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Magazines > Marketing Library Services > September/October 2009

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Special Report
Libraries Change Lives Award Goes to Leeds Project That Serves Autistic Children
by Amber Clark
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Every year since 1992, CILIP: the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals has recognized U.K.-based library projects that work to assist disadvantaged populations in their communities. This year, the top Libraries Change Lives Award was given to the Leeds Library and Information Service for its project Across the Board: Autism Support for Families, which provides professional assistance and support for families of children with autism. The Across the Board program bested 25 other entries this year to receive a trophy and a prize of £5,000 (roughly $8,230 U.S.) to use toward its cause.

This project grew from the request of a local mother, Kate Webber, to get Boardmaker software in her library. The software is a series of picture-based programs that aids communication between parents and their autistic children. Since approximately 300 families in Leeds have children with autism (and an additional 25 preschool-age children there are diagnosed with the disorder every year), Webber’s initial request eventually led to widespread use of the Boardmaker software throughout Leeds libraries. This set the stage for Across the Board to become an increasingly pertinent staple of the community.

Leeds Library and Information Service started by partnering with a staff of autism specialists and health professionals who work in speech and language therapy to create Across the Board. The program’s aim was to break down general assumptions surrounding autism and to provide support and information. Autism inhibits an individual’s ability to interact in social situations, specifically causing him or her to struggle with communication. The frustration that stems from this struggle can often result in unpredictable behavioral outbreaks, leading families to avoid places such as libraries. But now, Across the Board has taken measures to help affected families view libraries as open and safe places that they and their children can enjoy.

Organizers say that 16 of the libraries in Leeds have now purchased Boardmaker, and all 53 have improved their col­lections of autism books. Many of these libraries also hold monthly meetings for families. These meetings, led by a staff of autism professionals, are designed to equip families and their children with information, to answer questions, and to offer lasting support during their struggles.

Jason Tutin, the learning coordinator at Leeds Library and Information Service, responded to Across the Board’s win by stating: “It is great to be able to respond positively when a member of the public requests a new service. Kate Webber saw the potential of Leeds Library Service to support, not just her family, but other families who have children with autism.”

The organizers of Across the Board plan to continue their extensive autism support, and they plan to branch out to other members of the community who could use assistance with communication, specifically the elderly.

Details About the Secondary Finalists

Two other U.K. projects were on the shortlist of finalists, and they were both recognized for their life-changing achievements.

One was the Edinburgh Reading Champion Project, which works in conjunction with the City of Edinburgh Council. This project focuses on children and young adults who find themselves “looked after” or placed in residential care. Due to their life situations, which often include neglect, abuse, disability, or challenging behaviors, these young ­people have often been denied some of the basic as­pects of the social realm, such as using libraries.

The Edinburgh Reading Champion Project helps these children discover the world of books. A dedicated “reading champion” (adviser) works with library staff members, caretakers, residential staff members, and others to help some of the most vulnerable youth come to understand and appre­ciate the pleasure of reading. This allows them to grow as individuals, boosting their self-esteem and giving them a sense of academic strength and independence. Visits from a book bus (bookmobile) bring plenty of age-appropriate books for the kids to choose from, and the reading champion helps them find stories that speak to them in order to spark their interest in reading.

The other finalist for the Libraries Change Lives Award was the Six Book Challenge. This project was formed by the partnership of The Reading Agency along with Costa Coffee and, similarly to the Edinburgh program, it seeks to encourage reading for pleasure—this time within the adult community.

The Six Book Challenge joins library staff with local colleges, trade unions, prison education, and numerous other adult services. The organizers reach out to these populations and offer them a chance to participate while supplying books that will appeal to them. These partnerships have spread into 152 libraries across the U.K. in an attempt to increase book usage among less-capable readers.

The project aims to boost adults’ reading by inviting them to read a minimum of six books and to keep a journal about them. As participants work through the challenge, they are rewarded with incentives, and upon completion they get certificates. By reaching out to these populations and improving their reading ability, this program allows them to celebrate reading and usually makes it into a new habit.

Each of these finalists was presented with a check for £2,000 (about $3,300 U.S.). You can see short films about all three projects by clicking the “2009 finalists” link at

Details About the Libraries Change Lives Award

The Libraries Change Lives Award competition is designed to recognize U.K.-based library projects that work to create positive changes in their communities. Generally, the programs tackle the struggle of a disadvantaged population, such as folks who are homeless, disabled, or institutionalized. Each project must also represent the partnership of two or more groups, one of which must be a library or information service.

In addition to delivering a helpful and informative service to its community, a winning project must illustrate its ability to succeed. The organizing group must have been providing its services for at least 12 months, and it must meet certain ­criteria such as having proper financial planning and demonstrating not only good practice but also creativity and innovation as well as proving its ability to adapt and its capability to remain fluid. Above all, of course, a program must show its ability to have a significant effect on people’s lives, creating a change for the better within its local community.

The winners of the Libraries Change Lives Award are handpicked by a select group of judges. This year, the panel consisted of Linda Constable (committee chair), Simon Par­ker of Leicester Libraries, John Vincent from The Network, and Ian Watson of the Lancashire County Council. Con­stable stated, “This year’s winner is an amazing project that has captured the judges’ imagination as it demonstrates how libraries can make a big difference to children’s lives with very little money but lots of energy and enthusiasm.” She continued to praise the connection between the library and its community, saying, “One of the keys to the success of this project has been the partnership between the parents and the library staff and their commitment to providing the library services and support for the children when and where it is really needed.”

All three winners were presented with their awards at a ­ceremony during a conference named Umbrella 2009 (www Umbrella, CILIP’s biennial flagship event, took place on July 14 and 15 at the University of Hert­fordshire’s de Havilland campus in Hatfield. The event is designed to educate people on literacy, libraries, and infor­mation services in addition to recognizing those individuals and groups that are striving to make a difference.

The Libraries Change Lives Award has become a positive force within libraries and their communities throughout the U.K. The recognition that comes with the award has helped many of its previous winners keep up their good work. Past winners include Bookstart, which is an operation that originated in Birmingham and is backed by the government. The project was designed to increase literacy rates in younger ­children by encouraging them to read with their parents. Bookstart now reaches more than 3 million children and their families and has been recognized for its contribution to the significant increase in literacy levels in children who are attending primary schools. Other past winners include the Big Book Share from 2002, which connected children to their imprisoned fathers through audio recordings of their fathers’ voices reading various books. The 2007 winner, Welcome to Your Library, worked on bringing refugees and asylum seekers together with their local libraries.

The award is designed to not only recognize these library programs for their contributions to the population but also to raise awareness about the projects themselves.

Amber Clark is a recent graduate of the University of Vermont. She has had numerous journalism-based internships and plans to attend graduate school and to pursue a career in publishing and/or editing. Her email address is
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