The Apple Library in Tromsø affirms every child’s right of access to good books. The library is a two-year project initiated by the Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority. In the spring of 2007 it was decided to establish the first Norwegian Apple Library at the Tromsø Library and Town Archives. The aim of the project is to offer better library services to functionally disabled children, while at the same time creating a model library. The Apple Library in Tromsø affirms every child’s right of access to good books. The library is a two-year project initiated by the Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority. In the spring of 2007 it was decided to establish the first Norwegian Apple Library at the Tromsø Library and Town Archives. The aim of the project is to offer better library services to functionally disabled children, while at the same time creating a model library.
All children have the right to books!
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child clearly states in Article 23 that: “A mentally or physically disabled child should enjoy a full and decent life in conditions which ensure dignity, promote self-reliance and facilitate the child’s active participation in the community”. A functionally disabled child has the right to special care.
The question is one of equality and of the right to participate in the life of the community; at school, at work and elsewhere. It is a manifest right that all children should be able to participate in cultural life. Access to library services is a democratic right, a right affirmed in Norway by the Library Act of 1985, § 1.
A library, user-friendly and accessible to all, can play a significant role as a responsible participant in the local community, always provided it has the means and the framework necessary to exploit all opportunities.
Why place the Apple Library in Tromsø?
In the spring of 2007 the Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority announced the availability of financial support for a two-year project which public libraries could apply for in order to establish the first Norwegian Apple Library.
The aim of the project is to create a pilot library offering good library services for functionally disabled children, which can be an inspiration to other libraries to follow suit. All children should be able to enjoy an equal standard of services from their local library, whether alone, together with friends, family or classmates.
The means employed consist of a combination of standard universal design with special elements. Improved expertise and user participation are core strategies in achieving our goal.
We were chosen from among nine good applicants to establish Norway’s first Apple Library.
Photo: Tromsø Library and City Archive
What is an Apple Library?
When we began the ‘Apple Library’ project in Tromsø last autumn, we received several comments from people amused by the name and choosing to take it too literally. In actual fact we are talking about a department in the library which is specially planned and arranged to meet the needs of functionally disabled children.
The origin of the name and the inspiration for the Apple Library comes from our neighbouring country, Sweden. As early as in 1993 the first Apple Library was opened in Härnösand. Their inspiration in turn came from ‘The Library for the Handicapped Child’ in London.
The choice of an apple as a symbol for this special activity arose from the fact that the Härnösand Library received sponsorship from the American computer company in the form of personal computers, which naturally carried the firm’s logo.
The Tromsø Library moved into new premises in August 2005. This meant that a number of features later necessary to the working of the ‘Apple’ department were already in place from the start. These included markings showing the way to the entrance door, a lift for disabled users and desks which can be raised or lowered for the benefit of visitors in a wheelchair.
Since the opening of the Apple Library, however, a new survey has been carried out in accordance with an accessibility standard established in connection with the project ‘The Accessible Library’. By and large the premises met the relevant recommendations, but certain improvements have nevertheless been carried out. These include a hearing loop (Telecoil), the marking of stairs and all glass surfaces, guidelines on the floor with the apple symbol showing the way to the department, etc.
The department’s equipment includes a personal computer with adapted soft-ware, trackball mouse, a special keyboard and a computer desk which can be raised or lowered as required. In addition we have chosen to categorise the collection somewhat differently from the traditional system.We have also used large signs with symbols and a simple text to make the collection as accessible as possible.
The department’s media include sign language, bliss, Braille, audio books and books with simple text and illustrations. We have also tried to make the collection more accessible by combining different media, such as putting a printed book together with the corresponding audio version into one package. This combination offers greater possibilities and extra support for children with reading difficulties.
In addition to the physical surroundings, the infrastructure and the collection of special books and media, the Apple Library consists of specially designed services.We are also planning specific arrangements aimed at different user groups.
Our experiences so far
It is relatively easy to point out the practical steps to be taken when establishing an apple library, mainly because guidelines already exist to make libraries more accessible to the functionally disabled.
Specially adapted books and media, however, are few and far between and even these are not always as suitable for our purposes as we could wish. We have thought creatively and looked for books and media from less traditional sources. In addition we have developed our own ‘packages’ aimed at making literature more accessible to a greater number of children.
We should also mention that a group consisting of staff from the children’s department, the project group, the library management and a local politician has made a study tour to Gothenburg and Kungsbacka, where they were able to benefit from the expertise and experience of their Swedish colleagues. The previous project leader for the Halland region, Kerstin Frii, has been a constant source of inspiration to us in our work.
A vital aspect of a well-functioning apple library is the relationship between the library and its users. In order to come into contact with our users we cooperate with a variety of organisations, including of course kindergartens and schools catering for children with special needs. These contacts give us important information in our efforts to ensure that the apple department meets the requirements and wishes of its users.
However, the most important factor for a well-run apple library lies in neither the physical surroundings nor the collection, but in the competence of library staff. Our experience is that staff need to upgrade their knowledge with regard to a better understanding of the needs of the disabled and the challenges inherent in the various types of disability.We have paid equal attention to this aspect of the project as to the design of the building and the contents of the collection.
The duties of library staff are many and varied and in a hectic day’s work it is not always easy to give priority to the demands of the apple library. Our experience is that the establishing and running of these services is totally dependent upon the library being able to put aside resources for this particular purpose, first and foremost a responsible leader to manage the collection and to maintain contact with users. The Apple Library in Tromsø was opened on the 26. May, roughly six months after the project was launched. We are now in an initial phase which will present a number of exciting challenges, the main one being to incorporate the department into overall library plans, so that it becomes a natural part of our activities.
An advertising firm has designed the colourful apple logo which we use in a variety of ways to present and to promote the library. Our apple symbolises that every child has the right to feed from the tree of knowledge. The library is situated in the centre of Tromsø.
Elin Marianne Paulsen
Apple Library Project, Tromsø
elin.paulsen AT tromso.kommune.no
Translated by Eric Deverill