I chose to look at the local provision of library services.
The East Sussex County Council (ESCC) Library Plans and Strategies offer a review of services from 2005 to the present day and a vision for the next six years.
Access and equity are rolled into one:
‘Providing library and information services for people with disabilities, people from black and minority ethnic communities and other people at risk of social exclusion’. Published December 2009
It is intersting to look at stocking decisions and policy, as it is at this point that choices are made regarding resources.
‘East Sussex Library and Information Service recognises that we serve a diverse community and we are committed to developing our stock to be inclusive irrespective of race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, age and religion or belief. We will ensure that while providing stock to meet the needs of the whole community we will meet legal requirements and industry standards’.
The above means that they will follow the guidelines of the 2010 Disability Act.
‘As technology and formats change we will develop policies and strategies to ensure that we offer opportunities to read using all available methods (e.g. MP3, downloadable ebooks and audiobooks)’.
Here it is less clear how choices are made regarding technology.
By having guidelines and by benchmarking decisions in relation to access a national rather than a local consensus can be found. ESCC libraries follow ‘National Indicator 9’ and the ‘Library Benchmark’ (a voluntary self improvement tool) as well as local targets as defined in the ESCC Vision and Business Plan which has a vision for access and equality of access with proactive steps taken in relation to the growing number and recognised need of that they call the ‘older old’.
New formats, such as downloadable e books and audiobooks, are making reading more accessible and will replace older formats.
ESCC aim to:
Provide a range of stock for housebound and care centre customers including Large Print, audio formats and reminiscence materials.
Provide materials for people with disabilities or sensory impairments, for example selection of Makaton, Braille and BSL (British Sign Language) stock.
New library builds are designed with physical access in mind and better and greater provision of computers with Internet access
In one innovative case working with a building group the upper floors of a new library in Seaford, for example, will include accessibility apartments for people with learning difficulties.
In the US there were calls five years ago for the American Library Association (ALA) to put in place at ‘a kind of watchdog group’ to respond to the policies and guidelines drafted by other ALA groups to ensure that access issues are considered. Schmetzke (2007:528)
It is worth considering both physical and online access issues Schemtze (2007:529) is critical of ‘Web pages that do not provide “electronic curb cuts,” such as text alternatives for non-textual components, proper skip navigation links, meaningful link text etc., pose barriers.
Potential problems occur with:
- Documents in PDF image-only format cannot be read by screen readers.
- A catalog in which search boxes and buttons are not properly labeled leaves some people stranded.
- Online surveys, meant to find out about users’ needs and wants, systematically exclude the voices of people with certain disabilities if they are not free of barriers.
There are universal benefits to taking access into consideration at the design and build stage.
‘Especially in the age of hand-held do-it-all devices, it is widely acknowledged that accessible design tends to be good design and that it is beneficial to all’. Schmetzke (2007:529)
An extra level of trouble and care deepens and lengthens the thinking on a project – editing, clarity and layout all improve when accessibility issues are considered.
Schmetzke tells the story of a blind library user who struggled with the software provided, but by gets involved to solve the problem not only were alternatives found:
- What Do I Read Next
- Readers Advisory Online
- What Do I Read Next (a Gale product)
Schmetzke (2007:529)… but they turned out to be cheaper too.
Whilst Schmetzke goes on to argue that no one should ‘find himself or herself in a position where they have to fight battles’. Schmetzke (2007:529) I wonder if this isn’t this inevitable? That change is always a struggle of some kind? That without some debate there is complacency? That things can always be improved?
More damning Schmetze found that a usability survey on American Libraries failed to include a single question explicitly addressing accessibility issues and used an online survey tool (Survey Monkey) that was inaccessible. Schmetzke (2007:531)
Schmetzke calls for a univeral design approach
‘Properly designed, there should be no need for alternative versions. What can we do about these shortcomings?’ Schmetzke (2007:532)
The general idea is to be proactive, not reactive; to monitor actively and systematically, not to passively wait until, by sheer coincidence, someone stumbles upon a problem.
This paper proposes the creation of a global library of Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) talking books:
The Essential Role of Libraries Serving Persons Who Are Blind and Print Disabled in the Information Age (Kerscher, 2006) (SEE BELOW)
Here, it is pointed out, that no matter the provision of computers and what they can then do with digitised text, ‘a large percentage of their patrons are not computer power users. This average library patron must be served using the technology that is appropriate for each person’.(Kerscher, 2006:102)
The DAISY Consortium has its roots in Libraries for the Blind
It then integrated key experts in their employment to participate in W3C working groups, and in other technology development initiatives focused on information delivery. (Kerscher, 2006:102)
East Sussex Councty Council (20012) ESCC Library Plans and Strategies (accessed 5 Dec 2012 http://www.eastsussex.gov.uk/libraries/policies/plans/download.htm)
Kerscher, G (2006) (accessed 4 Dec 2012) The Essential Role of Libraries Serving Persons Who Are Blind and Print Disabled in the Information Age
Schmetzke, A. (2007) (accessed 5 Dec 2012) Leadership at the American Library Association and Accessibility: A Critical View
- How do you use an Activity System to improve accessibility to e-learning by students with disabilities? (mymindbursts.com)
- What should the role of public libraries be? (ilmk.wordpress.com)
- Local Libraries Work To Accomodate Tech Savvy Readers (kcrg.com)
- Alternative Formats / ALTS (edulogic.wordpress.com)