November 22, 2017

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Research: Library Large Print Still Needed

by Ian Chant

LJ_03212016_LargePrintFor blind and partially sighted individuals, reading is not just something they do for school or work: A 2012 study of blind individuals in the United Kingdom found that 82 percent reported reading for pleasure, with nearly 60% saying they read for more than ten hours a week.

Virtually all (96 percent) of readers in the UK survey, which was led by Dr. Rachel Spacey and librarian Claire Creaser, reported reading fiction titles, while about three quarters said they read non-fiction.

Selection criteria for blind and partially sighted readers surveyed mirrored trends shown in surveys of all readers, with more than two thirds reporting that they chose titles to read based on the fact that they already knew the author. Other factors that highly influenced these readers were the recommendations of friends (53%) and content in a genre they liked (42%).

While in recent years, e-readers have made more titles available to low vision readers, since readers can change an ebook’s font size at will, not all patrons are ready to embrace paperless reading. A 2012 study in the journal Eye found that while low vision individuals actually read faster on digital screens, they still tended to prefer physical books with larger print, citing the fact that they were more familiar and easier to use than e-readers.

The library role

While nearly half of respondents in the U.K. survey (45%) reported checking out titles from their public library, just over a quarter (26%) said that librarian recommendations were important in how they selected reading material, suggesting that there’s room for librarians to step up their readers’ advisory for this audience.

One place where libraries can be particularly useful, Creaser and her colleagues concluded, was in organizing and hosting reading groups for low vision readers. A study by the Royal National Institute for the Blind found that 44 percent of blind and partially sighted readers reported feeling detached from their communities.

“It’s a very pleasurable thing to do,” said one respondent. “You come together with 10 to 15 people that you see once a month… It is because of the staff and the helpers at the library that make it what it is.”

Small design decisions within libraries can also make a big difference to partially sighted readers. Easily readable signage for large print and audiobooks sections, for instance, is key to making sure that low vision readers can navigate independently to the content they’re looking for.

“Libraries are able to control the ways in which materials are shelved and presented,” write Creaser and her colleagues, pointing out that giving low vision readers “the opportunity to choose what they want to read…is an integral part of the reading experience.

If your library is hosting an author, for instance, making sure that their titles are on hand in large print and audio format can help to engage partially sighted readers at that event.

To keep on top of all these aspects, in 2011, the Scottish Library and Information Council suggested designating a staffer as a “champion for the reading needs of blind and partially sighted people.” At some libraries, volunteers are on hand to help guide low vision patrons through the collections.

“There is a reading buddy,” said one respondent to the Creaser and Spacey study. “It’s interesting because she gives us descriptions of her favourite books and she tells us what other people in the library like. Her job is to help people who can’t see to pick audiobooks or large print.”

Not just for seniors

While many patrons looking for large print will skew to the older side of the spectrum–participants in the Eye study averaged nearly 80 years old–visual impairments can occur in anyone, regardless of age, so it is important for libraries to ensure their collection includes a broad range of large print titles that appeal to patrons of different age groups and interests.

“Research shows that large print books can benefit children and teens with learning disabilities, particularly those who have dyslexia,” Suzanne Neumann, then a reference librarian at Northbrook Public Library in Illinois, wrote on the YASLA blog in 2012. “Reluctant readers, and those who are visual learners, also can benefit from large print books: the larger font and increased white space can help to improve word recognition, comprehension, and fluency.”

Ian Chant About Ian Chant

Ian Chant is a former editor at LJ and a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Scientific American and Popular Mechanics and on NPR.

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Comments

  1. Kara Kugelmeyer says:

    While this article focuses on the UK – in the United States – PEW research reports

    A common theme in PEW’s surveys’ on public libraries is that books, browsing, and librarians are still central to how people use libraries and what they expect from them. -PEW Libraries in the Digital Age 2014

    Print is still the anchor of Americans’ reading habits as “print traditionalists” make up over 1/3 of the current library going public. -PEW Libraries in the Digital Age 2014

    The majority of older adults 55+ reported that “taking out books” is still their #1 reason for going to the library

    Large Print books provide many benefits – which start with a format (print) that allows readers to “deep read” and lose themselves in a book.

    Benefits of Large Print books include:
    * Anti glare paper
    * Easy to read font
    * More white space to make it easier to identify letters/words
    * Today’s Large Print books are the same size or smaller than regualr print hardcober books

  2. I have found that many large print readers prefer print to ebooks. Ebooks are a great option & some embrace it, yes, but not all. And I’m glad you point out there is also a need for children’s / teen large print — I just wish there were more sources for purchasing them, especially for middle grade.

    • We here at Thorndike Press have over 140 YA Titles, Including Harry Potter, Divergent Series, Percy Jacksons, All of the Top selling titles and Also the classics Like The Giver, Island of the Blue Dolphins and We have dedicated a Special for Schools where It’s up to 40% Off, and free shipping, life time guarantee, and we also offer free shelf ready book service..

  3. Great article. Just wanted to add that large-print prevents eye strain, helping people who are not visually impaired, but like to read a lot. It is also extremely helpful for people learning English as a second language, especially if the characters/symbols in their first language are different than English — Russian, Arabic and Chinese, to name a few.

    Additionally, not everyone is comfortable “reading” audiobooks. Part of the reason is that listening and reading are processed by different parts of the brain. For people who love to read, are losing their vision and are having a hard time adjusting to audiobooks, have them try reading large print while listening to the same title in an unabridged audiobook. I have found that most people are able to make the adjustment and enjoy audiobooks after “double reading” just a few titles.