In this week’s Princh Library Blog post, the Public Library Accessibility Resource Center (PLARC) project team discusses their history, why accessible libraries are important, and how you can start assessing your library’s accessibility. Enjoy!

“I went to where the audiobooks were and looked for some titles to borrow.  I was using my hand-held magnifier and looking very closely at the materials for about 15 minutes.  Although there were staff around, no one came up to me to ask if I needed help locating any titles.”

~ Is Your Public Library Accessible? Study Participant

Libraries are, by their very nature, designed to be spaces which remove barriers to accessing information, reading materials and resources. But for some folks, particularly those with disabilities, there may be unintended or unidentified barriers to accessing the information and services they need. And libraries, and their staff, need the knowledge and tools to identify and address those barriers.

In Canada, a collaboration by the country’s two national accessible libraries, the National Network for Equitable Library Services (NNELS) and Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA), in partnership with eBound has resulted in a repository of free resources to help libraries do this important work.

The Public Library Accessibility Resource Centre (PLARC) has been collecting and creating resources specifically aimed at increasing knowledge and skills related to accessible services within libraries to increase the availability of accessible books. What began as a project specifically for Canadian public libraries has grown to help many different types of libraries in Canada and has expanded to support libraries well beyond the country’s borders.

The repository is available on PLARC’s website at AccessibleLibraries.ca and resources are available in both English and in French at https://bibliosaccessibles.ca/

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The story behind PLARC

Laurie Davidson, the Executive Director of the Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA) and a member of the PLARC project team says that the need for accessibility resources was identified in a study evaluating the ways publishers, booksellers, libraries, and related sectors could support accessible book production.

PLARC was established to meet that need. “Accessibility is a key priority for Canadian book publishers and libraries. We wanted to create a clearing house of information which can help libraries of all sizes, and their staff, to increase their knowledge. When folks have a greater knowledge of the basics of accessibility, we believe that they will feel more comfortable assisting users and identifying potential barriers, and that library leadership will be better able to support growth in this area.”

In order to ensure the quality of the resources PLARC was offering, the team established an evaluation process. Daniella Levy-Pinto NNELS Manager and another member of the PLARC project team mentions that “One of our first goals for PLARC was to develop an evaluation matrix tool to make sure that anything we published would be a useful resource that reflected best practices in the respective area. We also used this tool to categorize the content according to topic and library roll, so that library staff can find what they need quickly and efficiently.”

Once the website was built and the evaluation process was established the team began curating resources and developing new ones to fill any gaps. Riane Lapaire, Braille & Accessibility Testing Coordinator of the National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS) says “It is important to us to offer resources that were both library-centric and infused with the expertise of people with disabilities. We wanted to ensure multi modes of access — both quick and easy as well as in-depth to ensure the resources would benefit as many library staff as possible. Our team of accessibility experts were vital in creating and evaluating resources, including:

Is Your Public Library Accessible?

In the second year of the project the PLARC team launched a comprehensive study to capture the lived experiences of people with disabilities. The study asked participants to spend six months completing a variety of tasks while navigating and evaluating the physical or virtual spaces of their local library. The resulting report “Is Your Public Library Accessible?” breaks down the findings into seven key categories.

  • Staff Knowledge and Training
  • Physical and Digital Content
  • Library Website and Catalogue
  • Library Buildings and Spaces
  • Library Programming
  • Marketing and Communication
  • Other Library Services

Lindsay Tyler, Senior Manager at CELA, was involved in executing the study and says that the inclusion of people with lived experience was invaluable. “The insights offered by the study participants make it clear how important, and in some cases, how easy it is to make changes that improve the library experience for people with disabilities. In the study, we’ve paired the insights they shared with suggestions and resources which offers large and small libraries an excellent place to begin evaluating their own spaces and services.”

While all libraries benefit from the insights shared in the study, and the PLARC resources, Colette Poitras, Indigenous Public Library Services Advisor, Public Library Services Branch, Municipal Affairs, Government of Alberta believes that these can be particularly useful for smaller libraries which may not have access to the same resources as larger libraries. “Our goal has always been to help all libraries, regardless of their size. But we see particular value for smaller libraries with limited resources. We want to assist them in addressing barriers and growing their capacity for accessible services by offering quality resources and training options. They can benefit from the work of others, knowing that the resources have been vetted and represent the best practices in this area. The training resources are available for free and many of the recommended actions are ones that can be implemented at no cost or low cost. And housing all these resources in one place makes it easier for staff to find what they need quickly.“

The PLARC resources are publicly available at the AccessibleLibraries.ca website and the steering committee is more than happy to see them being used to develop capacity in non-library organizations and outside of Canada. “Accessibility is a hot topic these days, and an important one. We would all be thrilled if the work the PLARC project has done can help libraries, and other organizations, better understand how to remove barriers and better serve people with disabilities, wherever they are.” says Daniella Levy-Pinto.

We will be back with another interesting article from the library world soon!

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PLARC Project Team

This article was written as a collaborative effort by the PLARC Project Team. Special thanks to Karen McKay, Colette Poitras, Daniella Levy-Pinto, Laurie Davidson, Lindsay Tyler, Riane Lapaire and Megan Sellmer.

You can read more about the PLARC project and access their resources to make your library more accessible at AccessibleLibraries.ca

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