Tucked away in the basement at The Core you’ll find the Home Library Service. Part of Solihull Council’s library services, and run by Gill Masefield and Ian Fellowes, it’s a free service delivering boxes of books to around 230 Solihull residents every 4 weeks.
Gill and Ian describe their jobs quite simply. “We choose books, we put them in a box and we deliver them to people.” But listening to them talk and hearing the reactions of the people they visit, you realise that Gill and Ian provide much more than that.
Gill is pictured second left with (from left to right) Anne Hastings, Chief Executive of Age UK Solihull and Jill Griffin and Kate Bunting from Solihull Council's Library Services.
The service is designed to go to people’s homes or residential homes, wherever the need is, and deliver books (including large print format and audio books). There are criteria for using the home library service but it’s flexible, as Gill explains. “We support people who are not completely housebound but they would struggle to walk to the library or carry the books home. We don’t want to stop them being independent. And we cater for carers if they are unable to get to the local library.”
With some customers using the service for five, or even ten, years, Ian and Gill can get to know people and their reading preferences very well. Ian explains: “We try to give people what they want plus something a bit different otherwise they keep asking for the same authors and we will run out of books. When I visited one customer, he opened the door with a book in his hand. He said ‘I’d never have picked that author in a million years. Got any more of his books?”
Sometimes Ian and Gill are the only visitors people have during the day, week or even month. “We see people who have no family contact, no hobbies”, says Gill. “They don’t want you to feel sorry for them but they can be quite low when you go in. When you leave you can see that they’ve lifted. That contact is so important.”
Ian continues: “Loneliness is a serious problem. Not just in Solihull. So I love being able to drop in with a box of books and have a chat with them”. Gill agrees: “I often think ‘these are somebody’s parents’. It’s about showing them respect. I wouldn’t expect anyone not to bother about my parents. But not all our customers are elderly. We visit people with disabilities and mental health issues. Some are at home on dialysis or going through cancer treatment. It’s not just about age.”
The visit is an opportunity for Ian and Gill to mention work the Council is doing, such as Trading Standards alerts about local scams, or to suggest other useful services like Solihull Borough Talking Newspapers or the Fire Service for home safety check which people may not be aware of.
They also make occasional referrals to Adult Care and Support, with the individual’s permission. Gill explains: “As we only visit once a month we might notice deterioration in someone’s condition that you wouldn’t see if you visited them every day.”
Ian and Gill are modest about their success at the Solihull Together Awards. “We don’t feel we are doing anything more than we did 10 years ago. We’ve just tried to make the Home Library Service the best we can. But it’s satisfying for us to know that our work is appreciated.”
Gill finishes by sharing another story which illustrates the Home Library Service’s outstanding customer care. “We were delivering books to a care home which supports people with dementia. The books were coming back badly damaged and couldn’t be reused. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. It’s just the nature of the condition. Rather than stopping the service we asked all the libraries for any discarded books to ensure that this customer could still have reading material. Then it didn’t matter what state they came back in. They could be thrown out. Staff at the care home were delighted that the service could continue and the customer herself was so excited to have some books. We don’t always get things right but we always do our best.”