Culture and public library use: researching community needs

With books, multi-media, online resources, bus passes, and hearing aids Edinburgh Libraries provide our community with access to information as well as support with everyday necessities. These services and others are curated by library staff to match community needs. Research into community needs helps library staff to choose what resources will be most useful for their community. Rachel Salzano, a PhD researcher at Edinburgh Napier University, is hoping that her research with Edinburgh community members will provide information that can help Edinburgh Libraries staff continue to provide their excellent services.

Rachel’s research focusses on the relationship between culture and public library use in newcomers to the community. Much of the published library research mentions a connection between culture and how individuals use the public library, but none so far have focussed on this relationship. Rachel is attempting to fill this knowledge gap in order to help library services more closely match community needs. For the current research, she is working with refugees and asylum seekers specifically.

Rachel has provided two options participants can take: a questionnaire with optional follow-up interview or an art exhibition. Participants can choose one or the other (or even both, if they want). The questionnaire – – asks about how participants use the public library, in their country of origin and in the UK and cultural background. The follow-up interview is based on the results of the questionnaire and asks questions to help clarify the results of the questionnaire.

The arts exhibition asks participants to create and send Rachel a piece of artwork based on this prompt:

Take a photo or create a piece of artwork that represents why you use the public library in the UK. If the way you use the library has changed since you came to the UK, you can also create a piece of artwork representing why it has changed. Submit as many pieces of artwork as you want.

The artworks will be placed in an online, and in-person, exhibition. The in-person exhibition will be available when government regulations allow. Through an interview, Rachel will work with participants to create a description that will accompany the artwork. Prizes will be awarded based on public voting. Read more about the art exhibition via the project website.

Examples of possible photos or art creations that can be submitted.

If you want to know more about the project, please email Rachel at

Both Rachel and Edinburgh Libraries participated in RIVAL a project to establish a collaborative network of Scotland-based Library and Information Science (LIS) researchers and practising library and information professionals interested in maximising the impact and value of LIS research.

How libraries changed the lives of visually impaired people in Edinburgh

Edinburgh City Libraries recently won the annual Jodi Awards for best use of technology to widen access to information, learning, collections and creativity for disabled people in museums, libraries, archives and heritage. These awards are given in memory of Jodi Mattes, a tireless champion of equal access to culture for disabled people.

The award is the culmination of years of work developing our services in this area, and we’re very proud of the impact we’ve had on people’s lives.

Here’s how it happened:

Back in 2013 we took the decision to expand our service for visually impaired users from its city centre location out across the city.

We wanted to make it easier for people to use our services and to offer something innovative which would attract new members to the library service.

Here’s what we did:

We started by consulting with existing and potential members and relevant organisations – both local and national. This gave us some idea of what direction to take, and the pitfalls to avoid.

Then we bought some iPads. We invested in Apple equipment because of the embedded “voiceover” adaptive technology built-in to these devices.

Next, we deployed experienced staff to deliver professional training and we also recruited suitable volunteers.

And the results?

The project resulted in 130 new library members, who are confident using technology, sharing what they’ve learned with others, and continuing their learning independently.

Another offshoot of the project is that through the contact people have made we’ve set up 3 reading groups specifically for people who are blind or partially sighted.

We’re now approaching other local authorities to develop a community of best practice. In addition to organisations such as RNIB, Guide Dog Scotland, Deaf Action and Share the Vision, we’re now developing partnerships with other national and local agencies and the voluntary sector in order to expand the reach of the project.

So what’s next?

The success of this initiative has inspired us to think about how this networking pattern can be used to support people with other sensory impairments. We’re starting to explore ways to remove barriers to library use for people with hearing loss, and we’ve also looking at ‘Boardmaker’ software to support people with autism.

Finally, here’s what some of our members think of the service:

‘I really appreciate the service Jim and his team provide. Since coming along to the group I have managed to take control of my iPad, beforehand it felt like the tablet had a mind of its own.’

‘I can now read a newspaper online, something I have never been able to do before.  As a result of attending the iPad sessions I can keep up-to-date with all the events surrounding my favourite team Celtic.’

‘I never thought I would be able to cope with a touch screen. I couldn’t have been further from the truth, the iPad has enhanced my life in so many ways. I now am able to assist Jim and help out by passing on what I have learnt to new members.’

‘As a recent convert to Apple technology I have found the library service excellent.  Jim always tries new innovative ways to incorporate novices like myself with more experienced iPad users.’

‘I really enjoy coming along to the library iPad groups not only for the technical know-how available there, but the social interaction is a vital ingredient to the success of the project.’

‘I really appreciate both the expertise and patients that Jim and Joanna (our volunteer) have in abundance.  They always have great ideas to keep us all challenged in a fun way.’

‘There is nowhere else in the city where we can get such a tailor-made service for visually impaired people to master this new technology.  Jim has endless patience and never seems to tire when being confronted with our endless and often repetitive questions.’

Books On Wheels

4293291804_b4c2a7f632_oEdinburgh is well served by libraries with 28 branches across the city. However, it’s not always possible for some folks to reach these branches so we have a number of other services operating which allow access to books and reading. These include the mobile library, the home delivery service an library link.

Mobile Library Service
The mobile library service first took to the road in 1949 becoming the first service of its kind in Scotland.  The first van cost £1,836 and carried around 2,000 books across 10 sites.

Mobile Library out in the community

Mobile library in 1954

These days the mobile library makes 79 different stops across the city covering areas from Balerno and Ratho to Leith and Restalrig.  It also visits sheltered housing and retirement flats where residents can come on to the bus to choose book and books can be delivered straight to the rooms of those living in care homes. 

We caught up with George from the mobile team in Marchmont and after initial parking difficulties a delivery was duly made to  appreciative residents of a sheltered housing complex.

George tells us the relationship between staff and readers is one of the rewarding parts of the job: “Even though there’s no specific branch that we work from we still get to know readers pretty well and build up a relationship.  We get to know them pretty well and their taste in books and we’re always keeping an eye out for books coming in they’d be interested in.”

Home delivery service for housebound readers

Housebound readers service inauguration

Launch of the home delivery service in 1964

We also aim to reach out to the community through the housebound service. This service was launched as Books on Wheels in 1964 in partnership with the WRVS and Social Services Dept.  Today a team of  RVS volunteers still help deliver books to the doorstep of those who are housebound through illness or disability. We currently make around 450  housebound deliveries each month.

Library Link Service
The Library Link is another great service which opens access to the library for those who may have difficulty reaching a branch.  It is a free bus service for anyone who has difficulty getting to the library because of age, disability or ill health. Trained staff and Royal Voluntary Service volunteers will provide help getting on and of the bus and there is plenty time to choose books and enjoy a coffee and a chat before being taken home again. This service started in 1992 at Muirhouse 23 years on it is now an integral library service offered across the city. In Feb 2015 we delivered 56 sessions engaging with 475 people.

Some of the Library Linkers visiting Portobello Library told us of the benefits of the service:

Eileen: “I’ve been coming here for 11 years now. I’ve been using it the longest out of everyone here. For me it’s the social aspect, it’s about getting out and meeting people just as much as the books.  I had an operation on my hip so it became a bit more difficult to get down so this service has definitely helped to improve my social life”


Library Link at Portobello


Library Link at Portobello

Catherine agrees: “I gave up driving when I was 91, I’m 95 now. This is the only way I’d be able to come to the library now.  The staff here are very helpful and always have some books ready for me but it’s good to have the time to look myself aswell. I’m looking for some Sottish poetry today.


Library Link at Portobello

If you’d like to find out more about any of these services call Access Services on 0131 529 5683.

Archive images courtesy of Capital Collections.

Libraries: Getting Edinburgh Online

GetOnline2Edinburgh Libraries’ Kenny Sharkey is spearheading a new council initiative to widen digital participation in Edinburgh.  Get Online, as the name suggests, aims to demystify the world of the internet for people with little or no experience and help give them the skills and confidence to get online and take part in the digital world.  We dropped in to a session at Craigmillar Library to get a feel for the project.

Kenny explains that widening participation is key to the project. “It’s remarkable that studies show that 15% of people have never used the internet.  To me digital inclusion is all about helping people access the world of technology that many of us take for granted but get enormous benefit from. We’re trying to reach as many people as possible that can benefit from taking part in this.”

GetOnline3As a tutor of the popular LearnIT courses which were run across Edinburgh Libraries, Kenny had recognised the need to keep up with technology so as well as using  laptops, help is also offered in the use of Ipads, tablets and smart phones.

Sessions are delivered across a 5 week plan and each lasts for 2 hours.  Participants are divided up according to device and asked to choose options from a ‘learning menu’ in order to get the learning experience best suited to their needs.

GetOnline5The success of the sessions also relies upon a band of loyal volunteer tutors which has enabled 1-1 tuition in most cases.  During our visit, Jennifer was helping Mina get to grips with her new tablet.

Jennifer: “It’s really beneficial to people who are scared of learning in a more formal environment. It’s more personable here and people seem to respond better with 1-1 tuition.  You can take it for granted if you have grown up around this stuff. If you are new to it there’s a lot of buzz words to get your head around. ”

Mina:  “I’m starting over again. I’m 90 so I think I can be excused for forgetting things. I’m completely new to this and want to get more out of it. I’ve been using it to do a bit of historical research and to send emails to my family in Australia and Canada.”

Kenny tells us that relying on volunteers is what gives Get Online a strong sense of community. The project has also worked in partnership Castlebrae High School creating a great inter-generational feel.  Barry Ferguson, Head of IT, says: “We tried to get involved with something like this before but it hadn’t worked out.  Since Kenny started this though, things have really taken off. It’s definitely been a confidence booster for the kids involved and helps show the positive role the school can play in the community.”


Castlebrae pupil Jordan was helping Jill learn what her new IPad had to offer.

Jill: My daughter lives in Australia so I wanted to be able to use Face Time and things like that just to keep in touch.  I want to be able to use it to book tickets and the I-pad doesn’t come with instructions on how to do things like that. I have had about 5 lessons and I’m definitely improving. I’ve face-timed my daughter now and we’ve emailed. It’s great.”

Jordan:  It’s great to help people in this way and as I’m close to leaving school this is great work experience for me.


Kenny is pleased with the reaction to the service and the way it is helping people feel more connected in their communities and often with family in other parts of the world.

Kenny: “In  a lot of situations people are leaving after 5 sessions and confidently ordering things online and Skype-ing relatives abroad and that’s what it’s all about: ensuring people are confident enough to participate in the digital world”

Initially established in Craigmillar, sessions are now being delivered across the city in locations like Leith, BlackhallMorningside and Central Library.  Check the Get Online blog for future dates around the city or email Kenny for more details.

Library computer users’ survey

We are planning to improve the free public computer service in libraries. Please help us to do so by completing this short survey. Thanks!

The library year: ten highlights of 2012

2012 wasn’t just about the Olympics, the Jubilee and the “salt and sauce” final. As the year draws to a close let’s take a look back at some highlights of the year in libraries. We could have included many more but decided to limit it to ten. So apologies if we missed out your favourite – and if we did let us know!

10. Love in a library

There you are, browsing the shelves, minding your own business, when the bloke standing along from you suddenly bursts into song. Then, instead of politely asking him to be quiet, a member of staff joins in.

Love in a libraryVisitors to several libraries were bemused, beguiled and totally taken with the ‘Love in  a library‘ series of guerilla operas that broke out in libraries as part of Edinburgh International Festival’s outreach programme.

9. Celebrating twenty years of a lifeline service

Launched in Muirhouse Library in 1992, Library Link provides transport to and from the library for users who would be otherwise unable to visit. Over the years the service has gone from strength to strength and now covers libraries across the city. In October regulars celebrated Library Link’s 20th birthday with parties.

8. Edinburgh Reads. And reads and reads and reads

From rising stars like Jenni Fagan to established names like Liz Lochhead, Alistair Darling and Maggie O’Farrell, this was a vintage year of free ‘Edinburgh Reads’ author events. Next year’s events kick off with a visit from former first Minister Henry McLeish on 17th January.

7. Knitting

These authors weren’t the only ones spinning yarns this year. A few years ago who would have predicted the explosion in popularity of knitting?

The Woolympians

These Woolympians, created by Sighthill Library’s Knit and Natter group, took Facebook by storm during the summer. Later on in the year Wester Hailes Library’s knitters made woolly hats for troops serving in Afghanistan, a great example of libraries’ place at the heart of communities

6. Art

Our ongoing commitment to supporting local artists bore fruit with the Inspired Library exhibition and accompanying ebook, and Central Library was the venue for a remarkable ‘A room with our view‘ installation put together by some of the city’s most talented young artists and writers.

A room with our view

5. Kenny Logan on Dyslexia

If you haven’t done so already take a look at this video of former rugby star Kenny Logan talking humbly and honestly about his experiences with Dyslexia, filmed at Drumbrae Library back in February. Powerful and moving.

4. Jonathan Meres

The brilliant Jonathan Meres won himself many new fans when he came up to launch the Tesco Bank Summer Reading Challenge.

A perfect choice to get another reading-packed summer off to an absolute flier.

3. Winning the Library of the Year award

Yeah, we know. We’ve probably mentioned this before.

2. Two brand new libraries

The year started, and ended, with two brand new libraries opening in Drumbrae and Craigmillar. The speed with which these libraries have become focal points of their neighbourhoods is evidence of the hugely important role we have to play in building and supporting communities.

1. YOU

This city is full of people who are passionate about their libraries and feel a real sense of ownership and pride in them. Any success we’ve had is down to the fact that there are so many of you who totally believe in how important libraries are, and the enthusiasm you’ve demonstrated by supporting us in so many different ways.

So to everyone who borrowed, visited, joined, used, made a suggestion, or spread the word about libraries this year, a great big thank you.

Here’s to next year!

Celebrating twenty years of Library Link

There are many ways libraries touch lives. One example is Library Link.

Launched in Muirhouse Library in 1992, Library Link provides transport to and from the library for users who, due to physical constraints, would be otherwise unable to visit.

In the library customers choose their books and other materials then join other Link members for a cup of tea and a chat.

Over the past twenty years the service has gone from strength to strength and now covers libraries across the city.

Library Link forms a unique partnership between libraries and the voluntary sector. The WRVS recruit and support volunteer escorts to accompany the link members and transport is provided by organisations such as PEP (Pilton Equalities Project) and SEAG (South Edinburgh Amenities Group).

Over the past few weeks many of our Library Link members have been holding parties to celebrate our twentieth anniversary, as the pictures below show.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A very special party at Muirhouse Library tomorrow will celebrate the success and continued longevity of Library Link. It will be an opportunity to thank many of the individuals involved and show gratitude to the volunteer organisations that make this partnership work so well.

The schedule for the day will include the introduction of a new Edinburgh City Libraries brochure. ”My  library keeps me out and about” Library services for older people is a new booklet providing information about the various activities and services available to older people in Edinburgh, or anyone who finds it difficult to use their library through disability or illness.

Services highlighted in the brochure include Library2go, Get Up and Go, and Your Edinburgh.

The booklet also provides information about local events and activities including the popular book groups, IT courses and activities for children and grandchildren.

Here’s to the next twenty years!

Victorious Volunteers!

Last Thursday night saw several members of the library’s invaluable WRVS volunteers being honoured for their long service. At the event in the City Chambers some of the Edinburgh Books on Wheels volunteers were presented with medals including David Colvin, a volunteer of 20 years and Grace Aithie of 27 years. The Books on Wheels service delivers books to housebound readers every two weeks and also provides a Library Link service which escorts readers to the library. Without the dedication of the WRVS volunteers there would be no housebound services and these provide a vital lifeline for some older people in reducing isolation and loneliness. As well as books the volunteers always deliver a friendly face and some much needed chat!

Grace Aithie receiving her award from Deirdre Brock, Deputy Lord Provost

The library now has 148 volunteers who give 10,280 hours of their time to housebound and Library Link readers.  If you’d like to find out about volunteering to help with the Books on Wheels service please ask at your local library.

Morningside Mobile Service

The mobile service at Morningside Library will only be available between 10am-12.30pm and then 4-7pm tomorrow. Unfortunately there will be no service between 12.30-4pm due to unavoidable maintenance work.  Apologies for any inconvenience this may cause.

Views and Costumes of China and Japan by Baron Stillfried

To complement the Edinburgh Art Festival exhibition ‘Costume and Custom in Japanese Art’ we have selected photographs taken by Baron Franz von Stillfried throughout Japan and China in the 1870s. Images of landscapes and villages are juxtaposed with portraits of performers, pallanquin carriers, doctors and street vendors. Individually each one is an image of great beauty, as a whole however, they provide a real insight into the social history of late 19th centuryJapan.

woman holding a parasolFranz von Stillfried ran a studio in Yokohamaat the same time as his brother Raimund, who was also known as ‘Baron Stillfried’. This caused a great deal of confusion with the local residents and visitors to Japanin the Meiji Period, and with art historians today. The album, which dates from 1879-83, comprises 67 separate mounted prints presented in a lacquerware box. Many of these albumen prints have been hand-tinted. This was a laborious process for which von Stillfried employed, at the height of his success, a substantial number of Japanese workers.

You can see more of Baron Stillfried’s fantastic images documenting life in 19th century Japan by visiting Capital Collections, our online image library.

The Costume and Custom exhibition can be found on the main staircase up to the Reference Library and in the glass display case under the stairs at ground floor level. Don’t miss this opportunity to see a large-scale Japanese scroll painting depicting all aspects of 18th century Japanese life!

Morningside Library Service – Tuesday 7th June

The mobile library covering the Morningside Library service will be closed from 1pm today, and will reopen on Thursday, 9th June  at 10am. This is due to unavoidable vehicle repair.

We apologise for this interruption to service. Remember you can still renew books online, or by phoning or visiting your nearest library – use our handy postcode search to find out which one that is.

We’ve got an app for that!

Introducing the free Edinburgh Library App available from today. The first of its kind for a Scottish public library, the Edinburgh Library app is available free now for Android devices now and will shortly be available for Apple, Blackberry and Windows devices.

The Edinburgh Library App has up to date information about library events, activities, and service updates that are usually only available on the library website. The app will also include Bus Tracker, First Bus timetable information, and additional content from Edinburgh City Libraries.

We’re very excited about this  brand new way for citizens and visitors to find out about the  information and services available from Edinburgh City Libraries – no matter where they are.

The development of this App by Library Services and the Scottish company Solus makes the best use of technology for all customers by taking existing information and repackaging it for mobile devices. Your Library App will be developing to include features which allow you to send comments and images from your phone direct to the Library Service.

The app is available for Android users to download now. You can also download the app by scanning this QR (quick response code) into your camera phone – give it a go and tell us what you think!

Mobile Library Services

Mobile Library Services have reviewed road conditions today (Monday 6th December).

Although we can get the vehicles onto the main roads we have had to cancel all mobile library, library link and housebound services due to road conditions on side roads, access to premises, restricted kerbside parking and narrowed roads in the estates where we operate.

We will review again tomorrow and look at alternative locations where it is possible to park without obstructing other services or getting stuck ourselves.

If any housebound reader is getting desperate for reading material could you let us know by calling 0131 529 5683, leaving your name, address and phone number and we’ll see what we can do – no promises but we’ll try!

The Ice Age continues…

All libraries will close at 4.30pm today (2nd December).

Mobile library, Book Bus and care home services are cancelled until Monday 6th December. On Monday we’ll have a look at road conditions and see whether we’ll be able to get the vehicles to (and from!) their usual stops.

The Resource Centre at Central Library will be open as normal but will close at 4.30pm with the rest of the building.

Brr! Closures etc

Our mobile libraries are off the roads until further notice.

We’re also having problems with the phones  – if you can’t get through to your local library and want to renew your books or whatever please call 0131 242 8020.

We’ve just heard that Sighthill Library is closed today as well.

For the very latest announcements check our news feed on twitter.

Tactile Drawing Workshop for Children

If you’ve seen the Edinburgh People exhibition by blind photographer Rosita McKenzie, you will also have seen the wonderful tactile drawings created by Rosita’s collaborator, Camilla Adams. Tomorrow, from 10.30-12.30 at Edinburgh Central Library children, of all ages, can come along and have a go at creating their own tactile drawings.

 For more information contact 0131 242 8000

This event is part of the Edinburgh Art Festival.

Read Aloud – call for volunteers

Every month staff from Edinburgh City Libraries, together with friends from The Scottish Poetry Library, visit care homes around the city.

We ‘Read Aloud’ short poems and stories, pass round photos and props to get the old memories flowing and often end up with a song. The care home residents love the contact, the chat and the laughs, and the pleasure and stimulation that reading brings.

We’re currently looking for volunteers to get involved with Read Aloud – so if you love reading, sharing and meeting people why not consider signing up? More information and an application form is available on the Volunteer Scotland site.

Edinburgh People

A photography exhibition by blind Edinburgh photographer Rosita McKenzie is currently running at Cental Library, George IV Bridge.

This video may whet your appetite. Rosita discusses the exhibition, her process and some of the challenges of being a blind photographer. Enjoy.

Blind photographers

You may have read about the work of blind photographer Rosita McKenzie, who will be exhibiting her work in Central Library during the Edinburgh Art Festival.  If you want to find out more out more about the work of visually impaired photographers and artists, why not borrow Seeing beyond sight: photographs by blind teenagers, or have a look at the associated web site.

Drawing & the blind explores how children and adults who have been blind since birth can both perceive and draw pictures – in fact many famous visual artists continued to produce work after becoming visually impaired, and Edvard Munch and Edgar Degas actually took up photography in their later years partly because of their failing eyesight. Use your library card to log on to Oxford Art Online to find out more about them, and other, artists.

You may also be interested in some of the services Edinburgh City Libraries offers visually impaired people.

Open Day for older readers

We’re holding a special open day next week to showcase some of the services we offer older people. 

See a book group in action, find out about the Library Link door to door service, browse our ‘Quick Reads’ bite sized books or sign up for a ‘silver surfers’ computer class.  

Staff will also be on hand to help with any queries you may have about books, bus passes, accessibility or any other way we can help.

The afternoon will be very informal and tea and coffee will be served. Just come along to Sighthill Library next Tuesday (9th March) between 1 and 5pm – we’ll see you there!