Reading Buddies project helps the blind use North East libraries

BEING blind or visually impaired needn’t stop a love of books, thanks to a new scheme in the North East.

Linda Oliver with her guide dog zoe are helped round the city library by Katherine Holden, 18 who is working as a blind buddy helping visually ipmpaired users.

BEING blind or visually impaired needn’t stop a love of books, thanks to a new scheme in the North East.

The Reading Buddies project has been designed in partnership with NEALIS – North East Accessible Library – and Information Services, the RNIB, the Guide Dog Association and The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.

It was launched yesterday at Newcastle City Library and, if successful, will extend to other branches.

The Reading Buddies have received training and a recognised qualification from the Guide Dog Association. They will now use their skills to help visitors who have visual impairments to use facilities at the library, including screen readers, and also provide assistance choosing materials such as MP3s, CDs and e-books.

The first Reading Buddies are students Aiden Woof, 22, Katharine Holden, 18, and Alex Davies, 16.

Katherine, who is studying English language at Northumbria University, is working towards her gold Duke of Edinburgh award.

She said: “The training was quite daunting at first because we were made to put blindfolds on while someone guided us around, which was very strange, but really useful. We will be on hand to help people with a range of services, from using the software equipment to generally guiding them around the library. I think it’s a great project.”

Tony Durcan, Newcastle City Council’s director of culture, libraries and lifelong learning, said: “It is really important that all people have equal access to reading opportunities.

“We are very excited about this new Reading Buddies scheme and think it will make a real difference to blind and partially-sighted readers.

“And we really hope that as well as helping existing readers, it will encourage new people to use our services.”

The idea behind Reading Buddies came from the NEALIS project, which aims at improving library, information and reading services to blind and partially-sighted people throughout the North East.

The project has received funding from both Share the Vision and the Museum, Libraries and Archives Council.

NEALIS has also been shortlisted for the 2011 CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) Libraries Change Lives Award.

Mark Freeman, chair of the NEALIS, said: “From the relationship we have developed with our customers, and with the organisations who support them, we know how much it means to people who cannot use conventional methods to be able to continue to read.”

Reading Buddies was also launched as part of the RNIB Make a Noise in Libraries Fortnight, a national campaign to encourage visually impaired people to continue with reading.

For more information on the Reading Buddies scheme call Newcastle City Library on 0191 277 4100.


David Whetstone
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