PL 12
National Assembly for Wales
Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee
Inquiry into: Public Libraries
Response from: Royal National Institute of Blind People     



Committee Clerk

Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee

National Assembly for Wales, Cardiff Bay

CF99 1NA


16 January 2014


Dear Sir/ Madam


RNIB Cymru are the largest sight loss organisation in Wales. We provide a range of services and support to blind and partially sighted people, as well as campaigning for improvements in eye health and sight loss services.

There are currently nearly 100,000 people in Wales living with sight loss, and the number of people with sight loss is expected to double in the next 25 years. The impact of sight loss can be devastating, and losing the ability to read the written word is one of the factors that can leave blind and partially sighted people feeling isolated and alone. We believe blind and partially sighted people should have the same access to books and information as sighted people, and so we welcome this opportunity to respond to the committee’s inquiry into public libraries.


When considering the role of public libraries and the delivery of local authority library services, we would ask the committee to consider the following points:


1.   The physical accessibility of libraries to blind and partially sighted people

Many blind and partially sighted people find it difficult to travel independently, relying on public transport or taxis for the journeys they have to make. Where local libraries are under threat, the impact of longer and more difficult journeys for people to reach their next nearest library must be taken into account.

The design of the built environment of a library should also be considered, particularly as part of any refurbishment or development programme. Use of colour and lighting, for example, can make a significant difference to whether a blind or partially sighted person can navigate their way around a building.


2.   Libraries as a community venue

Public libraries are about more that books. Many are hubs for their local communities, where people can access a range of information, attend training, use computers etc. When these services are provided in a way that is accessible to blind and partially sighted people, they can help to reduce isolation and social exclusion. We observed this through our Get Connected project, for example, when we used local libraries as venues to run sessions aimed at helping blind and partially sighted people to get online and use digital technology. As part of the project we then produced a guide for libraries and other community organisations, with advice and guidance on how they could adapt their own digital inclusion services to make them accessible to blind and partially sighted people. A copy of the guide is available to download at

3.   Access to reading

Blind and partially sighted people face a dramatically limited choice of book titles. Only seven per cent of books are available in large print, unabridged audio and braille, including titles available in these formats as eBooks. Availability in the Welsh language is even lower. RNIB’s Talking Books service, therefore, is a lifeline for many people, offering access to over 20,000 audio books. Historically many local authorities have funded Talking Book subscriptions for blind and partially sighted people but in many areas this support is now under threat. As the committee considers how local authorities can mitigate the impact of public sector cuts on library services we would urge you to consider the impact of withdrawing access to Talking Books, which for some blind and partially sighted people is the closest thing to ‘traditional’ library services that is accessible to them.



Thank you once again for the opportunity to submit evidence to this inquiry. If you would like any further information, please do not hesitate to contact us.


Best wishes


Alexandra McMillan

Senior Manager (Policy, Communications, Research and Membership)

RNIB Cymru, Jones Court, Womanby Street, Cardiff, CF10 1BR

02920 828560/