Library Spaces are Made for Everyone
Libraries serve a wide range of people like those with different backgrounds, disabilities, and culture. Because libraries function as a space for all members of the community, it is important to ensure that measures are in place to be as inclusive as possible. People from all walks of life use the library and if resources and library tools aren’t compatible with their needs, it can become a barrier rather than a support.
The good news is that libraries everywhere are recognizing the steps they can take to help members of the community feel welcomed and comfortable with library spaces. From inclusive initiatives to staff training, there are plenty of ways libraries are making a difference.
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Starting With the Basics
Libraries have a long history of helping people with disabilities. With the extensive amount of people coming in and out of the libraries, there are already lots of ideas put in place to make sure everyone is able to get the help they need. Many of these are procedures that the general public is used to seeing and may not even associate with inclusive practices. For example, libraries provide a wide range of formats for borrowing materials. Audiobooks may be something that is convenient for daily commutes or long roadtrips, but they are also critical to certain populations of people who may not be able to read a physical book. Digital borrowing platforms are also another way libraries accommodate those with disabilities. While large print books exist, the text size in ebooks can be easily manipulated for those that may need larger letters in front of them.
Library buildings themselves also provide a level of accessibility for those who need it. Ramps and elevators are all useful options for people that have trouble with stairs, slow walkers, wheelchair users, etc. Many libraries even have wheelchair-accessible desks in place to address the needs of individuals with physical disabilities.
Inclusive Libraries Initiative
A 2017 study on public libraries and accessibility references an inclusive libraries model which identified the key elements for libraries to focus on in order to improve when it comes to being more inclusive. These elements include collections, programs, training, partnerships, marketing, and physical barriers all influenced by supportive management. While it takes a lot of planning and effort to create a good balance, libraries are already working on implementing initiatives towards these.
The Inclusive Libraries Initiative was used in rural libraries in Northeast Alberta to not only serve library patrons with disabilities but to also attract more patrons with disabilities to take advantage of resources. It was designed to address barriers to web-based information and communication technology and was based on the idea that local libraries were ideal places when it comes to offering technology accessibility to the public.
The project began with a survey consisting of multiple interviews with librarians in the area to create a baseline for their research into the initiative’s effectiveness. Activities, training, and workshops worked to introduce people to the library’s resources and encourage those with disabilities to use the library for their technology needs. Libraries were also provided with assistive workstations that consisted of adaptive input equipment and software.
They found that initiatives like this were able to make significant progress towards creating a more inclusive space for all library patrons especially those with developmental disabilities. Not only were community members able to discover the tools available to them at their local library, they also became more enthusiastic about using the library and visited more frequently.
Practicing Inclusivity Initiative
The Practicing Inclusivity Initiative was introduced in 2018 in the Durham County Library system. Its purpose was to create a welcoming environment that also took into consideration the accessibility needs of those with a variety of disabilities and special needs.
Funded by grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), this initiative focused on three main approaches to creating an accessible space. These were staff training, inclusive spaces, and inclusive programming. The library system recognized a need for increased employee awareness on special needs and filled this gap by hosting guest speakers and training on topics such as sensory processing and American Sign Language (ASL).
Creating Sensory Environments
The libraries also had their spaces renovated to accommodate those with special needs by incorporating more sensory spaces, multi-sensory environments that housed interactive decorations, objects, and furniture. For example, bubble walls, tactile toys, color-controlled fiber optic cables, and music were just a few of what was placed in the room. Those who start feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated can go to specially designed rooms to help them.
During renovation week, the library held a pop-up event with temporary sensory spaces that ended up being extremely popular with the public. The overall response was that individuals felt like the library was a space created with them in mind. Now all of the libraries in Durham County have kits with items like sunglasses, noise-canceling headphones, or sensory objects to make their programs more adaptive, accessible, and inclusive.
It isn’t just physical disabilities that libraries are taking into account. Mental barriers that library patrons may face are also becoming a priority for libraries. A librarian for equitable services working in East Los Angeles dedicates her time to make the library space as inviting as possible. She tackles “library anxiety” in patrons and raises awareness for microaggressions in librarianship. Pulling from her own experiences, she understands the difficulties that can arise when navigating resources and the fear that can come with asking for help.
Library spaces are made for everyone which makes sense as to why it needs to be created with specifics in mind so that everyone feels like they belong there. Spaces that help lower barriers for participation are crucial when it comes to ensuring everyone is able to access the resources they need and libraries have been working on solving these types of situations for years.