How do we make electronic resources accessible in our school library?

Date Updated

Libraries play a critical role in education, and increasingly this role is being fulfilled with information technology. Books, manuscripts, journals, course materials, research databases, and catalogs are increasingly available electronically. Libraries often house computer labs and other information technology facilities, and library staff are often signficantly involved in the deployment of educational entities' information technology.

Libraries must be particularly sensitive to the variety of tools people use to access information. Students, employees, and other library visitors might possess any of a broad range of disabilities. They might perceive information visually, they might perceive it audibly with a screen reader, or they might perceive it through a tactile device such as a refreshable Braille display. They might control information technology with a mouse, or they might be physically unable to use a mouse and instead have to use a keyboard or any of a number of assistive technologies. Despite the variety of their technology interfaces, each of these individuals will need to access the full array of library materials.

On January 16, 2001, the governing body of the American Library Association (ALA) unanimously approved the Library Services for People with Disabilities Policy. The policy describes the scope of relevant disability law and affirms the need to provide equitable access to library services, facilities, and collections. The policy also addresses assistive technology; employment; library education, training and professional development; and the accessibility of ALA conferences, publications, and communications. The policy does not, however, specifically address the accessibility of information technology.

DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) has published Universal Access: Making Library Resources Accessible to People with Disabilities, which includes a checklist of questions for libraries to ask themselves regarding their accessibility. The checklist covers library building and environment, library staff, library services, and adaptive technology, and it includes a short section that specifically addresses electronic resources.

Another excellent resource is the journal Library Hi Tech, which in 2002 published two special theme issues that focused on to the accessibility of web-based library resources. (see Library Hi Tech, Volumes 20 [2] and 20 [4], both 2002).

Additional resources that specifically address the accessibility of online library databases are provided in the AccessIT Knowledge Base article Which library databases are accessible?.