LIS 7850 Final Blog Post

As we close on the semester, I’ve focused a lot on education, community, and social justice within my studies of universal access and library services to people who are disabled and older adults.  I’ve realized that there are many different things that librarians can do to help these populations, but the biggest one is to educate ourselves.

We must educate without belittling or lessening the experiences that others face in their day to day life.  It is important to understand and support, without ever assuming that we truly understand what populations different to us goes through.  We must actively work to change the cultural idea of what “normal” is to include a wider range of people than it currently does, in all levels of society.

This means being aware of what micro-aggression is, and how to avoid behaving in similar ways.  It means having some idea that books written about people who are disabled may not be accurate representations, and therefore perpetuate painful stereotypes.  Educating ourselves also involves and understanding of the resources people have in our communities, and how the library can reach out and harness these resources, to provide a full and engaging experience.  While also keeping aware of the fact that sometimes, the services we provide are not accessible.  However, our education will help us make these services more open.

When I started this class I was asked to write out a handful of assumptions, an assignment I balked at, because I know assumptions are often unsafe to make.  I came up with the following:

1) Disabilities manifest differently for every person.  Two people may have the same disability, but it will manifest with its own unique challenges and issues.

2) Aging presents its own set of issues and challenges that cannot always be addressed in a blanket fashion.

3) Being old, or being a person with a disability does not have to affect your quality of life.

4) There is just as much diversity in aging and disabilities as there is in other identities.

All of my assumptions have remained the same throughout the course of this class.  If anything, the readings, course material, and other assignments of this class has only served to propel these assumptions into firm truths. I have been made aware of a wider range of issues, challenges through this class than I was before.  I am also well on my way to a better understanding of how to counter these issues,  and to create a library environment that is welcoming to a wide range of people of varied abilities


Universal Access

Universal access is the concept that physical buildings, technology, information, and many other things should be open and accessible to those who are physically disabled or have other issues from preventing access in a traditional manner.   It is an idea that needs to take root in society, as even with the technologies and advances we have made, there is still a large barrier when it comes to people who fall outside of a “normal” preconceived notion of ability and ability levels.

Universal access is the concept that buildings should be barrier free, beyond just ADA compliant, but properly accessible to people of all types.  It is the idea the computers should be easily adaptable for people who have low or no vision, and limited mobility.  It also pertains to things like websites, presentations, and documents; that there is an uncomplicated way for people who are disabled to access the information provided on these materials.   The ADA mandates that buildings be accessible, yet there are some situations were buildings can be grandfathered in to be non-compliant.  In other situations, even if the buildings meet ADA codes, does not mean they are practically accessible.

However, in the situations such as educational materials, websites, and virtually everything else, are often not accessible.   This provides the biggest issue for libraries and information agencies.   There are many ways to make buildings more accessible, and things such as furniture and software on computers.  Yet, making buildings more open, including furniture and other settings, are expensive and often hard to retrofit.  Technology is costly to purchase, and hard to retrofit.  On top of that, these items then have to be marketed, which takes staff time and additional funding.

Sadly, this all falls to the clients, leaving them as underserved within the library.  Buildings, even accessible ones, provide different hassles of navigation.  Computer labs will not have the software needed to make computers fully accessible.  If a library does have these services, the marketing might not reach the people who need it most.

As librarian professionals we need to be aware of little changes we can make, and educate ourselves.  This will allow us to look at our workplaces, down to the physical buildings, to the materials that we but out, more open and accessible to a wide range of people.

Outreach and the Library

I’ve addressed my local library and its outreach to seniors in a previous blog post.   So for this post I’m going to turn to a library outside of the Detroit area, Rochester Hills Public Library.  I was exceptionally impressed with RHPL’s library service for older adults.

RHPL has an Outreach Coordinator, who is in charge of services to senior adults, as well as services to the disabled community and is in charge of running a bookmobile service.  They work hard to make sure that older adults are connected to the library and they have services that are geared toward them.

Within the main branch, there is a dedicated room for outreach services, which is where most of the services for the senior community are organized.  This room includes their large print collection, computers, a home health care library, relevant magazines, and assistive devices to aid in reading.  RHPL also has mini-branches in each of the designated senior living complexes in the area that they support.  There is also one located in the community center for older adults.  These branches are run by volunteers within the communities and provide access to large print, audio book materials, as well as bestsellers, DVDS, and other paperbacks.  RHPL have book cards for residences where the patients may be room/bed bound, where they can pick a selection of books, audio, and movie materials off a mobile cart on a twice weekly visit.

These stations are more than just a collection of books, and allow greater access to materials to patrons who might not be able to make it to the main location.  They also provide excellent opportunities for older adults to become engaged in their communities and participating and staying active.  This type of partnership, between the housing complexes and the senior living center is a brilliant partnership that more libraries could think of fostering.

There are additional situations to provide programming directly at these mini-branches, depending on size of the branch.  These could be educational or entertainment events, which will allow people to remain connected to one another and engaged in discussion.  Not only will people be able to enjoy the programming, but they could enlist volunteers from the housing complex and senior centers, which provide an even better opportunity to stay involved.  Nurturing a community is can, and should be, an important role for libraries.