World Book Day: a...

Today is World Book Day and under usual circumstances, we’d be welcoming enthusiastic readers to our libraries, keen to take part in the day’s events.  But sadly not this year. This year, we’re looking across at row upon row, shelf upon shelf of organised children’s books, looking forward to the day when kids can come back in to put them out of order!

This period of lockdown, and the prospect now of (hopefully) re-opening more fully in April, has allowed me to reflect on the four years since Inclusion Barnet began an exciting new partnership with Barnet Libraries and took over the management of two local libraries.  Under the new arrangement, Inclusion Barnet would supply people to work at the East Barnet (now relocated to New Barnet Leisure Centre) and South Friern (pictured above) branches while the library service provided initial training, the buildings, the books and DVDs, the furniture and shelving, the computers and other equipment.

This has continued successfully to the present day, with a few changes.  In the late summer of 2019, East Barnet Library closed its doors for the final time and operations were moved to a new-build location at New Barnet Leisure Centre, just up the road (and around a couple of corners).  COVID had had its impact, too.  New Barnet, unfortunately, has had to close every time lockdown regulations have shut down public gyms, but we’ve continued to offer Select and Collect services at South Friern, so people can still request library items online, or by telephone, and safely collect them when they’re ready.  A library take-away!

Why did Inclusion Barnet, a Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisation (DDPO) get involved with libraries?  For one thing, it’s been a great volunteering opportunity for our users.  We’ve had the widest range of people join us, from all walks of life and parts of the world, with a variety of abilities and challenges and strengths and personalities.  Some of our volunteers have been referred to us by specific organisations, including MIND, Resources for Autism, Jewish Volunteering Network and Volunteering Barnet.  Others have approached us directly, including people who have experienced challenges volunteering in other environments.  We’ve been able to offer a safe, supportive and enjoyable environment in which to gain skills and confidence (and simply to meet and mix with other people), often leading to other opportunities and sometimes paid work.  We’ve been proud to include people with physical and sensory impairments, mental health issues and learning difficulties on our frontline, and members of the public using the libraries (who, of course, also include members of these groups) have responded well to our diversity.

We’ve also been using the library spaces and our social media presence to promote Inclusion Barnet and its values, and to host activities, campaigns and events that we’re supporting or running.  Notable highlights, pre-COVID, included free drop-ins for welfare benefits advice, which Inclusion Barnet’s Kyle Phillips offered monthly at both branches, a popular series of assisted yoga sessions, and occasional Mindfulness workshops, via Barnet and Southgate College.

Once we leave the long lockdown shadow and are able to full open up to the public again, we’ll continue to make New Barnet and South Friern libraries a vital part of the Inclusion Barnet family and the wider community. New ideas for doing so are always welcome!

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