5. Who are you telling?

As public library staff know well, that famous group “the general public” is comprised of a very broad range of individuals of all ages, backgrounds and abilities.

At any one time up to 25% of them have an impairment, whether temporary or permanent. That’s one in four of the population who may face barriers in accessing, understanding or using information because of how it is written, presented or made available.

About half of the population is functioning at level 2 or less of the International Adult Literacy Survey’s five-point scale, although the minimum desirable level for industrialised countries is level 3. That’s a lot of people who can derive only limited benefit from standard forms of information.

At the same time, everyone is bombarded by information all day long. That includes even the most loyal and interested library users. If public library information is to be seen and absorbed, it must be attractive, simple and clear. If it is fussy or complex, people will ignore it or “put it aside for later”, and “later” may never come. That’s a missed opportunity on both sides, and a lot of wasted library effort and resources.

Finding the right balance

People like to know what is going on, and like to be informed. At the same time, they dislike being overloaded with information. Too much detail is a turn-off. People also get fed up with being referred elsewhere for the information they need. Because public library staff know their subject so well, it can be hard to figure out what approach will work best. Involving your audiences will help you to find the right balance (see section 9.5.2).

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