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Accessibility in Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums: Public Libraries

Introduction to Accessibility in Public Libraries

This page includes resources of interest to public librarians who want to make their institutions more accessible to patrons with disabilities. With one in four American adults having some type of disability, public libraries cannot truly serve the whole public unless they prioritize equitable access for patrons with disabilities. Below you will find recommendations for readings that will introduce you to accessibility policies, training resources, funding opportunities, and the relationship between disability, race, and policing in public libraries, as well as case studies and inspiration for changes to make at your own library.

Small Changes, Big Impact

It may seem overwhelming to begin making your library more accessible—especially if your library has a small budget or if you as an individual don't hold much decision-making power. But accessibility is too important for you to wait for the perfect time to begin. Even small changes can have a big impact. Below are a few ideas to get started—inspired by the IFLA checklist for accessibility in libraries—as well as further resources with even more ideas.

  • Offer curbside pickup or delivery service, or allow proxy borrowers. Many public libraries have begun offering curbside pickup during the coronavirus pandemic, but consider continuing to offer this service even after regular library service resumes. Home or mail delivery services can also be useful for patrons who are temporarily or permanently homebound. Allowing proxy borrowers to pick up books or materials on someone else's behalf is another possible solution.
  • Record video tours of your library. This can help make patrons feel more comfortable before going to an unfamiliar library for the first time. Check out these video tours of the Forbes Library for inspiration.
  • Make sure your signage is clear. Use a large font size on a high contrast background, and eliminate any confusing terminology. Make use of pictures where possible.
  • Use a microphone during events, and don't cover your mouth while speaking. Even if your library can't afford to install hearing loop technology right now, these small changes can make your events more accessible to patrons with hearing loss.
  • Include books by authors with disabilities in your displays.
  • Attend free trainings to increase your knowledge of disability and accessibility. See the section on Staff Training for more information.
  • Connect with local disability advocacy groups. Invite representatives from these groups into conversations on accessibility in your library, and listen to what changes they'd like you to make.

Further resources

ALA Policies on Disability and Accessibility

Disability and Policing in Public Libraries

Three disabled people of color (a Black non-binary person with a cane, a South Asian person in a wheelchair, and an Indigenous Two-Spirit person with a prosthetic leg) block a neighborhood street while holding up cardboard signs. The photo is shot from behind everyone.

Chona Kasinger for Disabled and Here. Licensed under CC BY 4.0.

Public libraries need to think critically about the ways police presence can put patrons with disabilities at increased risk, particularly Black and Brown patrons with disabilities. These resources introduce several critiques of the relationship between public libraries and the police, as well as an introduction to the intersection of disability and race in encounters with police. A guide to alternatives to calling the police, organized by city and situation, is also provided. We encourage you to get familiar with alternatives to policing in your area.

Additional Reading

Interested in learning more? These suggested resources cover everything from a theoretical lens on the obligations of modern public libraries to the practical side of writing — and maintaining — a plan for making your library more accessible and inclusive.

A dark skinned wheelchair user with long hair and a beanie sits at a small table, using their laptop to participate in a video meeting. The laptop screen is shown to their right, with the call being live captioned. The main speaker is a dark skinned person wearing a hijab and glasses, and 3 other participants are at the bottom of the screen, in smaller windows. In the bottom right corner, a yellow service dog bounds towards the wheelchair user.

Dana Chan for Disabled And Here. Licensed under CC BY 4.0.

Accessible Programming Case Studies

Public libraries across the United States and beyond have introduced innovative programs and solutions to make their offerings more accessible and inclusive. Here are just a few examples of inclusive programming at public libraries to inspire programs at your own library.

Funding Resources

Money is tight, and finding the budget to make accessibility-related improvements to your space, attend trainings, or develop new programming can be tough. Fortunately, there are grants and funding options specifically for programs and research aimed at increasing inclusivity, as well as more general grants that you can apply for. In addition to the resources listed below, consider reaching out to local groups that might be interested in sponsoring a project: local businesses and local service clubs like Kiwanis Club or Rotary Club may be able to donate supplies or funds.

Staff Training

No matter how physically or digitally accessible your library is, it won't be a welcoming space for all patrons if librarians and other staff aren't knowledgeable about disability and inclusivity. The following trainings and resources are aimed at helping librarians increase their awareness and knowledge of disability and accessibility in the library and beyond. Alongside other diversity trainings, these professional development programs can help librarians become aware of their own unconscious biases and overcome barriers to both providing inclusive service to patrons and creating an inclusive workplace environment for all staff.

References

Abrams, A. (2020, June 25). Black, Disabled, and at Risk: The Overlooked Problem of Police Violence Against American with Disabilities. Time. https://time.com/5857438/police-violence-black-disabled/

Association of Specialized, Government, and Cooperative Library Agencies. Management: What You Need to Know. ASGCLA. http://www.ala.org/asgcla/resources/tipsheets/management

Balzer, C. (2020, July 8). Rethinking Police Presence. American Libraries. https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2020/07/08/rethinking-police-presence/

Carter, N. (2020, June 26). What Hearing Police Sirens Means to Me as a Black Disabled Man. Greatist. https://greatist.com/live/what-hearing-police-sirens-means-to-me-as-a-black-disabled-man

Grassi, R. (2017, January 17). Libraries for All: Expanding Services to People with Disabilities. Illinois Library Association. https://www.ila.org/publications/ila-reporter/article/55/libraries-for-all-expanding-services-to-people-with-disabilities

Irvall, B., & Skat Nielsen, G. (2005). Access to libraries for persons with disabilities - CHECKLIST. IFLA Professional Reports. https://www.ifla.org/files/assets/hq/publications/professional-report/89.pdf

Library Freedom Project. (2020, June 9). It’s not enough to say Black Lives Matter — libraries must divest from the police. Medium. https://libraryfreedom.medium.com/its-not-enough-to-say-black-lives-matter-libraries-must-divest-from-the-police-2ab4adea58f1

Love, K. (2018, May 14). Pittsburgh Teens Record Thousands of Audiobooks For the Blind and Visually Impaired. WESA. https://www.wesa.fm/education/2018-05-14/pittsburgh-teens-record-thousands-of-audiobooks-for-the-blind-and-visually-impaired

McGowan, S., Martinez, H., & Marcilla, M. (2018, September 28). AnyAbility: creating a library service model for adults with disabilities. Reference Services Review. https://www-emerald-com.ezproxy.pratt.edu/insight/content/doi/10.1108/RSR-03-2018-0034/full/html

Robinson, B. (2019, December 11). No Holds Barred: Policing and Security in the Public Library. In the Library With the Lead Pipe. http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2019/no-holds-barred/

Thompson, V. (2021, February 10). Understanding the Policing of Black, Disabled Bodies. Center for American Progress. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/disability/news/2021/02/10/495668/understanding-policing-black-disabled-bodies/

Tulsa City-County Library. (2013). Transforming Library Storytimes for Children with Sensory Integration Challenges. Urban Libraries Council. https://www.urbanlibraries.org/innovations/transforming-library-storytimes-for-children-with-sensory-integration-challenges

WebJunction. (2019, July 18). Prioritizing Accessibility and Disability Inclusion at Your Library. WebJunction: OCLC.org. https://www.webjunction.org/news/webjunction/prioritizing-accessibility.html