Case study

Understand Me: the communication library

Development of accessible and relevant library services to families with disabled children

Understand me - poster

Understand me - communications library. Photo credit: West Sussex county council

West Sussex Library Service works with colleagues from the Special Educational Needs & Disability (SEND) team to develop accessible and relevant library services to families with disabled children (e.g. sensory storytimes).

Contribution to corporate priorities

Start of life: early intervention to provide targeted support where necessary

Later life: providing support for older people (and those providing care for them) to enable them to live independently for longer

Helping people to help themselves: empowering residents to access services that enable them to solve their own problems

The right people, delivering the right service, at the right cost – designing service which are cost effective, avoid duplication and are accessible by residents who need them

Description of the work and the partnership

West Sussex Library Service is working with colleagues from the Special Educational Needs & Disability (SEND) team.

From this partnership a need was identified for families wanting access to low-tech communication aids to support children and young people with limited or no speech.

After some initial scoping it was proposed that the library service be commissioned by the SEND team to establish a special communication library. The commissioning agreement required the library service to:

  • establish a working group of relevant professionals and parent carers to design the new service
  • purchase communication aids as identified by professionals and parent carers, and service them as library stock to enable them to be loaned out
  • create an online catalogue and request process to enable customers across West Sussex to view the collection and obtain an item via their local library
  • promote the new service via all channels, including children’s librarians undertaking community-based outreach work
  • monitor usage and provide feedback to SEND team to inform future service planning and provision

Outcomes achieved

Understand Me - the communication library went live to the public with 30 items at the end of October 2015. Since then every item in the collection has been borrowed at least once, with most items loaned several times. More items have been added to the collection to meet demand for certain devices. Customers accessing the service have included parent carers, speech and language therapists working with children and adults, teachers and preschool staff.

Accomplishments / lessons learnt

The team has collated feedback from customers as they use the service. This information is to help monitor use, plan to meet future demand and also build a business case for financial support from the local NHS. Monitoring usage has meant they have been able to make informed decisions about how to expand the collection based on what people are requesting and using most. However, some customers have suggested such monitoring seems intrusive and that they need to provide clearer explanations on the webpage, as to why information is being asked about the end user.

Future plans

West Sussex are now working with professionals supporting adults with communication difficulties to extend the scope of the service. They plan to develop the collection to include devices that support adults with dementia, acquired brain injuries or learning disabilities. They are also in discussion with local NHS colleagues to explore future commissioning options.

Additional material

Information and the online catalogue

Contact for further information:

Published 28 January 2016