Public Libraries bridge the gap.
In recent years there have been significant sectors of our communities that have not engaged with conventional services, resulting in them being labelled as “hard to reach” groups. Public Libraries have taken huge strides in building solutions to this lack of engagement.
What are hard-to-reach groups?
This is far from a definitive list, and of course not all who fall in these groups are hard to reach. However, it highlights some marginalised, vulnerable or disadvantaged parts of our communities where often libraries do have relevant services that reach these groups.
- people with mental health problems / suffering from personality disorder
- Black and Minority Ethnic groups
- children / children in care
- young people
- older people
- those who live in rural areas
- young middle-class workers
- teenage parents
- single parents
- victims of domestic abuse
- socially excluded people
- people from sexual minority communities
- socio-economically disadvantaged
- those who cannot read, write or speak English
- drug users
- refugees and asylum seekers
- disabled people (physical and learning)
- people with visual, hearing and speech impairment
An excellent example of such work is shown by these initiatives in Hertfordshire:
Libraries serve the whole of the Hertfordshire Community from the cradle to the grave, and our users reflect all ages, genders, ethnicity and economic backgrounds. Libraries are also represented in Local Strategic Partnerships and work with a range of local partners including County and District Council departments, health services, schools, and a wide range of community and voluntary organisations.
Particular examples of our recent work with ‘hard to reach’ groups includes :
The Hertfordshire Local initiative is currently being rolled out across the County, which promotes libraries as local, face to face access points for County Council information and online services for people who do not have Internet access at home, or who require help in finding the information they need.
Hertfordshire Libraries have 540 public access computers, and offer free ICT taster sessions for people with little or no experience or confidence in the use of IT.
Libraries in St Albans have worked closely with the local homeless shelters, and research indicates that more than 90% of homeless people in the City are library users.
Libraries in various parts of the County host information, advice and learning sessions provided by partner organisations, such as Youth Connexions, Domestic Violence advice, Carers in Herts, Work Solutions etc.
Libraries work with the Hertfordshire Adult and Family Learning Service to provide learning opportunities for families in hard to reach groups. This includes the Travelling Stories project to provide learning opportunities for Travellers.
Libraries work with the Health Service to provide the Books on Prescription service, in which people with mental health problems are referred to the library by their GP to use an approved collection of self-help books on mental health issues.
Libraries work with Skills for Life providers to promote the Six Book Challenge for people with reading difficulties.