Friday Blog Jul 13 – VIRGIL: Visually Impaired Reading Groups in Libraries

Readers of the blog may be interested to learn how a collaborative approach has helped visually impaired readers get the most from library book groups.


The VIRGIL story began in August 2010 when librarians from four Scottish authorities successfully bid for funding from the Scottish Government through the Public Library Quality and Improvement Fund (PLQIF) for a collaborative project to:

  •  establish and maintain book groups for the visually impaired
  • set up collaborative sharing of resources across authorities
  • create a cost-effective method of expanding similar services to other authorities whose resources may be limited in terms of both stock and expertise.  

Each library authority was at a different stage with their VIP book group: Falkirk was looking into starting a group, the East Dunbartonshire group had begun in 2008, Glasgow’s Partick group in 2007, while East Lothian’s group is believed to be the first of its kind in Scotland, having started in 2003.  This group is proof that you can start with zero budget – apart from a few hours of staff time. Their approach originally was to read the same genre rather than the same title and VIRGIL has made a significant difference to the group as they have finally been able to read the same title together – something that members of other book groups take for granted.

We had our first VIRGIL meeting in Sept 2010 and one of our first tasks was to decide on stock formats. Having looked at subscriptions services as well as different formats, we decided that CD and Large Print best met our readers’ needs.

The funding allowed us to buy 33 titles in multiple copies – 10 on CD and 3 Large Print. A range of titles includes The L-Shaped Room; A Thousand Splendid Suns; Eat, Pray, Love; The Help and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. These circulate around the authorities, giving each group a great choice. The rest of the funding was allocated to training packs, author events and Dictaphones to capture feedback (as filling in forms is not suitable). The groups have really appreciated the injection of new stock – here is an exchange recorded at Partick VIP Book Group using the handy Dictaphone:

 Ann [on “One Day” by David Nicholls]:  I really loved it. I’m really impressed that we got it so quickly when it’s out there and everybody’s talking about it.  And we can join in now because we’ll have read the book ourselves.  I think that if we were buying it, it would be very expensive.  We probably couldn’t afford it so being able to get it through the library was really good.  The best book that I’ve read in a long time.

Kriss:  Well, I really do appreciate the fact that we have these books early…  You used to get these old outdated novels but this is current and they’re making a movie of it and we hear it being discussed on BBC 4, so we appreciate the fact that we’re currently reading something that is of value to us, that we can relate to.

Author events

Funding was allocated for each group to have an author event but instead the four groups decided to meet up at Aye Write! in March 2011 for author sessions with Candia McWilliam – who had herself suffered a period of severe visual impairment – and Jackie Kay.   Aye Write! afternoon tea with Candia

A very enjoyable afternoon was rounded off by Candia joining us for afternoon tea.

The funding covered the design and supply of facilitators’ packs for every Scottish library authority, and the project was presented at the CILIPS Conference in June 2011. As we near the end of the 2-year pilot the next step is talking to other Scottish library authorities about joining the consortium.

Mary Greenshields, Glasgow Libraries

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