNIB and 48% have obtained them by other means, often borrowing them informally from friends or from a local society.


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Use of Information Technology

Respondents were asked whether they used computers to find information. 23% did use them, and there was a statistically significant difference between age groups, and between men and women.

Younger people were much more likely to use computers than those who are older, and men more likely to use them than women (although this effect may be confounded by the age distribution of the sample).

By age, 98% of those under 25 used computers, compared to

53% of those aged 25-64
5% of those 65-74
3% of those 75-85, and
2% of those aged over 85.

By gender, 36% of men, but only 16% of women used computers.

83% of those who used computers had one at home, and there was no difference between the age groups or between men and women. 74% of those using computers used them somewhere else - mostly at school/college or at work, according to their age. Only four respondents said they used computers in the public library.

Those who used computers were asked how they used them:

38% used speech software
23% enlarged the text
3% used a screen magnifier
1% used a refreshable Braille display
3% quoted “other”
32% said they used more than one method, ie using both speech software and enlarging the display.

Computer users were also asked for what purpose they used computers:

80% said for doing their own work and correspondence
72% used email
68% said they accessed leisure information
48% used computers for study
37% accessed work information
9% quoted other uses.

In addition, they were asked which applications they used:

94% used word processing software
76% used the Internet
64% used spreadsheets databases
62% used CD-ROMs.

These high figures illustrate that, although the proportion of visually impaired people using computers is still in a minority, those that do so are highly competent and use a variety of functions.

It is interesting to note that 98 respondents (17% of the whole sample) used the Internet, although the survey did not distinguish whether they had Internet access on their home computer, on a machine somewhere else, or both. Compared to the national average of households with access to the Internet this figure is only slightly lower. Data from the Office for National Statistics (2000) for the year 2000 reveals that 19% of all households have access to the Internet. However, when these data are separated into age ranges it reveals that only 5% of retired couples and 1% of retired individuals use the Internet at home. In the LISU survey nine respondents over the age of 55 use the Internet, which is just over 1% of the sample. This reflects the national figure for home Internet users in the older age ranges.

As the proportion of people with access to IT and appropriate skills increases in the population it is very likely that the incidence of take-up of IT by visually impaired people will grow. The trend towards more user-friendly systems and equipment will also play a positive part. What is important is that the needs of visually impaired people are accorded appropriate attention by the developers and operators of those systems.


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Use of Public Libraries

There is a long tradition of public library provision in the UK. The sector offers an extensive range of services to the population at large. Currently, some 208 library authorities between them provide almost 4,900 fixed and mobile service points (LISU, 2000). Recent initiatives such as the introduction of the Peoples Network (Peoples Network Online, 2000) underline the way in which the services are maintaining, and indeed even extending their capacity to fulfil their role as channels of information. The public library movement is recognised as an important force in the cultural and economic wellbeing of the nation. Furthermore, there is a growing awareness of the role of public libraries as agencies for fostering social inclusion and facilitating lifelong learning. As such it has had to seek to develop as an agency that presents no barriers – economic, social, or indeed physical – to access.

Only 6% of all respondents had never been to, or used a public library. However only 31% of the sample were recent public library users and had been within the last six months;
6% had been within the last year
7% within the last three years
50% had not been for at least three years or more.

Most of those who had not been to the public library during the previous three years said that this was due to them preferring the services of other organisations since losing their vision. There is a clear relationship with age, with older respondents less likely to have visited the public library within the last year than younger people.

54% of respondents under 25 had visited the library in the last year, compared to:

48% of those aged 25-64
34% of those aged 65-74
32% of those aged 75-85
25% of those over 85.

The following questions in this section were only answered by those who had used a public library within the last year. These were defined as recent public library users. and comprised 213 respondents, or 37% of the overall sample.

Recent public library users were asked whether they used a local or regional branch:

79% used their local branch
16% used a regional branch
5% used both.

Overwhelmingly it seemed that library users visited the nearest branch to their homes, regardless of age or gender.

Methods of transport to the library varied:

44% walked
26% caught the bus
24% went by car
6% quoted “other” means of transport.

Users were asked whether they had encountered problems getting to the library. 20% said yes, 80% said no. There was no difference by age. Often older respondents told the researchers that they were restricted in their mobility and that often it was difficult to arrange for someone to drive them to such places as the library.

Respondents were asked whether they go to the library by themselves or with others; 40% of public library users go to the library on their own, 60% go with someone else. Many respondents were, however, quick to point out that they did not take someone because they needed assistance, for example, some respondents said that they took their children to the public library to help them with their studies. Age has a slight influence on responses - those under 25 were most likely to be accompanied (75% of this age group), compared to 44% of 25-64 year olds. The proportion being accompanied then rises again with age, to 69% of the over 85s.

The survey asked about the enrolment process. Only 4% of the recent library users had experienced problems when registering with a library. Some 51% of library users said they did not know whether the joining form was available in alternative formats (however, many respondents had joined the library many years before, often before their sight had deteriorated). It was stated by 42% that the form was not available in alternative formats, but that the librarian had filled it in for them.

Regarding the signposting and layout of the public library used by the respondent, interviewees were asked to rate how easy it was to find the sections that they needed. Half of the public library users (91 respondents) stated that it was very easy for them to navigate around the library. However, 34% claimed that they experienced a few problems and 16% said that it was very problematic. There is an interesting correlation with age here with the 25-64 age group reporting significantly more difficulty than younger or older respondents.

Mobile and home delivery services were examined. Often respondents who used home delivery services would say they were not a public library user in the true sense. It then depended on the initiative of the interviewer to find out about this aspect of access and to ask the appropriate questions. Around half the total sample (268 respondents) were asked about the existence of these services and 15% said there was no service; 34% did not know whether a service operated or not. These responses should be a cause of concern in public library authorities everywhere, because they indicate a lack of awareness of what is available. Kinnell et al (2000) found that 93% of public library authorities in the UK provide outreach services for visually impaired housebound people, and 92% operate mobile libraries (CIPFA, 2001). The survey discovered that 12% of the overall sample had used either home delivery or mobile public library services.

Respondents were asked to rate the collection of material for people with impaired sight at the library which they used. The results showed that 18% rated it “excellent”, 39% “good”, 27% “adequate” but 15% thought it “poor”. The more elderly respondents were likely to give higher ratings. Although this age group form the majority of visually impaired people, there is scope for targeting the collection to the needs of younger users more closely.

When asked about the formats available, 60% of respondents were aware of large print book collections, and 85% of audio recordings. Very few were aware of any other available formats. The study by Kinnell et al (2000) showed that these other materials were widely available, in almost all branch libraries and mobile libraries. There may be an issue to be addressed here regarding promotion and publicity to increase awareness among visually impaired people of what is available to them.

The results indicate that 18% of visually impaired public library users make information requests once a week on average, 24% do so once a month, 28% less often, and 30% never. Those who do make requests were almost all satisfied with the response, as only 4% were not satisfied.

Special services in libraries were investigated by the survey – 41% of public library users said that their library did not offer transcription or enlarging services, 28% they did not know and 31% said that their library did provide such facilities. Some 21% reported a waiting list for some services, but this was rarely longer than a month.

There was confusion amongst respondents regarding the issue of charging for services. Most library users did not know whether sighted people were charged for services, as they themselves received concessions. In the survey 32% said their library did have charges, 48% said they did not and 20% said they did not know. Furthermore, 54% said visually impaired people received concessions, 10% said they did not and 37% said they did not know.

The research attempted to gather information regarding the respondents’ opinions of public library staff awareness of visual impairment issues. Some 72% of public library users thought that library staff were aware of their needs and the available resources, 12% said they were not and 16% said they did not know. Asked to rate their opinion of the attitude and helpfulness of library staff, 54% thought they were excellent, 37% thought they were good, 7% considered them to be adequate and only 2% thought they were poor. Therefore, when the results are aggregated together some 91% of respondents regard the staff as good or even better. Some 29% reported that staff referred them to other agencies for services which the public library did not provide.

Overall, 87% of recent public library users said they were satisfied with the service in general. However, there is again a difference between the age groups, although there is insufficient data to test the statistical significance of this. Older users are more likely to be satisfied than younger users. 80% of those under 25 were satisfied, compared to 85% of those aged between 25 and 74, 90% of those 75-85, and 97% of the over 85s.

These reported satisfaction levels, even amongst the youngest age group, are high, but should not give rise to complacency. Satisfaction is inextricably linked with expectation, and gratitude for any sort of service can colour the responses. The findings of this section of the survey indicate that there is confusion over issues such as charging for services, and the availability of equipment, and there is a potentially serious lack of awareness of the facilities available in public libraries for visually impaired people. Many public library users are “lost” as they lose their sight and mobility with increasing age. The availability of services and resources that enable them to continue with the pleasures of reading needs to be made better known. Equally, the needs and awareness of younger visually impaired people need to be addressed. Although there are obvious resource implications in promoting available services and attracting new users, the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act imply that this should be undertaken to promote equality of access for all.

Note that this study surveyed users and not providers. Moreover, it gathered information about their perceptions as well as their activities. The provision of services to visually impaired people by public libraries, and the access to other services provided through public libraries were examined in Kinnell et al (2000). The extent to which users’ perceptions match the provision locally available is a matter for assessment by individual authorities.


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RNIB Talking Books Service

The Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), founded in 1868, is one of Britain’s leading and best known charities. It provides over 60 different services for visually impaired people and it actively campaigns for the elimination of discrimination and works towards the amelioration of blindness. Preparation and distribution of RNIB Talking Books is one of the best known of RNIB’s many services, and it is available to anyone who cannot read standard type (N12 or less) comfortably with the best possible spectacles. The service began in 1935 and has changed much since then. Originally, a talking book consisted of a specially designed gramophone record that held 25 minutes of recorded material per side. Now the books are recorded, unabridged, onto multi-track cassettes, which can hold up to 12 hours of reading and they are played on machines specially adapted for people with sight loss. RNIB issues 3 million Talking Books every year. Members receive their “books” by post and can choose from a catalogue containing over 12,000 titles including fiction, non-fiction, children’s books and books in Asian languages and Welsh.

Of the non-public library agencies, RNIB Talking Books service had the highest number of users with 37% (215 respondents) of the sample being current borrowers. Former users accounted for 14% (84 respondents) of the sample and 49% (282 respondents) had never tried the service.

There was no difference in use of this service by gender, but a statistically significant difference by age of respondent.

73% of those under 24 had never used the service, compared to 40% of those aged 25-64, 45% of those aged 65-74, and 50% of those over 75. The proportion of former users was highest in the 25-64 age group, at 23%. Just 5% of under 25s were former users, as were 15% of those aged 65–74, 10% of 75-85 year olds, and 13% of those over 85.

Reasons why the RNIB Talking Books service has a larger customer base than some of the other sound recording providers include:

·      the service is well known and hence often recommended

·      people think that there is a wider choice of titles available than from other sources, including public libraries

·      many people perceive that this is the main option available to them to “carry on reading” when they can no longer comfortably read print.

The former users were asked why they had ceased using the service. There were a variety of responses. Some interviewees simply said that they had become bored of listening to audio books and that they had found different hobbies and interests. Others said that they no longer had time to read because of a change in lifestyle. Some people discontinued the service because they had opted to use another format; some preferred to read Braille thus ‘abandoning’ audio books. Others said that they had received treatment for their eye condition and that they could now read large print. The main reasons cited for leaving the RNIB Talking Books service were:

·      Machine is too bulky (10 respondents, 12% of the total)

·      Machine difficult to use (9 respondents, 11%)

·      Machine breaking down (9 respondents, 11%)

·      Background noise on the tapes (4 respondents, 5%)

·      Tapes too long (3 respondents, 4%)

·      Exhausted titles that they were interested in/ did not like range of titles (2 respondents, 2%)

·      Dull readers (2 respondents, 2%)

·      Machine is not portable (2 respondents, 2%)

·      Could not compile list of titles on their own (2 respondents, 2%)

·      Too expensive (1 respondent, 1%)

·      Too much bad language in the modern titles (1 respondent, 1%)

Just under half of the whole sample - 282 respondents - had never used RNIB Talking Books. Reasons quoted were:

·      Prefer other reading formats (31 respondents, 11%)

·      Prefer to borrow audio books from public libraries (23 respondents, 8%)

·      Not heard of RNIB Talking Books or do not know how to join (22 respondents, 8%)

·      Prefer to use Calibre (16 respondents, 6%)

·      Do not like Talking Book’s machines (12 respondents, 4%)

·      Too busy/prefer other hobbies (7 respondents, 2%)

·      The service perceived to be too expensive to subscribe (7 respondents, 2%)

·      Prefer to borrow audio books from local societies (6 respondents, 2%)

·      Titles perceived to be not up to date (2 respondents, 1%)

·      Negative feedback from friends (2 respondents, 1%)

·      Prefer to buy their own audio books (2 respondents, 1%)

·      Hearing problems mean cannot use audio books (1 respondent)

·      Thought RNIB Talking Books were abridged (1 respondent)

·      Thought the service was too patronising (1 respondent)

·      Prefer to use school library (1 respondent)

The remaining questions regarding RNIB Talking Books were asked of the current users of the service (37% of the overall sample, 215 respondents) This forms the basis of the remaining analysis in this section.

RNIB Talking Book users were asked how long they had subscribed to the service. There are significant peaks in the years in which people joined. In particular, 15% of RNIB Talking Book users have been members for two years, perhaps indicating a big recruitment drive that occurred around 1998. This year coincides with the publication of a leaflet called “Carry on Reading”, which was produced to make more people aware of the library and related services that are available to visually impaired people in the UK. It shows the efficacy of such publicity drives.

Overall, the average length of membership of the service was just over ten years.

10% of users had belonged for up to 1 year
17% between 1 and 2 years
9% between 2 and 3 years
6% between 3 and 4 years
10% between 4 and 5 years
20% between 6 and 10 years
17% between 11 and 20 years
6% between 20 and 30 years
7% for more than 30 years.

RNIB Talking Books users were asked how they had initially heard about the service. One third of RNIB Talking Books users had heard about the service through a Social Services department (67 respondents) and 7% through their rehabilitation officer (14 respondents). One explanation for these figures may be that these respondents lived in areas of the country where local authorities are prepared either to pay for or subsidise the provision. A few (10%) were told by a friend or relative and 91, representing (42%), cited “other” sources. Examples of “other” sources quoted by the respondents included local societies, local resource centres and public libraries. Only 5% of respondents had heard of the service through a school, whether a special or mainstream school, and significantly, only one respondent under 25 had heard of the service this way.

Members were asked whether they had had problems when first registering with RNIB Talking Books. A large number (96%) had not had problems, only 4% said that they had experienced difficulties in joining. Sometimes these problems related to a delay in the individual being registered as blind or partially sighted, rather than in any problem with the actual process of RNIB enrolment. This seems to be an issue relating to the availability of appointments with ophthalmologists and certification.

The next question asked about how people joined RNIB Talking Books and whether the form was available in other formats. There was considerable confusion over this question, often because members had joined a few years before and could not remember. The majority, 80%, were correct in saying that the form was in print and that they had got someone to fill it in for them.

The survey attempted to find out who paid for RNIB Talking Books membership subscriptions. Half of the interviewees understood that Social Services departments paid their subscription; this was the most common means of payment. Some 9% of respondents paid their subscription themselves, 4% thought that their public library paid for them, 9% quoted other sources, for example, payment by a local society or a relative. A significant number, 23%, did not know that there was a fee or who paid it for them if there was one.

Current users were also asked what they thought of the range of titles available and the physical quality of the tapes and players. The RNIB range of titles was thought to be excellent by 51% of respondents, 41% thought it was good, 8% thought that it was adequate and only one user thought the range was poor. Responses to a question relating to users’ opinions of the condition of the player and tapes were not so overwhelmingly favourable: 36% of users thought they were excellent, 49% claimed they were good, 13% said adequate and 2% thought they were poor.

With regard to the general level of service, 80% of users reported having no problems with the service. Overall, 56% of respondents thought that the service was excellent in general, 39% considered it to be good, 5% claimed it was adequate and no respondents thought it was poor. Despite these reported high levels of satisfaction; 42 respondents (20% of the present users of this service) claimed that they had experienced problems. Examples of problems cited by respondents include:

·      Twisted tapes

·      Wrong titles being sent

·      Unsuitable titles being sent, after user had requested not to receive any books containing sex and violence

·      Was not warned about titles containing bad language

·      Too many romance titles

·      Not enough non-fiction available

·      Tapes sent in wrong order 

·      Time lapse in tapes being sent

·      Long waiting time for certain titles

·      Catalogue difficult to use without assistance

·      No Braille catalogue

·      Catalogue not available digitally or online

·      Difficult procedure for choosing titles, having to request a list of 40 titles is too onerous

·      Have to be over 18 to order them yourself

·      Customer service staff on telephone help line perceived as unhelpful

The final question in this section asked users for their opinions on how the Talking Books service could be improved. Here are some of their suggestions:

·      Make titles available on CD not tape

·      Make it a free service

·      Check tapes more thoroughly

·      Weed out old broken tapes and replace them

·      Label tapes more clearly

·      Enable machines to fast forward as well as rewind

·      Make quieter machines

·      Have more sophisticated volume control

·      Have clearer instructions for the machines

·      Use contrasting colour plastic on the machines to make them easier to use

·      Make machines smaller and portable

·      Speed up repair of broken machines

·      Have an option for the user to buy the machine

·      Send less titles if the user is a slow reader

·      Employ better readers, with more interesting voices

·      Have more classics available in the choice of titles

·      Have more new titles

·      Try not to send same title twice

·      Have more local history titles

·      Review other titles on the end of books

·      Have more information on new titles

·      Make catalogue available in all formats

·      Make catalogue available on the Internet

·      Have better training for customer services staff

·      Check requests – so what is sent matches what is wanted

·      Provide joining forms and information in all formats

·      ‘Tighten up’ on people who don’t return books

RNIB Talking Books is a well-known and well-used service and this survey indicates that current borrowers seem generally satisfied. However, complacency is to be avoided. Survey respondents quoted a range of problems and offered many positive suggestions for improvement. There is clearly scope for the RNIB to use the opinions and feedback from its users to develop and enhance provision in the future.


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Calibre Cassette Library

Calibre Cassette Library is a registered charity, set up in 1974 to provide a postal lending library to people who, for whatever reason, cannot read books in a printed format. This service is free to anyone supplying a certificate confirming their entitlement to such provision. At the time of writing Calibre’s distribution delivers 1,800 cassette packages a day to its 15,759 members, using standard cassettes, hence no special equipment is required. Their catalogues, for which there is a small fee, are available in print, on audio cassette or computer disk and there are frequent updates of the latest titles available. There are over 5,000 adult and 1,000 children’s titles to choose from in the collection, covering both fiction and non-fiction.


Calibre has a smaller membership than RNIB Talking Books: 15,795 and 45,831 respectively and this ratio is reflected in our sample. However, Calibre offers an important alternative. It uses standard single-track cassettes, which can be used on any tape player and which are therefore portable. The service has no subscription fee.

It is interesting that the age profile of Calibre members is slightly younger than that of the visually impaired population as a whole. Although direct comparisons cannot be made because the age categories used do not match entirely, membership statistics gathered in July 2000 show that:

9% of Calibre members are aged 0-16, compared to 2% of all visually impaired people aged 0-15.

17% of Calibre members are aged 17-59, compared to 16% of all visually impaired people aged 16 to 64.

65% of Calibre members are aged 70 or over, compared to 71% of all visually impaired people aged 75 or over.

It may be that the more conventional format and portability of Calibre tapes is preferred by younger people, or that the elderly find them more difficult to handle as they lose flexibility in their hands.

Calibre Cassette Library was used by 78 interviewees (13% of the sample), a further 41 interviewees (7%) were ex members of the service and 461 respondents (80%) had never been a Calibre user.

Calibre users cited several reasons why they chose to borrow tapes from this service. Format was an important issue. Calibre members often said that they liked being able to use the standard cassettes in their own tape players; one user commented, “I like the standard cassettes because they can be used in a Walkman”. This issue is also connected to portability: one can use a variety of players, so there is more freedom to listen to books whilst travelling or engaging in another activity.

Cost was another reason why Calibre users liked this service; unlike RNIB Talking Books or Talking Newspapers UK, Calibre does not have a subscription fee. Most members really appreciated this aim of providing a service free to the borrower and many members revealed how they voluntarily sent donations or raised funds to support Calibre. Members also commented on details such as the catalogue being in large print and the newsletter being produced on cassette as reasons why they thought the service was making a real effort to reflect the needs of its members: “I like the large print catalogue and the talking newsletter, it is a very good service”.

However, 41 survey respondents had been Calibre members in the past, but had stopped their use of this service. Noted below are the reasons given for discontinuing membership of Calibre. (Some former users quoted more than one reason.)

·      Perceived the tapes to be in poor condition (5 respondents)

·      Too busy to listen to tapes (5 respondents)

·      Prefers to borrow tapes from the public library (4 respondents)

·      Was bombarded with too many cassettes (3 respondents)

·      Finds single track cassettes difficult to use (2 respondents)

·      Prefers RNIB Talking Books (2 respondents)

·      Readers sound amateurish (2 respondents)

·      Background noise on cassettes (2 respondents)

·      Rarely received titles that had been requested (1 respondent)

·      Has developed hearing problems and no longer uses tapes (1 respondent)

·      Needed someone to help choose from catalogue (1 respondent)

·      Cassettes were sent in incorrect sequence (1 respondent)

·      Did not like packaging of cassettes (1 respondent)

·      Has problems posting back the cassettes (1 respondent)

·      Prefers to listen to the radio (1 respondent)

·      Prefers to read Braille (1 respondent)

·      Prefers to buy their own books on cassette (1 respondent)

A large proportion, 80% of the total sample (461 respondents) had never tried Calibre. The survey asked interviewees why this was so:

·      Has not heard of Calibre before (136 respondents, 30% of those who had never used the service)

·      Prefers RNIB Talking Books (43 respondents, 9%)

·      Not interested in reading (21 respondents, 5%)

·      Prefers to borrow audio books from the local library (13 respondents, 3%)

·      Prefers to read large print (9 respondents, 2%)

·      Has no time to read (9 respondents, 2%)

·      Prefers to borrow books on tape from their local society (6 respondents, 1%)

·      Prefers to read Braille (3 respondents, 1%)

·      Thinks that they have to pay a fee (3 respondents, 1%)

·      Thinks the books are abridged (2 respondents)

·      Has heard rumours that Calibre readers are poor quality (2 respondents)

·      Prefers to listen to the radio (2 respondents)

·      Audio books send them to sleep (2 respondents)

·      Does not like using standard cassettes (1 respondent)

·      Has other hobbies (1 respondent)

·      Is hard of hearing and finds audio books difficult to use (1 respondent)

·      Would find it inconvenient to post tapes back (1 respondent)

·      Prefers to buy their own books on cassette (1 respondent)

·      Has heard from friends that Calibre cassettes are poor quality (1 respondent)

The remaining questions regarding Calibre Cassette Library were asked of the current users of the service (13% of the overall sample, 78 respondents in all).

The average length of membership of Calibre was 6 years 8 months. Recruitment seems to have been consistent, though there were higher numbers of members who had joined within the previous two years. This could be explained by either Calibre having had more marketing/promotion successes in 1999/2000 or that the interviewees identified had only recently (within the last two years) developed their visual impairment. As with the RNIB Talking Books service, the introduction of the “Carry on Reading” leaflet around 1998 could have increased awareness and resulted in increased member figures.

16 respondents, 21%, had been using the service less than a year
11 respondents, 15%, for between 1 and 2 years
7 respondents, 9%, for each of 2-3 years, 3-4 years and 4-5 years
13 respondents, 17%, had used the service for between 6 and 10 years
10 respondents, 13%, had used it for between 10 and 20 years
4 respondents, 5%, for more than 20 years.

Calibre users were asked how they were initially informed about the organisation. The fact that nearly one quarter of all survey respondents had not previously heard about the Calibre service is quite significant and highlights promotion as a very important issue.

Some 25% of Calibre users (19 respondents) interviewed had heard about the service from Social Services, 3% (2 respondents) from their rehabilitation officer, 17% (13 respondents) had been informed by friends or relatives, and 1% (1 respondent) from school (mainstream). However, 54% (41 respondents) quoted “other” sources, which included public libraries, exhibition stalls at events such as Vision, local societies and local resource centres.

The age profile of Calibre users is slightly younger than that of the survey sample as a whole, with just 13% being over 85 compared to 20% of the whole sample. It is perhaps disappointing, therefore, that only one interviewee had discovered Calibre from information at school. More advertising of the service in educational establishments could be a potentially useful promotional mechanism.

Calibre members were asked about any problems that occurred during applying for the service. Encouragingly, 65 respondents, representing 93% of members, said that they had not had any problems; five interviewees (7%) said that they did have some difficulty. Their comments included: “I needed assistance because the form was printed”; “I wished I could join online, but I needed to get a doctor’s signature to prove I was registered”. It should be noted the form is available on the World Wide Web page http://www.calibre.org.uk/membership_app.htm. However, this form could not be submitted electronically; it has to be printed out and sent in with a signed form http://www.calibre.org.uk/certificate.htm to confirm that the person applying is visually impaired. Calibre have since updated their web site, and it is now possible to join on-line.

Those interviewed were asked a specific question regarding the format of the joining form. Some respondents had been a member for a long time and could not remember; 17 respondents, 22%, said they did not know in what format the form was available. Six members, 8%, thought that it was available in large print but 48 respondents, 63%, said that they got someone else to fill it in for them.

Calibre users were asked whether they had to pay for the service. Some 13% thought that a Social Services department paid a subscription fee for them, 26% said they paid themselves (though they did not specify whether this was a voluntary donation or a fee) and 44% correctly reported that Calibre was a free service. The confusion probably arises from the fact that although Calibre is technically free, the organisation does make a small charge for catalogues and also seeks donations from members.

Service quality

The survey posed questions relating to the stock. Current users were asked what they thought of the range of titles available and the physical quality of the cassettes.

Half the respondents thought that the Calibre range of titles was excellent, 42% thought it was good and 8% adequate. None of the Calibre users thought that the range was poor.

In response to a question relating to what they thought of the physical condition of the tapes, 28% of users thought they were excellent, 51% claimed they were good, 18% said adequate but 3% thought that they were poor.

Overall, 65% of users rated the service as excellent in general, 30% considered it to be good, 4% claimed it was adequate and one respondent thought that it was poor.

Only eight interviewees told researchers that they had previously had problems with Calibre’s service. Problems cited included:

·      Calibre claimed that the user had lost a tape and now they will only send one book at a time.

·      A user had accidentally mixed up one of their personal tapes with a Calibre tape and Calibre did not return the user’s tape.

·      Calibre’s computerised systems do not always process orders in logical sequence. One user ordered a trilogy and received part 3 before part 1.

Calibre users were asked for their suggestions regarding how they thought the service could be improved. Here are some of their ideas:

·      Improve the packing material, as it is awkward for the elderly and those with arthritis

·      Make packaging stronger and more secure

·      Have more copies of the latest titles

·      Be more sensitive and understanding when accusing members of losing tapes

·      Use one reader only for each title, changing readers is distracting

·      Don’t use readers with monotone voices

·      Have facility to submit joining form online

·      Expand choice of titles

·      Update the catalogues more frequently

·      Have more sports and autobiography titles

·      Make users more aware that you can have the catalogue available on computer disk


Calibre Cassette Library is less widely known than the RNIB Talking Books Service, and appears to appeal to a slightly younger clientele. Although numbers in membership (and tapes issued) have increased since the survey was undertaken, there remains scope for widening the membership, and promotional activity within schools and colleges, as only one user in our sample had heard of Calibre through school.

Current users rated the service highly, with over half regarding it as excellent. Former users had a number of criticisms which could be addressed. There was some confusion over payment for the service, and concern over the joining procedure, although the move to on-line enrolment is evidence that service development continues.


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The National Library for the Blind

The National Library for the Blind, based in Stockport, was founded over a hundred years ago. It provides a postal lending service of material transcribed into Braille and Moon, free of charge to anyone with a visual impairment. Members have access to over 40,000 titles in Braille and about 4,000 in Moon. The National Library for the Blind also provides learning materials for readers who are Braille or Moon beginners, or for those who wish to improve their Braille or Moon reading skills. It also has an extensive web site providing an array of electronic services including, among other things: an OPAC, a writers in residence section, Book Forager selection aid, KnowUK on-line reference resource, and an accessible websites portal.

People choose to use the National Library for the Blind because it offers a wide choice of titles in Braille that are unavailable elsewhere. Also it provides material to assist them in learning and practising Braille or Moon reading. The respondents that preferred Braille as a format said that they favoured it, because it was ‘active reading’ not passive listening.


The National Library for the Blind is different from other library lending services for visually impaired people in that it provides tactile formats as opposed to audio books or large print. Readers mostly join the NLB at a young age (people who may have been born with a visual impairment) whilst in education and continue using the service throughout their lives. Those who have acquired a visual impairment later in life tend not to learn Braille and so cannot use the service. This may be attributed to various health conditions limiting their sense of touch, as well as the restricted availability of Braille or Moon tutors. These issues are further explored below.

The National Library for the Blind had fewer members than the other organisations investigated by this survey. Only 33 respondents said that they preferred to use tactile reading methods and this will have an inevitable influence on membership. Some 56 interviewees, representing 10% of the sample, were current National Library for the Blind users, 18 respondents (3%) were former users and 503 respondents (87%) said that they had never used this service.

The age profile of NLB members in the sample is much younger than that of the non-members in the survey, or of the visually impaired population as a whole. Of the 56 members, 30% were under 25, 54% aged between 25 and 64, 9% between 65 and 74, and 8% 75 or over.

Looked at the other way, 43% of those aged under 24 in the sample were members of NLB, but this proportion fell dramatically with increasing age. 20% of those aged 25-64 were members, 6% of those aged 65-74, 1% of those aged 75-85 and 2% of those over 85. Only nine NLB members in our survey were aged 65 or over. Younger people are much more likely to be members than their elders. The survey did not interview children but it is interesting to ponder what proportion of the National Library for the Blind membership is aged under 16.

A small number of respondents (18) were former users of the National Library for the Blind. The reasons given for deciding to discontinue membership included:

·      Not enough time to read

·      It takes longer to read Braille than to listen to tapes

·      Prefers RNIB Talking Books

·      Prefers Calibre

·      Posting the books back was bothersome

·      Started learning Moon but gave up

·      Got out of the habit of reading Braille

·      Books too large and cumbersome

·      Arthritis in hands worsened and made it difficult to read

·      Already had enough reading material from other sources

·      Used them whilst in education but not after finishing course

Many respondents (503) had never been a borrower of the NLB; this was attributable to several factors:

·      Cannot read Braille or Moon (201 respondents, 40% of those never using the service)

·      Never heard of the NLB (127 respondents, 25%)

·      Prefers to use other information providers (13 respondents, 3%)

·      Borrows Braille from elsewhere (8 respondents, 2%)

·      Reads Braille too slowly (6 respondents, 1%)

·      Prefers to use tapes (6 respondents, 1%)

·      Thought that there was a charge to use the service (3 respondents, 1%)

·      Too busy (3 respondents, 1%)

·      Does not like reading fiction (2 respondents, less than 1%)

·      Inconvenient to post books back (2 respondents, less than 1%)

·      Thought that they had to pay postage (1 respondent, less than 1%)

·      Did not know how to join (1 respondent, less than 1%)

The remaining questions regarding the National Library for the Blind were then asked of the 56 current users of the service (10% of the overall sample). As the numbers are very small, no percentages are given in the analysis.

National Library for the Blind borrowers were asked when they first subscribed to the service. Many respondents had been users for many years; 32 respondents had been members for over six years, including nine members who had been borrowing Braille for over 31 years. It would appear that some National Library for the Blind users demonstrate a particular loyalty towards it. There has been no dramatic increase in membership over the last few years. This may indicate a need to reassess marketing strategies and promotional activity. It should be noted that one survey respondent had joined in the previous year, five members had joined two years before, four had joined three years before, four joined four years before and five had been members for five years.

National Library for the Blind users were asked how they discovered the service. Sixteen respondents had heard about the NLB from a special school, four had heard from a mainstream school, three had heard from a Social Services department, three had heard from their rehabilitation officer, seven from friends and relations. Twenty-one interviewees quoted “other”- including parents, universities, Braille tutors, magazines and local societies. This is a different pattern from that found for the audio material lending services.

It appears that the National Library for the Blind recruits younger users through schools, parents and higher education establishments. This is possibly because Braille is easier to learn when one is young, as the sensitivity in the fingers and concentration levels are more in tune to learning. Braille is also an independent active format of reading and many young visually impaired people are taught it to help in their daily lives. Fewer older people learn Braille; as health conditions often associated with old age, such as arthritis or diabetes often affect their ability to feel the letters. Another factor is that people who develop a visual impairment later in life may find it difficult to learn a completely new skill. They often prefer audio books which are relatively easily available and easy to use.

Only one National Library for the Blind user had had problems joining and the reason was that it was difficult to find out contact details for the organisation.

Respondents were asked about the format of the joining form. As with the respondents who used Calibre Cassette Library, some had been in membership for a long time and, understandably, they could not remember the detail. Some 14 of users said they did not know in what format the form was available. One member thought that it was available in large print, one thought that it was available in Braille and 31 said that they got someone else to fill it in for them.

Users were asked whether they had to pay a subscription to borrow from the collection and 28 interviewees correctly perceived the service to be free. Eight users thought that Social Services departments paid a fee for them and two users said they paid themselves, though it transpired that they were giving a donation rather than paying a fixed fee.

Current National Library for the Blind users were asked what they thought of the range of titles available and the physical quality of the Braille and Moon books. On the whole, responses were favourable as 13 borrowers thought that the title range was excellent, 30 thought that is was good and 11 considered it to be adequate. None of the interviewees stated that it was poor. However as the NLB is the largest Braille lending facility in the UK and borrowers may not be aware of the NLB’s Braille title output compared to the output of print publishers, it is possible that there is low expectation. Many customers are aware of, and are grateful for the NLB’s efforts to improve the availability of new titles in initiatives such as the Cheetah project. This initiative aims to put a selection of the latest book titles into Braille faster than normal by cutting down on the editing and formatting time.

Users were asked what they thought about the physical condition of the Braille and Moon books. There was a favourable response with 19 rating them as excellent, 28 good, and seven as adequate. Again, none of the users quoted the “poor” option. Is important to note that Braille books do not have the complications and problems of audio book formats with, for example, tapes twisting and breaking. However, it has to be acknowledged that they can be damaged in other ways including: squashed dots, torn pages and damaged covers.

Overall 26 users thought that the service was excellent, 25 thought that it was good and only four thought that it was adequate. None thought it poor. Many National Library for the Blind users are very satisfied with the service and stay loyal members for many years.

Despite this high level of satisfaction, ten users did state that they had experienced problems with the service. Here are some of the problems that were cited:

·      Waiting for new titles, especially children’s titles (One user waited 12 months to read a Harry Potter title)

·      Problems sending the books back in the post as they are large and heavy

·      Would be better if they sent the whole catalogue every year, and not just bulletins

·      Service needs to be quicker

·      Does not like receiving randomly selected titles

·      Wants more varied titles, not just popular fiction

·      Some books have been well used, are worn down and need replacing

·      Has exhausted the titles in which they are interested

·      Some books regarding specialist interests seem not to be catered for

The research then examined how NLB users thought that the service could be enhanced:

·      Create a more extensive range of titles

·      Transcribe more new titles and best sellers

·      Replace/repair old worn titles

·      Use interlined Braille

·      Improve delivery speed

·      Use better quality paper

·      Update the catalogue more frequently

·      Constantly update/improve the Internet catalogue

·      Have more description/blurb on the Internet catalogue

·      Improve customer service

·      Have titles available in foreign languages


The National Library for the Blind is a long established organisation that appears to command a high loyalty from its membership which is generally satisfied. It appears to be a highly important resource for young people and a valuable source for education support. Perhaps, however, it now needs to consider more vigorous means of promoting the option of learning Braille and Moon to older people to expand its membership base.


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The Talking Newspaper Association of the UK

The Talking Newspaper Association of the UK (TNAUK) is a registered charity which provides national newspapers and magazines on audio tape, computer disk, e-mail and CD-ROM for visually impaired and disabled people who find reading a strain. TNAUK receives no government or statutory funding, depending mainly on grants, donations and legacies to subsidise its service. TNAUK is also the umbrella group for local talking newspapers, which are independent charities, and overall they reach over 200,000 visually impaired listeners nationwide.

Local newspapers and magazines are supplied free of charge by over 520 local talking newspaper groups, of which 430 are affiliated to TNAUK and are autonomous. The national service records over 200 national newspaper and magazine titles at TNAUK headquarters in Heathfield, East Sussex, and copies and dispatches over two million audio cassettes a year. Subscribers can choose from a range of subsidised annual fees, starting at £35 for three titles, and from some 200 weekly, monthly and quarterly titles per year.

There was some confusion amongst the interviewees regarding TNAUK, as local talking newspapers are autonomously prepared and distributed locally, but many are affiliated to TNAUK. Some respondents would say they were a member of TNAUK, as they received the local free talking newspaper even though they did not pay a subscription or receive any national newspaper or magazine titles. It was often necessary to probe more deeply during an interview to discover whether a respondent was a TNAUK member or not. It is recognised that any future research should seek to distinguish more clearly between national and local sources in its context.


Some 92 interviewees (16%) were defined as current TNAUK users, 48 (8%) were former users and 440 respondents (76%) had never used the service.

TNAUK is unique; and different from the other providers examined by this survey, because it distributes factual information and news/current affairs, via a selection of monthly and weekly titles from the national press. There is a predominance of fiction material accessible through RNIB Talking Books, Calibre Cassette Library and National Library for the Blind; hence TNAUK’s unique position. Those who use this service do so to enable them to access newspapers and magazines via cassette or email (with speech software). These types of publications offer considerable challenges in their ‘standard’ form for visually impaired people. Print magazines are difficult and often impossible to read, even with a strong magnifier. The pages are often printed in many colours on glossy paper and text is sometimes superimposed over images. Newspapers are also a source of difficulty as the type fonts used are relatively small.

A significant feature of TNAUK revealed by users was that they were able to have access to several titles for their subscription. Moreover, they could easily change list of titles that they received should they wish to do so. These factors made the service particularly attractive to them.

The 48 respondents who were former users were asked why they had discontinued using TNAUK. Several reasons were put forward and they included the following:

·      Too busy to listen to them (8 respondents)

·      Did not like readers (5 respondents)

·      The publications were over-edited for their liking (5 respondents)

·      Subscription is too expensive (4 respondents)

·      Tapes are poor quality (3 respondents)

·      Too many tapes to cope with (3 respondents)

·      The news is not current enough (2 respondents)

·      Prefers radio (2 respondents)

·      Became bored of service (2 respondents)

·      The choice of publications is aimed at older people (1 respondent)

·      Prefers to use Internet for news (1 respondent)

·      Prefers to read Braille magazines (1 respondent)

·      Used to use service when there was a subscription offer with Guide Dogs for the Blind (1 respondent)

Some 76% of survey respondents had never subscribed to TNAUK. The reasons given included:

·      Prefers just to have local talking newspapers (95 respondents)

·      Not heard about the service (71 respondents)

·      Prefers to get news and information from radio (39 respondents)

·      Too busy to use them (19 respondents)

·      Prefers to get news and information from television (12 respondents)

·      Gets someone to read printed newspapers and magazines to them (10 respondents)

·      Put off by costs (10 respondents)

·      Prefers to use large print (8 respondents)

·      Uses magnifier to read printed newspapers and magazines (8 respondents)

·      Prefers to obtain news and information via the Internet (5 respondents)

·      News is not up to date enough (3 respondents)

·      Does not know how to join (2 respondents)

·      Too tedious to use/cannot browse like a print newspaper (2 respondents)

·      Has heard that the tapes are too edited (1 respondent)

·      Has heard that you get overwhelmed by the amount of tapes (1 respondent)

The remaining questions regarding the TNAUK service were then asked to the 92 current users of the service (16% of the overall sample).

Members were asked how long they had used TNAUK. Recruitment seemed to be fairly consistent overall, however, two years previous to the study there appears to have been a higher number of new subscriptions (15 respondents) than in the last year (7 respondents). Although this might appear to suggest that TNAUK scaled down its efforts to recruit new members or that the target group has become smaller or already been exhausted, the pattern of recruitment is similar to that in other organisations investigated and may be related to the Carry on Reading promotional campaign in 1998. TNAUK is keen to recruit new subscribers. Currently only some 1% of visually impaired people nationally subscribe (TNAUK figures), compared to 16% of the sample. The average length of membership in TNAUK is 7 years 8 months.

TNAUK users were asked how they found out about the organisation. 15 users (16% of users) heard via Social Services departments, three users (3%) were told about the service by their rehabilitation officer and 13 users (14%) were recommended by friends and relatives. The largest group of 57 users (62%), discovered the source by “other” means, including:

·      advertisements in newsletters and other publications

·      stalls at various events

·      information in Local Societies

·      the In Touch Radio 4 programme

·      eye clinics

·      RNIB information services

·      the local public library

·      Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Wide and varied sources were quoted, indicating that TNAUK has a very broad-based promotional context, although, as with many other services, respondents had not heard about the service through schools. There is promising scope for further promotion of the service as the figure of 71 respondents who had not heard of TNAUK illustrates.

Interviewees who used the service were asked about the joining procedure and whether the TNAUK subscription forms were available in alternative formats. Most TNAUK users (60%) said that they got someone else to fill in the form for them as they were sent a printed version, 10% said that it was available in large print, 2% said it was available in more than one format (but they did not elaborate as to which formats) and 21% said that they did not know, possibly because they joined some time before and could not remember. The 60% of users who got someone to fill in their form may have been sent a large print form, however, if they were unable to use large print, they would have still required assistance to complete it.

TNAUK subscribers were asked whether they had to pay for the service and if so, who paid their subscription fee. Compared to the other organisations examined in this survey, TNAUK has the highest proportion of members who pay for the service themselves. In this survey 77% of TNAUK subscribers pay the fee from their own pockets, 8% claimed that a Social Services department paid, 5% thought that it was free and 10% quoted “other” sources such as relatives. It is possible that the seven respondents who claimed that Social Services paid for them were mistaken and that their fee was paid from another source. The 5% who thought that TNAUK was a free service could be unaware of who pays for them or be confusing the national TNAUK service with the TNAUK affiliated local talking newspapers which are usually free and co-ordinated by local societies.

Services available

Of TNAUK members, 38% subscribed to national newspaper titles, 25% to local newspapers, 9% to both and 28% did not take newspapers. The average number of titles taken was five, although some respondents claimed to receive many more - 30 in one case. Some 22% of respondents took only one title.

TNAUK users were asked what they thought of the range of titles. Over half of all the respondents who used TNAUK (55%) considered the choice of titles to be excellent, 36% thought it was good and 10% rated it adequate. No one described the range of titles as “poor”.

In response to a question relating to what they thought of the physical condition of the TNAUK tapes, 35% thought they were excellent, 55% claimed they were good, 9% said adequate and 1% of users thought that they were poor. It is worth noting that in addition to TNAUK’s cassette distribution, other modes of delivery are offered. Publications are made available via computer disk, e-mail and CD-ROM. This survey did not examine on which of these methods TNAUK users choose to receive titles. This is a feature which would be worth exploring in any future research because the availability and take up of IT based delivery systems are growing rapidly.

Users were asked about their general satisfaction with TNAUK. Some 57% claimed that they considered the organisation to be excellent, 33% thought it was good, 9% considered it to be adequate and 1% thought that it was poor.

Although most of the survey respondents who use this service seem very content with the provision, this does not mean that it is not without its critics. TNAUK users were asked whether respondents had experienced any problems with the service. Out of the 89 respondents who completed this question, 17 claimed to have had problems, for example:

·      The telephone help-line only deals with questions about service not with content of the publications

·      It wasn’t easy to get the relevant person in customer services. Transferring my order to email was problematic

·      Not all of the titles are available via email yet (It should be noted that e-text availability has been improved recently)

·      They need to electronically increase the range, and have consistency with publications. Some weekly publications come out monthly

·      The packaging is very poor

·      Their newsletter sounds patronising

·      Some of the readers have mispronunciation problems

·      They shouldn’t charge, if you don’t send a tape back on time

·      Some of the readers are too fast

·      Some of the magazines come late

·      I was accused of not sending the tapes back, when I had done so

·      Sometimes the tapes are faulty

·      Sometimes there are blank or broken tapes and I never get sent replacements

·      The readers are too quiet and not clear enough

TNAUK users were also asked for their suggestions as to how the service could be improved and/or extended. Here are some of their ideas:

·      Have more titles available on CD-ROM

·      Improve customer services

·      Have faster publication and delivery times, as news gets old quickly

·      I would like to be able to get shopping catalogues available on cassette as well as magazines

·      I would like the letters pages in magazine and newspapers to be included as often these are left out when the title is put onto tape.

·      The subscription charges should be reduced.

·      There should be more titles for young people

·      They should improve their recording and copying quality

·      They should allow one to register and subscribe via email (NB one can do so, but this respondent was not aware that it was possible).

·      They should offer more choice in magazines, they have nothing on woodwork or craft

·      They should not abridge the articles

·      If the TV guides were better formatted, you would find out more easily which of the programmes are on at the same time

·      Bank Holidays aren’t covered and they should be

·      There should be more choice

·      They should be less expensive

·      The readers could be better

·      Their correspondence should be offered in more alternative formats

·      There should be more titles, eg RSPB Birds Magazine; especially for special interests

·      The newspapers are highly edited, the choice of articles is not what I would personally choose.


As was noted earlier, TNAUK is different from the other organisations examined in this survey as it primarily distributes an array of non-fiction sources. This service is unique as it is the only organisation in the UK which provides national newspapers and magazines in audio formats. As such, it faces specific challenges due to the nature of the material it provides. News ages at a rapid rate and hence one issue which TNAUK has to deal with is the speed at which it transcribes and posts out the newspapers, compared to the time when the printed publication reaches the public. It should be noted that e–text availability has been improved recently. TNAUK is manifestly a valuable resource, with 16% of all respondents to this survey currently using this service. Moreover, there is generally high satisfaction with what is offered. There is great potential to raise awareness and expand take up through appropriate promotion and publicity as well as through greater co-operation with other library and information services.


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Conclusions and Recommendations

The survey that forms the basis of this study revealed a considerable quantity of detail about the way in which services are perceived and used. It is apposite to draw some general conclusions from the evidence gathered. Where appropriate, these conclusions are supplemented by specific examples taken from the survey responses. Several points emerge which should enable agencies to target their resources more effectively to the added benefit of the populations that they are seeking to serve.

The Context

The climate has rarely been more favourable for the achievement of serious improvement in the provision of information resources to visually impaired people. The recent prominence given to social inclusion by policymakers, legislators and administrators offers a new impetus to enhance access to services for a whole range of people, including those with visual impairment. A significant component of this development is the Disability Discrimination Act, which reached the Statute Book in 1995. The guidelines developed by the Library Association (Machell, 1996) offer a useful blueprint for service development. The evidence base for what is needed, and how it should be delivered is being assembled through a range of projects and initiatives amongst which the Share the Vision Programme is prominent. The documentation on best practice developed as part of the Programme adds further support. The endeavours to discover what people want, and how they want it should continue; the client focus needs to be maintained if service excellence is to be sustained.

User Satisfaction

It is clear that all agencies attract very positive responses from current users in terms of overall client satisfaction. Consistently high ratings (either ‘excellent’ or ‘good’) were reported by a majority of users when asked about service quality and the scope of collections. Moreover, many users tend to demonstrate a fair degree of ‘loyalty’ to specific agencies as evidenced by the number that are relatively long term users. These findings should give agencies some cause for moderate satisfaction while at the same time avoiding complacency.

User Retention

Former users represent a significant proportion of the people that were interviewed and this is so for all the agencies involved. The various reasons offered by these ‘lost users’ for having ceased to use services are detailed in the report. In some cases people have turned to other recreations and their reading has diminished. In other cases difficulties in accessing services or bad experiences with services have led to people ceasing to use them. It is a well-worn marketing adage that acquiring new customers (users) is far more difficult than retaining current ones. On that basis, more needs to be done to retain the user base of all these agencies. This may be achieved by paying closer attention to complaints (of which more later) and sustained communication and consultation with current users.


A consistent thread runs through the survey results regarding the high proportion of people that were unaware of the existence of the various services which are available and the agencies that operate them. Furthermore, there were many instances where people clearly had limited or inaccurate knowledge of the scope of the services that they were using. This adds a new dimension to social exclusion – people are excluded simply because they do not know what is available! This shortfall in awareness and knowledge has to be rectified if greater ‘market penetration’ is to be achieved by the agencies involved and if services are to be used more effectively by those who are already members. Sustained promotional campaigns are costly but necessary both to acquire new users and to inform and retain existing ones. There may be scope for co-operative initiatives in promoting services of all kinds. The statistical evidence suggests that the major initiative based on the Carry on Reading campaign some years ago was particularly successful in attracting users to the various agencies.

The vehicles chosen for awareness raising and promotion to this group are important. Information providers need to consider imaginative means of reaching new users through, for example, local radio, an advertisement on a local talking newspaper or through giving information to social services departments and rehabilitation officers to pass on to their clients. Promotion to ‘hard to reach’ groups, such as the housebound or those who have other sensory or physical disabilities such as a hearing impairment offer particular challenges. Methods of advertising that rely on visual appeal, such as posters or leaflets, may not be particularly effective in reaching their target audience though they may be useful in a ‘word-of-mouth’ promotional campaign and inform sighted friends and relatives. The methods used to promote a service can be costly and they therefore need to be evaluated. Properly gathered and interpreted feedback should enable appropriate decisions about the most effective means of promotion to be to taken.

Users and potential users acquire information about the services that are available from a variety of sources. Social services departments are, as might be anticipated, a prominent source; friends and acquaintances also feature frequently. Surprisingly, apart from NLB users, people had not learned about the various services through their schools. An important opportunity for bringing services to the attention of a young audience may be being missed here. Libraries did not feature highly as a source of information about the various specialised agencies, either. If the library service is to maintain its role as a centre of important information distribution then there is considerable scope for libraries to seize the initiative by working jointly with other agencies in promotion, information dissemination and referral.


An issue allied to service promotion and recruitment is enrolment – involving the processes of applying for and paying for services. The survey revealed that there is considerable confusion in these areas. Information providers need to ensure that the enrolment process is as simple, and that the associated documentation is as accessible, as possible. It became evident from the survey that many visually impaired people wish to organise their lives as independently as possible, hence procedures which are straightforward, accessible and that do not rely on assistance from others, are welcomed.

Listening to Users ~ Consultation

One critical feature of service success from the user’s perspective is consultation. Users need to feel that they have a voice and are being listened to. Users seem willing to contribute their opinions and ideas to assist when new initiatives or changes are being planned. This approach avoids the risk of stereotyping client groups and basing decisions on too many assumptions. Operational aspects of service delivery need to display a similar sensitivity to client preferences. Some respondents, for example, stressed that not all female, elderly borrowers like romantic novels!

Client (user) centred evaluation is valuable both for assessing the value and long-term development of existing services and for testing newer initiatives. Libraries and information services need to refine means of obtaining customer feedback. In regions in may be useful for libraries to recruit the assistance of local societies because their personnel are frequently in touch with users and are highly aware of their needs. They can provide invaluable advice and recruit volunteers for focus groups.

Listening to Users ~ Problems and Complaints

Though the general level of satisfaction with services was evidently high, a number of respondents had encountered an array of problems that had given rise to dissatisfaction and engendered criticism. Indeed, in some instances participants had ceased using services. In relation to the earlier observations about retaining users this is significant. The criticisms reported varied; some related to the information ‘products’ and their content or physical state; others were concerned with the way in which a service was delivered. Each instance was clearly important to the individual, although viewed on a global scale, they may not have appeared as such to the agency involved. On the other hand when a pattern of complaints is identified, then it points to the need for swift and appropriate action. For instance, many survey respondents thought that stock and equipment should be checked regularly and faulty material either repaired or renewed. One respondent gave an example of returning a damaged title and telling the librarian about the problem; then seeking to borrow the same title later, only to realise that it had been placed back in circulation, without repair or replacement.

The link between content and process also needs consideration. Users naturally, but perhaps incorrectly, assume that an agency is concerned with both. One interviewee gave the example of a problem she had experienced because she could not determine the spelling of a garden plant from the narration on an audio tape. When she telephoned the relevant customer services department for help, she was informed that they could not assist in queries about the content of the tapes, only the service.

It is also important for services to be responsive to individual preferences. If a user asks not to receive any more titles by a certain author, because he or she dislikes the writing style, the subject matter or too colourful language, then this request should be taken seriously and noted. Users can feel devalued if their requests seem to be belittled or ignored.

With the number of users that are involved in these services and the volume of transactions that take place it is inevitable that difficulties and errors will occasionally arise. What is important is the speed and nature of response to those problems. That is, errors need to be put right, and problems dealt with sympathetically and swiftly if at all possible. The anecdotal evidence gathered is not wholly convincing or reassuring on this count. A more client centred culture, where agencies are more responsive to complaints and problems, is signalled. This would be in keeping with the prevailing ethos that clients are the most important element of any endeavour that is seeking service quality and best value.

The Public Library Focus

The public library service permeates the community and as such is well positioned to facilitate access to a range of material for visually impaired people. The data from the survey are encouraging but with just over a third of respondents regarding themselves as current library users there is considerable scope for extending this figure through appropriately targeted services and effective promotion. The earlier survey of public library provision conducted by LISU revealed that only a minority of authorities had formal policies that focussed on provision for visually impaired people and few were claiming to work to the guidelines developed by the Library Association.

Some salient issues regarding public libraries are noted below.

Library services do need to address the practicalities of achieving greater social inclusion in relation to all their client groups including visually impaired people. The mechanics of physically visiting a service point may pose particular problems – especially for elderly people. Home delivery and mobile library provision were used by 12% of respondents and these services are of much value to those with limited mobility or who live in rural areas. However, effective promotion of mobile libraries and home delivery schemes is essential – many survey respondents were unsure of such facilities. There is the instance of one respondent who amassed a large fine on overdue audio books borrowed on her behalf because she was not able to get to the local branch to return them and was unaware of the home delivery facility. Reaching out to the users and potential users who find it challenging to visit the library is important. In addition to home delivery and mobile libraries, the survey identified respondents who used public library audio books, via a bulk loan arrangement to a local society for visually impaired people. Often respondents said that it was easier for them to visit their local society than a public library, as there was free transportation for them to use. Hence, libraries can optimise the benefits from this situation, some respondents revealed that a mobile library visited their local society to coincide with their regular meetings and that this arrangement was much appreciated. Another suggestion, to help those with transport difficulties, was for public libraries to liase with local volunteer groups, to organise a ‘lifts to the library’ scheme.

For borrowers who do visit a library in person, ease of navigation is an important consideration. Signs, lighting and layout in the library need to be appropriate and they should enable the user to navigate the library as independently as possible. Several survey respondents said that poor lighting discouraged them from using their public library. Therefore libraries need to evaluate and optimise the physical arrangement of their institution and solicit and apply users’ recommendations.

A significant proportion of interviewees (161 respondents, 79% of the public library users) said that that they preferred to visit their local branch library. Libraries often tend to offer specialist equipment and services in the larger, main branches and many library users may not be aware of, or able to reach the facilities that are available. One respondent suggested that libraries might ‘rotate’ equipment around branch libraries (much as stock is rotated) or to organise access in collaboration with local societies. It was also emphasised that all staff, including those at smaller library branches, should be adequately informed and trained regarding the special equipment and facilities available, as they can then make library users aware of the location and of such services. Knowledge of how equipment is operated should be widespread to ensure adequate support for users.


It would appear that there are opportunities for co-operation between the various agencies. Promotion and awareness raising, particularly on a national scale, have been instanced earlier. Opportunities regarding access and delivery, some of which have already been touched upon, may be worth exploring further. The role of the public library as an agency in the community with a range of distribution points is worth noting in this respect, although the experience gained from initiatives in Gloucestershire, and which are noted in the literature review, suggest that the economics of co–operative distribution need careful analysis. A point made by one of the specialist agencies illustrates the potential for distributing material more widely through the public library network.

“Although there are 208 public library authorities in the UK, and some 5,000 public access points to their services, of these only 23 currently stock TNAUK tapes or subscribe to TNAUK e–text services. Only one library authority sponsors residents who receive either tapes or the e–text service at home. This contrasts with the experience of sighted library users for whom access to newspapers and periodicals is commonplace.”

Collaboration between public libraries and local societies can often benefit all partners. For example, the public library can disseminate details about any special services through the local talking newspaper or through talks by library representative to local societies about what is available at the local library. The societies, in turn, can publicise their activities through the public library.

The survey highlighted the scope for greater exchange of information between organisations regarding what they each provide. Here again the public library as a central and local agency can be instrumental in providing referral and advice. It is particularly important that those in public libraries are fully aware of the various other options for information service provision for visually impaired people. 

Formats, IT and the Future

It would appear that the simpler the format (in terms of equipment and special skills needed to access it), the better, as far as most users are concerned. Hence, it is often appropriate to avoid complicated (and sometimes costly) solutions to information access. Those with partial sight, for example, favour magnifying glasses for many circumstances. Audio recordings are also popular with very many people. Tactile formats tend to be favoured by younger people who may have learned a language at an early age. 

An important proportion of respondents represents proficient and enthusiastic users of IT. They have access to equipment and facilities either at home, a place of learning or the workplace - or sometimes in a combination of these. They are predominantly, but it must be stressed not exclusively, in the younger age ranges. Their numbers are likely to grow. Services need to adjust to this new digitally literate audience and there is evidence that they are doing so as the various initiatives reported to the Project in the wake of the survey testify. The effort needs to be sustained and it may require appropriate resourcing.

End Note

Discussions with the various agencies providing services and much of the data gathered in the surveys suggest that there is generally a strong commitment to providing good service on the part of those involved. LISU is confident that the statistics and findings generated from this survey will be used positively to influence changes in policy and practice that reflect the genuine information and library requirements of visually impaired people.


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List of Sources Consulted

Brophy, Peter and Jenny Craven (1999) The Integrated Accessible Library, A Model of Service Development for the 21st Century: The Final Report of the REVIEL Project. Manchester: CERLIM.

Bruce, I; Aubrey McKennell and Errol Walker (1991) Blind and Partially Sighted Adults in Britain: the RNIB survey, Volume 1. London: HMSO.

Capital Planning Information Ltd (2000a) VIP Access to Information: Consultation With Users of VIP Library and Information Services: Final Report to the Library and Information Commission by Capital Planning Information Ltd. Bruton, Somerset: CPI Ltd.

Capital Planning Information Ltd (2000b) Co-ordinating Alternative Format Title Selection: Final Report to Share the Vision and the Library and Information Commission by CPI Ltd. Bruton, Somerset: CPI Ltd.

Carry on Reading (1999)
Published by RNIB on behalf of National Library for the Blind, Calibre Cassette Library and RNIB. [Available in large print and on tape.]

Chartres, Stephen (1996) Gloucestershire Talking Book Library Pilot Project Evaluation: January 1995 – December 1996. London: RNIB Corporate Planning and Evaluation Department.

Chartres, Stephen (1996) New Talking Book Members Follow Up Interview Evaluation; Autumn 1994. London: RNIB Corporate Planning and Evaluation Department.

Chartres, Steven (1997) Leisure and Information Services for Visually Impaired People; Local Authority Library Services Survey. London: RNIB Corporate Planning and Evaluation Department.

Chartres, Stephen (1998) The Leisure Reading habits of Visually Impaired People Using Audio Reading Services; Customer Survey – April 1998. London: RNIB Corporate Planning and Evaluation Department.

Chartres, Stephen (1998) The Leisure Reading Needs of Visually Impaired people from Ethnic Minority Communities: A Joint study with EMERGE – Ethnic Minorities Education and Resource Group for Equality. London: RNIB Corporate Planning and Evaluation Department.

Chartres, Stephen (1999) RNIB Talking Book Service: The Current Situation, London: RNIB Corporate Planning and Evaluation Department.

CIPFA (2001) Public Library Statistics 1999-00 Actuals, London: CIPFA.

Craddock, Peter (1985) The Public Library and Blind People; a Survey and Review of Current Practice. Wetherby: British Library.

Craddock, Peter (1996) Project LIBRA: The Provision and Use of Reading Aids for Visually Impaired and Other Print Handicapped People in UK Public Libraries. London: British Library (Library and Information Research Report 91).

Disability Discrimination Act (1995). Chapter 50. London: HMSO.

Eling, Nigel (1999) Talking Books; A User Survey in Two Sheffield Libraries. Unpublished MA dissertation, Department of Information Studies, University of Sheffield.

Kinnell, Margaret; Liangzhi Yu and Claire Creaser (2000) Public library services for visually impaired people. Loughborough: LISU.

LISU (Library and Information Statistics Unit) (2000) Library and Information Statistics Tables 2000, Loughborough: LISU.

Machell, Jean (1996) Library and Information Services for Visually Impaired People; National Guidelines. London: Library Association Publishing.

National Library for the Blind (2001) Library Services for Visually Impaired People: a Manual of Best Practice, available from http://www.nlbuk.org/bpm

Office for National Statistics (2000) Social Trends 30, (Eds.) Jill Matheson and Carol Summerfield, London: The Stationery Office.

Page, Caroline (2001) “The full Monty; Caroline Page asks why some audiobook publishers prefer to produce abridged versions of books, while others think that only the complete work will suffice”, Audiobookseller, a Bookseller Supplement, 16th March.

People’s Network Online (2000), available from http://www.peoplesnetwork.gov.uk/

Phelpstead, Linda (1999) Focus on Needs: A Pilot Study into the Information Needs of Visually Impaired Adults in Leicestershire. Unpublished BA dissertation, Department of Information Science, Loughborough University.

RNIB (2000) Office of National Statistics mid-1996 population estimates, estimates for 1996 of visually impaired people (i.e. registerable) and the number of people registered as blind and partially sighted as at 31 March 1997 in United Kingdom, available from http://www.rnib.org.uk/wesupply/fctsheet/authuk.htm

Stewart, Jill (1996) In Good Company, Examining the Provision of Quality Services for Disabled Customers in Light of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. London: Scope.

STVnews – Newsletter of Share the Vision. Published quarterly. Editor: Peter Craddock, Share the Vision, 36 Circular Road, Castlerock, BT51 4XA.


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APPENDIX 1 - Report on Visits

Part of the information gathering process for the project entailed several fact-finding visits by the Project Officer to relevant exhibitions, seminars and institutions. These all provided useful background. A brief account of salient detail is given below.

RNIB Exhibition Vision 2000

This was attended on 28 June 2000. A great deal of useful information was available from the many information providers serving the visually impaired community. A workshop featured a discussion on the benefits of the Internet to making information more accessible. An afternoon seminar covered talking images: audio description.

Share the Vision Executive Briefing Session

This was attended on 5 July 2000 in Manchester. Participants were given accounts of other Share the Vision Programme projects, both underway and completed. This was a very useful day in terms of gathering information and in identifying key figures in the field. Central figures regarding Share the Vision initiatives including David Owen, Margaret Bennett and Linda Hopkins were all contributors.

National Library for the Blind

A special visit to the NLB at Stockport was undertaken on 20 July 2000. This featured a tour of the library’s facilities and the collection followed by a meeting with staff - Laura Alexander, Sarah Bundock, David Egan, Angela Fuggle - to discuss the approach to the project. It was at this meeting that issues regarding the segmentation of the survey sample were explored and the potential for a more global and randomised approach to the survey discussed. Queries were raised about the approach which sought to categorise those surveyed into one of three groups: public library users, agency users and non-users as the groupings would not account adequately for situations where there is ‘cross over’ use, or examine respondent’s self-definition or account for past activities. A broad geographical distribution was also regarded as important. These discussions were very helpful in the final design of the survey.

Royal Leicestershire, Rutland and Wycliffe Society for the Blind

The Project Officer attended a training session on 24 July 2000 organised at the Royal Leicestershire, Rutland and Wycliffe Society for the Blind. This session was extremely helpful in providing a general awareness of issues surrounding visual impairment and in promoting greater understanding of the causes and effects of different eye conditions. Especially helpful was an exercise in wearing spectacles that simulate the vision available with different eye conditions.

Calibre Cassette Library

The Project Officer visited the Calibre Cassette Library at Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire on 23 August 2000 where she had a meeting with Elizabeth Twinning. This gave valuable insight into how the Calibre service operates.

Most of the morning was spent observing the distribution procedures at Calibre – the cycle of tapes being returned, checked, repaired if necessary, and then being sent on to a different member. The Project Officer met Calibre’s small team of copyright clearance staff and discussed with them the issues regarding this area. The user monitoring research being conducted in-house by Calibre was then examined to gain ideas to assist in the LISU survey design.

Royal National Institute for the Blind

The Project Officer visited the RNIB on 12 September 2000 to learn about relevant research projects within the RNIB and had a meeting with Selina Shah & Lori DiBon, two staff working on research into RNIB information provision.

Notably, the New Information Distribution Services (NIDS) project aims to aid informed decision making about the future of RNIB information services, and to ensure that the information needs of visually impaired people are met effectively. These objectives are being met through a number of pieces of research or audits which seek to identify gaps and overlaps in information provision in order that modifications can be made to provide best service efficiently. The NIDS audits examining the RNIB information services are similar in concept to the Public Library Services for Visually Impaired People survey that was conducted by LISU in late 1999. At the time of the visit the results of the NIDS audits had not been published.


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APPENDIX 2 - Summary of Seminar 14 May 2001

A seminar with the aim of presenting a selection of Project findings and recommendations was held at Hazlerigg Hall, Loughborough University, on Monday 14 May 2001. The date was specifically chosen to coincide with the festival week organised by the National Library for the Blind under the banner ‘A Touch Of …’ because it was felt that this would give the Seminar a stronger focus. (‘A Touch Of …’ week was a national reader development project to reach visually impaired readers through an integrated approach involving specialist providers and the national public library service. It involved a partnership between NLB, RNIB, Calibre and the Society of Chief Librarians’ reader development project Branching Out with funding support from the DCMS Reader Development Programme. A number of grants were made available from the NLB to various public libraries to work with local associations for visually impaired people to organise appropriate reading events.) The seminar was chaired by Eric Davies, Director of LISU. There was an encouraging attendance of approximately 40 delegates from a variety of agencies and libraries.

The Seminar commenced with a keynote presentation from Neville McKay, the Chief Executive of Resource. He spoke about the significance of the Share the Vision programme to the wider framework of Resource’s agenda. He emphasised Resource’s commitment to the core values of promoting access, social inclusion, cultural diversity, education and lifelong learning. He described how Resource offers support and advice to the sector to improve physical and virtual access to collections and information in order to remove economic, physical, cultural, social and educational barriers.

The second speaker of the day was David Owen, the Director of the Share the Vision Programme. He gave a brief introduction to the Share the Vision Programme and explained how this project related to other work being conducted in the area. He stressed that it was vital for all information providers to examine where they are currently, to look at the genuine needs of their users and to explore ways in which changes can be effected to get services to the point where they need to be. He explained how the findings from this survey would be of huge significance to policy makers wishing to contribute to achieving social inclusion in information and library services for visually impaired people.

Stella Wisdom, the Project Officer, then gave an account of the current situation revealed by the project. The talk began with an outline of why the project was needed and what its objectives were. The survey methodology was explained briefly and then preliminary findings regarding format preferences, the nature and extent of IT use and the role played by public libraries were presented.

The next presentation was given by Ian McRae, the professional broadcaster and writer who is the BBC Disability Correspondent. Drawing on his own experiences as a visually impaired person, he described how services such as the National Library for the Blind were important to him and how specialised equipment such as the Braillite made a difference to the way he manages information for work and leisure. Ian McRae’s contribution was both enlightening and inspiring.

In her second session of the day Stella Wisdom offered tentative recommendations, based on the survey findings, for enhancing services to visually impaired people. Quoting from examples and suggestions that had been collected during the research, she addressed issues such as improving user consultation, making promotion more effective, raising awareness, providing appropriate equipment and training as well as fostering greater collaboration with other organisations.

The final part of the seminar took the form of an open question and answer session involving the audience and a panel comprising the Seminar speakers and members of the Share the Vision Survey Advisory Group.

Both informal and formal feedback to LISU confirmed that the Seminar had been warmly and positively received by those who attended the event.


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APPENDIX 3 - Interview Schedule






A Value and Impact Study of Users of Services for Visually Impaired people


Telephone Number:

Date of Interview:

Time of Interview:

Thank you for agreeing to answer some questions about the information services that you use. The interview schedule should not take more than 20 minutes to complete. I have arranged the questions in sections relating to different organisations. Then at the end there are several general questions. Please feel free to answer as honestly as possible. If you do not use a service or you have nothing more to say in answer to a question just let me know.

1.      How do you prefer to read? (fill in Format Table)

2.      If you use audio recordings; do you prefer:

Standard Single Track Cassettes (used by Calibre and Listening Books) (1)

Multi Track Cassettes which require a specific player (used by RNIB Talking Books) (2)

Compact Disks (3)

3.      Do you prefer abridged or non-abridged audio books? Can you tell me why?

         Abridged (1)        Unabridged (2)   Didn't understand question (3)

         No preference (4)

4.      Do you have a favourite narrator? And what qualities make a narrator enjoyable to listen to?

5.      Do you use audio described videos? If so where do you buy/borrow them from?

         Yes (1)                No (2)

         Buy direct from RNIB (1)       Borrow from Library (2)        Other (3)_________

6.      What is your usual method of finding information?

         Ask someone (1)         Radio (2)   Teletext (3)

         Library (4)  The Internet (5)    Newspapers (6) 

         Other (7)

7.      Why do you use this source/these sources?

8.      How effective is this source/these sources for providing the information you need?

         Very Effective (1) Good (2)    Adequate (3)       Poor (4)

9.      Are there any types of information that are difficult to find?

10.    Would you find it useful to go to one centre, such as a public library and be able to request information from a variety of organisations and agencies?

         Yes (1)                No (2)

11.    Are you able to do this in anyway at the moment?

         Yes (1)                No (2)

12.    Do you use computers to find information? (If no go to public library questions on page 3)

         Yes (1)                No (2)

13.    Have you got one at home?

         Yes (1)                No (2)

14.    Do you use them somewhere else? If so where?

         Public Library (1) Work (2)    School/College (3)      Other (4) _________

15.    How do you use the computers?

         By enlarging the text (1)

         By using a soft or refreshable Braille display (2)

         By having speech on your computer (3)

         By using a screen magnifier (4)

         Other (5)_______________________

16.    What do you use computers for?

         Doing your own work (w/p, spreadsheets etc)

         Accessing leisure information

         Accessing work related information

         Accessing study related information


         Other __________________

17.    Which of the following do you use:



         Word processor


18.    What would make using computers easier for you?


These next questions are about using public libraries

1. When did you last visit a public library?

Within last 6 months (1)         Within the last 12 months (2)        
Within the last 3 years (3)      Been before, but not in the last 3 years (4) Never been (5)

2. If you no longer visit the public library, why did you stop using this service?

3. If you have never been a member, why do you not use this service?

If you are no longer a member or you have never been a member please move on to the next set of questions on page 6.

4. Do you use your nearest branch or a larger regional library?

         Local (1)    Regional (2)        Both (3)


5. How do you normally get to the library?

         Car (1)       bike (2)      bus (3)       walking (4) other (5)________

6. Have you encountered any problems in getting to a local public library?

         Yes (1)                No (2)

7. Do you normally go to the library alone or does someone accompany you?

         Alone (1)    Accompanied (2)

8. When you first joined the library did you have any problems registering?

         Yes (1)                No (2)

9. Was the joining form available in alternative formats?


Large print



Librarian filled it in for them




Don’t know


10. How could the process of joining the library have been improved?

11. Does the signposting and layout of the library make it easy to find the section you need?

         Very easy (1)      Causes a few problems (2)  Is very problematic (3)

12. Does your local public library offer a home delivery or mobile service?

         Mobile (1)  Home Delivery (2)        No (3)        Don't know (4)

If there are no mobile or home delivery services operated by your public library in your area, or if you are unaware of such services, please move onto question 15.

13. If yes, have you used this service?

         Yes (1)                No (2)

14. If yes, how efficient do you think this service is?

         Excellent (1)        Good (2)    Adequate (3)       Poor (4)

15. How would you rate the collection of material for people with impaired sight, held at the public library you use?

         Excellent (1)        Good (2)    Adequate (3)       Poor (4)

16. What formats does this collection contain?


Large print books

Large print magazines

large print newspapers




Audio recordings


Audio described videos

Computers with adaptive technology



Don't Know


17. Do they have alternative formats available in ethnic minority languages?

         Yes (1)                No (2)        Don't Know (3)

18. How frequently do you make information requests?


Once a week (1)

Once a month (2)

Once every six months (3)


Very Rarely (4)

Never (5)


If you do not make any requests, go onto question 20

19. Are you satisfied with the response to your requests?

         Yes (1)                No (2)

20. How do you search for information in your local public library?

21. How does your local public library advertise its facilities for people with eyesight difficulties?

22. Does your public library offer in-house transcription and enlarging services?

         Yes (1)                No (2)

23. Do you have to go on a waiting list for some services?

         Yes (1)                No (2)

24. If so how long is the wait normally?

         Under a month (1)       between one month and three months (2)

         Longer than three months (3)

25. Does your public library charge for any services?

         Yes (1)                No (2)                 Don’t know (3)

26. If so do visually impaired people get any concessions?

         Yes (1)                No (2)                 Don’t know (3)

27. If you obtained these concessions, did you have to provide the library with formal evidence of your impairment i.e. letter from doctor or social services, registration certificate?

Yes (1)       what was required ________________________

No (2)        Did not obtain concessions (3)

28. Do you feel that the staff are aware of your needs and the available resources?

         Yes (1)                No (2)                 Don’t know (3)

29. Does your public library refer you to other agencies for facilities that they don't provide?

         Yes (1)                No (2)                 Don’t know (3)

30. How would you rate the staff's attitudes and helpfulness?


Excellent (1)

Good (2)

Adequate (3)

Poor (4)

31. Are you satisfied with the public library service in general?

         Yes (1)                No (2)

32. What improvements would you make to the service in public libraries?


These next questions are about RNIB’s Talking Books Service.

1. Are you or were you a member of RNIB's Talking Books Service?

         Member (1)         Ex-member (2)    Never been a member (3)

2. If you are no longer a member, why did you leave this service?

3. If you have never been a member, why do you not use this service?

If you are no longer a member or you have never been a member please move on to the next set of questions on page 8.

4. How long have you been a member of RNIB Talking Books?

5. How did you hear about RNIB Talking Books Service?

         Special School (1)       Mainstream School (2) Social Services (3)

         Employment Services (4)      Rehabilitation Officer (5)       Friend/Relative (6)

         Other (7)____________________

6. Why did you join?

7. When you first joined, did you have any problems registering?

         Yes (1)                No (2)

8. Was the joining form available in alternative formats?

         Large print Cassette    Braille        Librarian filled it in for them

         Other                  None         Don’t know

9. How could the process of joining have been improved?

10. Who pays for this service?

         Public Library      (1)     Social Services (2)      Yourself (3)         Other (4)

11. How would you rate the range of titles available?

         Excellent (1)        Good (2)    Adequate (3)       Poor (4)

12. How would you rate the quality of the Talking Books?

         Excellent (1)        Good (2)    Adequate (3)       Poor (4)

13. Do you have any opinions on RNIB Talking Book’s ordering and selection arrangement?

14. Have you had any problems with the service?

         Yes (1)                No (2)

15. How would you rate this service overall?

         Excellent (1)        Good (2)    Adequate (3)       Poor (4)

16. What improvements would you make to the service?


These next questions are about Calibre Cassette Library.

1. Are you or have you been a member of Calibre Cassette Library?

         Member (1)         Ex-member (2)    Never been a member (3)

2. If you are no longer a member, why did you leave the service?

3. If you have never been a member, why do you not use this service?

If you are no longer a member or you have never been a member please move on to the next set of questions on page 10.

4. How long have you been a member of Calibre?

5. How did you hear about Calibre?

         Special School (1)       Mainstream School (2) Social Services (3)

         Employment Services (4)      Rehabilitation Officer (5)       Friend/Relative (6)

         Other (7)____________________

6. Why did you join Calibre?

7. When you first joined, did you have any problems registering?

         Yes (1)                No (2)

8. Was the joining form available in alternative formats?

         Large print Cassette    Braille        Librarian filled it in for them

         Other                  None         Don’t know

9. How could the process of joining have been improved?

10. Who pays for this service?

         Public Library (1) Social Services (2)      Yourself (3)         Other (4)

11. How would you rate the range of titles available?

         Excellent (1)        Good (2)    Adequate (3)       Poor (4)

12. How would you rate the quality of the Calibre cassettes?

         Excellent (1)        Good (2)    Adequate (3)       Poor (4)

13. How frequently do you make information requests?

         Once a week (1) Once a month (2)        Once every six months (3)

         Very Rarely (4)   Never (5)

14. Are you satisfied with the response to your requests?

         Yes (1)                No (2)

15. Have you had any problems with the service?

         Yes (1)                No (2)

16. How would you rate Calibre's service overall?

         Excellent (1)        Good (2)    Adequate (3)       Poor (4)

17. What improvements would you make to the service?


These next questions are about the National Library for the Blind.

1. Are you or have you been a member of the National Library for the Blind?

         Member (1)         Ex-member (2)    Never been a member (3)

2. If you are no longer a member, why did you leave the service?

3. If you have never been a member, why do you not use this service?

If you are no longer a member or you have never been a member please move on to the next set of questions on page 12.

4. How long have you been a member of the National Library for the Blind?

5. How did you hear about the National Library for the Blind?

         Special School (1)       Mainstream School (2) Social Services (3)

         Employment Services (4)      Rehabilitation Officer (5)       Friend/Relative (6)

         Other (7)____________________

6. Why did you join the National Library for the Blind?

7. When you first joined the library did you have any problems registering?

         Yes (1)                No (2)

8. Was the joining form available in alternative formats?

         Large print Cassette    Braille        Librarian filled it in for them

         Other                  None         Don’t know

9. How could the process of joining the library have been improved?

10. Who pays for this service?

         Public Library (1) Social Services (2)      Yourself (3)         Other (4)

11. How would you rate the range of titles available?

         Excellent (1)        Good (2)    Adequate (3)       Poor (4)

12. How would you rate the quality of the NLB publications?

         Excellent (1)        Good (2)    Adequate (3)       Poor (4)

13. How frequently do you make information requests?

         Once a week (1) Once a month (2)        Once every six months (3)

         Very rarely (4)     Never (5)

14. Are you satisfied with the response to your requests?

         Yes (1)                No (2)

15. Have you had any problems with the service?

         Yes (1)                No (2)

16. How would you rate National Library for the Blind's service overall?

         Excellent (1)        Good (2)    Adequate (3)       Poor (4)

17. What improvements would you make to the National Library for the Blind's service?

These next questions are about Talking Newspapers UK.

1. Are you or were you a member of Talking Newspapers UK?

         Member (1)         Ex-member (2)    Never been a member (3)

2. If you are a member no longer, why did you leave the service?

3. If you have never been a member, why do you not use this service?

If you are no longer a member or you have never been a member please move on to the next set of questions on page 14.

4. How long have you been a member of Talking Newspapers UK?

5. How did you hear about Talking Newspapers UK?

         Special School (1)       Mainstream School (2) Social Services (3)

         Employment Services (4)      Rehabilitation Officer (5)       Friend/Relative (6)

         Other (7)____________________

6. Why did you join Talking Newspapers UK?

7. When you first joined did you have any problems registering?

         Yes (1)                No (2)

8. Was the joining form available in alternative formats?

         Large print Cassette    Braille        Librarian filled it in for them

         Other                  None         Don’t know

9. How could the process of joining have been improved?

10. Who pays for this service?

         Public Library (1) Social Services (2)      Yourself (3)         Other (4)

11. Do you subscribe to National or Local newspapers?

         National (1)                  Local (2)             Neither (3)

12. How many newspaper and magazine titles do you subscribe to?


13. What titles are they?

14. How would you rate the range of titles available?

         Excellent (1)        Good (2)    Adequate (3)       Poor (4)

15. How would you rate the quality of the TNUK publications?

         Excellent (1)        Good (2)    Adequate (3)       Poor (4)

16. Have you ever had any problems with the service?

         Yes (1)                No (2)

17. How would you rate Talking Newspapers UK's service overall?

         Excellent (1)        Good (2)    Adequate (3)       Poor (4)

18. What improvements would you make to Talking Newspapers UK?


This box of questions is here if you wish to talk about another organisation e.g. a college/university/local society library.

1. Are there any other Library/Information Services that you use? _____________________

2. How did you hear about this service?

         Special School (1)       Mainstream School (2) Social Services (3)

         Employment Services (4)      Rehabilitation Officer (5)       Friend/Relative (6)

         Other (7)____________________

3. How long have you been a member of this organisation?

4. Why did you join?

5. When you first joined did you have any problems registering?

         Yes (1)                No (2)

6. Was the joining form available in alternative formats?

         Large print Cassette    Braille        Librarian filled it in for them

         Other                  None         Don’t know

7. How could the process of joining have been improved?

8. Who pays for this service, if there is a fee?

         Public Library (1) Social Services (2)      Yourself (3)         Other (4)

9. What services are available?

10. What services do you use?

11. How frequently do you make information requests?

         Once a week (1) Once a month (2)        Once every six months (3)

         Very Rarely (4)   Never (5)

12. Are you satisfied with the response to your requests?

         Yes (1)                No (2)

13. Have you had any problems with the service?

         Yes (1)                No (2)

14. How would you rate this service overall?

         Excellent (1)        Good (2)    Adequate (3)       Poor (4)

15. What improvements would you make to the service?

To help me to analyse the answers of this interview, I hope that you don’t mind me asking you a few questions about yourself? This data will be kept confidential.

1. What age group do you fit into:

         16 and under (1)          16 to 24 (2)                  25 to 34 (3)        

         35 to 44 (4)                 45 to 54 (5)                 55 to 64 (6)        

         65 to 74 (7)                 75 to 85 (8)                 86 and over (9)

2. Gender:         Male (1)             Female (2)

3. Where do you live:

         City____________      County____________ Post Code_____________

4. What is Your Ethnic origin:

         White (1)            Black African (2)         Black Caribbean (3)

         Indian (4)           Pakistani (5)                Bangladeshi (6) 

         Chinese (7)                 Other (8)____________________

5. Do you speak any languages other than English at home?

6. Which languages are they?

7. Are you in paid employment?

         Yes (1)                No (2)

8. Are you in fulltime education?

         Yes (1)                No (2)

9. For how long have you experienced reduced vision?

10. What can you and can't you see?

11. Are you registered with social services?

         As Blind (1)                  As Partially Sighted (2)          Not Registered (3)

12. If you are not registered, then can you tell me why?

13. Do you have any hearing problems?

14. Do you have any problems that affect your walking and moving around?

15. Do you have any problems, which affects the use of your hands?


Would you like to receive a summary of the results of this survey?

         Yes (1)                No (2)

If yes, where would you like it to be sent?







Thank you very much for taking part.


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Type of Information



Small items

Magazines & Newspapers


Factual Information



i.e. Leaflets, Letters, etc.



i.e. Novels, Poetry, Short stories, etc


i.e. Text books, Manuals, Hobby guides, etc.


Preferred Format





Standard print






Large print






Sound recording


















Computer file












Formats that are usually available





Standard print






Large print






Sound recording


















Computer file












Format used if preferred format is not available





Standard print






Large print






Sound recording


















Computer file












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APPENDIX 4 - A Note on the Research Process

These notes began as internal aids to good practice to inform the Project Team and the Project Advisory Group. However, they are regarded as being sufficiently helpful to be included here.

This survey broke a great deal of new ground in its approach and methodology. A relatively large number of visually impaired people were interviewed, either in face-to-face meetings or over the telephone. It posed several challenges in identifying suitable respondents and then in obtaining and recording facts and opinion from them as conveniently, ethically and economically as possible. Some valuable knowledge about the approach was gained.

In an endeavour to assist the general progress of research in this area, these notes, drawn from some of the issues that the research team working on the project encountered and the methods that they employed to deal with them, are presented with candour and realism. Some of the observations and recommendations made may be fairly obvious but they are considered worth stressing if successful working is to be achieved.

Determining the Sample

Determining the nature of the sample (and subsets) to be surveyed gave considerable cause for reflection. The survey needed to provide as typical a picture as could be realistically achieved of the situation facing visually impaired people. In the event, an original idea to segment the sample into groups according to their user characteristics was dispensed with in favour of seeking a general sample that embraced a wide age range and geographic distribution but with no pre-selection regarding user (or non-user) status.

It should be noted that it is not possible in a survey of this type to draw up a formal sampling frame and randomly select individuals for interview. Ethical considerations preclude ‘cold calling’ especially, for example, on vulnerable elderly people, and statistical considerations prevent relying entirely on volunteers. Some compromise is therefore required which will give as broad a coverage as possible of the target population without introducing bias. Although such a sample cannot be described as statistically random, it should be adequate to enable conclusions to be drawn on the population as a whole.

Identifying Volunteers

Identifying and contacting potential respondents posed special challenges for the research team. Legal and ethical considerations precluded the sharing of personal information with agencies that could help identify suitable people. Rather, a cohort of selected volunteers had to be recruited. Such recruitment was not an easy process. Several methods of canvassing potential interviewees were adopted.

Local societies for visually impaired people were instrumental in facilitating contact with potential interviewees. It has to be acknowledged, however, that this approach did not reach those people who are least aware of services available to them because they do not belong to a formal group. It is important to be aware that many local societies have a busy schedule and need substantial advance warning if interviews are to be conducted at meetings. Holidays and festivals can be particularly problematic. Ideally, if an interviewing visit is scheduled societies should give members advance warning. In addition, establishing the potential number of attendees can be important; it may not be economical to travel a few hundred miles to interview only a handful of people. Moreover, organisers must be approached with tact and courtesy. A request for co-operation needs to be supported by evidence that the research is genuine; organisers are sometimes (justifiably) suspicious of sales people and those intent on fraud attempting to gain access to their members.

It is also necessary to overcome assumptions held by organisers regarding group members’ usefulness to research projects. Whilst arranging interviews, one may experience replies, such as: “ … but you won’t want to interview them, all our members are over 70 …”. If the group is appropriate for interview, it is important to be insistent and explain that researchers do want to talk to members regardless of age and that all people are important to the survey.

Many local societies offer limited interviewing opportunities, dependent on which days they have meetings. It is not easy to arrange visits that coincide with other societies in close geographical proximity, however, if one can do so, it saves much travelling time. If interviews at a very well attended society cannot be completed in one visit, it is worth offering members an opportunity of taking part in a telephone interview at a later date thus keeping the interest and contact ‘alive’.

Interviewees were also sought through announcements about the research and invitations to participate that were placed in appropriate national and local newsletters of specialist agencies. The lead-time for the appearance of such announcements is a factor in planning.

The Internet, with its plethora of newsgroups, mailing lists and fora, was used as another vehicle for seeking interviewees although it excluded those unable to access IT and so had to be employed carefully. Moreover, the Internet transcends national boundaries and it had to be made clear that the survey was concerned with the situation in Britain.

Another way of obtaining interviewees was ‘word of mouth’. Often those already being interviewed would recommend a friend who was willing to be approached because he or she was interested in taking part.

The Interview Schedule

The interview schedule was challenging to design since it needed to cover a wide variety of potential information sources. It was difficult to anticipate interviewees’ responses, as there had been no large-scale similar research project on which to base the survey. Some elements which seemed logical in the design stage did not work as well as intended. One example is the question regarding mobile and home delivery library services. These are organised by public libraries so the questions regarding their use were asked in relation to public library services. However, many respondents did not associate these services with the public library, as their use did not involve physically visiting the institution. This entailed the need for prompting by interviewers. There is also a need to make generous provision for comments regarding the wide range of services being used by respondents; but this can bulk out the answer sheet.

The Duration of Interviews

The duration of interviews is a consideration and the length of each session may vary considerably for several reasons. Each respondent must be treated as an individual with different circumstances. Some respondents had a hearing or speech impairment and this affected the pace of interviews. Moreover, the very diverse range of information services for visually impaired people and the nature of participation made the duration of interviews difficult to predict. This had an influence on survey planning and on the estimates that were given to potential respondents. Before interviewing, researchers cannot be totally aware of which and how many services people will discuss. During this survey some interviews took 10 minutes and some took an hour, depending on how little or how much the respondent used relevant organisations.

Telephone Interviews

Formal management of the interviewing stage requires the maintenance of a diary of bookings for telephone interviews and diary for in-person interviewing visits to societies. Telephone interviewing raises special issues.

Managing telephone interview schedules can be a complex task which needs to accommodate the convenience of those to be interviewed as well as the availability of interviewers. Interviewing can be very tiring and a group of trained interviewers will spread the load. It will inevitably be necessary to conduct telephone interviews at unusual times and there must be sufficient flexibility in the process to perform interviews after office hours or with a mobile telephone whilst en route to a survey visit.

It is important to be prepared for volunteers to change their minds or for them to forget an arrangement to be telephoned for an interview, in which case a new appointment has to be negotiated. Sometimes potential respondents may moreover, confuse a researcher with a ‘cold calling’ salesperson and terminate the call.

If telephone interviews are to be recorded then it is imperative on legal and ethical grounds that the volunteer is asked to consent to this. It also has to be considered whether recording is really necessary; this can engender alarm in a volunteer and may contribute to an interview being declined.

Some interviewees may assume that the interviewer works directly for the services being discussed. Thus, one must be prepared for respondents who may make direct requests of an agency and they will need to be referred to the relevant agency.

The Reliability and Accuracy of Responses

The study sought to learn about people’s activities and perceptions as they reported them. It was important to accept that what they recounted might not always mirror accurately the true situation. People would forget, or have an inaccurate view of service provision. For example, many respondents had difficulty remembering the names of the organisations that they used, as well as when and how they had joined. Specific answers relating to these factors were sometimes factually inaccurate, however, the survey did obtain an authentic account of their perception regarding these factors and that is what was required. The temptation for interviewers to correct respondents had to be avoided in these circumstances.

Furthermore, it is for each organisation featured in this report to examine how closely users’ perceptions match the service provision reality and what can, and should be done about any mismatch in terms of more effective promotion and publicity.

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