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Leadership and the Development of Library Accessibility Policies

This year I have had the pleasure to be a part of a hiring committee for a new librarian position and, rolling up my sleeves, I embraced this opportunity to help recruit the best candidate we could find (and that we did). In the process of preparing our interview questions, the committee included a question about leadership which sounded something like:

“Please provide an example of when you demonstrated leadership in a library setting.”

It might surprise my readers to hear how many candidates struggled with this question. Anything from silence to strange humming noises filled the air during the phone interviews. Oh dear!

While librarianship and leadership might not always be used interchangeably, in reality the two could not be more interconnected. Leadership is critical to librarianship helping us develop skills like strategic planning, assessment and evaluation to successfully respond to change – which are incidentally just the skills needed when developing your library accessibility policy. Accessibility policy requires some understanding about how libraries as physical and virtual places are evolving and what their roles will be in the near to distant future in supporting the increasingly diverse group of users.

About this series

“Include” James Keuning The Noun Project

This article is part one of a four part series in Open Shelf dedicated to the developing area of inclusive librarianship, looking at leadership and the growth of library accessibility policies / emerging librarian competencies with accessibility as a core competency / 21st century libraries, publishing and open access / and managing accessibility projects and collaboration. Each article will explore a unique facet of inclusive libraries through the lens of leadership and project management, using accessibility as a springboard to discuss a more important shift in our profession towards future-forward planning and progressive problem solving.

Part 1: Leadership and the Development of Library Accessibility Policies
Part 2: Emerging Librarian Competencies: Accessibility as a Core Competency

Given my professional context with specialization in academic librarianship, the following will focus on some policy highlights from the higher education sector accompanied by direct references. There are a variety of accessibility policies across Ontario university and college libraries, some more extensive than others, some targeted at end users and some developed for staff but all serve as really useful reference points for both, staff and library visitors.

Statement of Commitment

This type of policy is a public pledge, if you will, to support inclusive library services and users of all abilities. It is a clear statement about accessibility as an important priority, accompanied by specific references as to how the institution is prepared to support users with disabilities (i.e. through the provision of accessible formats and services). References and direct links to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) may also accompany this statement which might also appear as a part of another policy document.

Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities, Statement of Commitment (University of Guelph)

Customer Service Policy

This policy is more extensive and frequently includes a general statement of commitment but goes on to provide a list of how library services are made accessible, touching on anything from accessible format production, book retrieval services, communication, staff training, service animals, study spaces and a section on billing or affiliated costs. This is a document designed for library users as the intended audience, although would undoubtedly act as a helpful guidelines for staff as well.

While many institutions are doing a great job at designing outreach campaigns to promote inclusive services (see this example from York University unveiled at the Guelph Accessibility Conference by Catherine Davidson and her team in 2014), it’s not always clear that these services are included in the tuition cost and that there is no additional cost to the end user for requesting a print book to be turned into an accessible format. Highlighting the availability of these services at no additional cost is smart.

Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities – Customer Service Policy (Ryerson University)
Accessible Library Services Guide with ASL (George Brown College)
Access Guide for Persons with Disabilities (Centennial College)
General Accessibility Policies: Services for Persons with Disabilities (Lakehead University)
Library Services for Students with Disabilities (Carleton University)

Library Print Resources

This type of policy is more specialized, written to set guidelines on what formats your organization/ institution is able to offer and how a user might be able to request them. This policy can also touch on interlibrary loan guidelines or information pertaining to special collections. Making this policy publically available will allow library users to find information about procedures for requesting formats and give them a sense of the turnaround time or associated costs (which will be zero).

Library Print Resources Accessibility Policy (University of Guelph)

Captioned Media and E-text

The AODA does have specific requirements with regard to accessible multimedia, be it commercial or in-house content housed on your website or stored in the stacks. If you are interested in learning more about this area, here is a shameless plug for my recent project called the Report on Accessible Media (ROAM) which was released in February 2015. This report looks closely at the legislative requirements around accessible multimedia, flags important copyright questions, provides examples of video captioning workflows at some institutions as well as offers a reference point to vendors and open as well as paid software options for making media accessible. While the demand for this service is not as high as for accessible texts and at some institutions might be presently non-existent, it’s never too early to consider the value of drafting these guidelines and establishing good workflows before you are caught off-guard with your very first request.

Captioned Media and eText (George Brown College)

Why is Accessibility Policy Important?

As libraries begin to take on the role of content producers, our role of connecting content with diverse audiences is becoming ever more complex. Advocacy plays a significant part in what our emerging role as public or research libraries is. Going beyond the library to form relationships with local organizations, or reaching across the college or university campus to other entities on campus is a part of what libraries need to do in order to raise their profiles as trusted content producers or disseminators, helping us to become a part of a global movement that speaks to the world in one consistent voice to gain user trust. Transparency is important in gaining trust and what better way to do that than having simple and easy to understand policies and guidelines for the benefit of all staff as well as the library users?

Not a lot of Ontario libraries within the higher education currently have library-specific accessibility policies, with most pages linking to more general campus resources where applicable. However, developing a thoughtful policy is an important step in gaining user trust as well as levelling the playing field for all library staff. Aside from the obvious comment on accessibility audits and how one day soon your library is likely be under the Accessibility Directorate’s microscope, having a clear accessibility policy in place will help library staff to better understand their day-to-day framework and to have a concrete point of reference when they are faced with a specific situation where a library user might want to know exactly what the library is able to offer them.

The AODA requirements focus on a number of library related services such as print materials, customer service, procurement, multimedia, physical space, among others, and therefore it is essential that your library staff are able to understand how their workplace has addressed or planning to address some of these standards.

The process of developing accessibility policy is important insofar as it creates a unique leadership opportunity for a group of library staff and administrators to support and advance the development of inclusive library services. A committee responsible for this development could be comprised of library staff, administrators, accessibility experts, procurement officers, facilities as well as a few representatives from the community you serve – users with disabilities.

To continue partaking in the dialogue on how to make your library more inclusive, watch out for the soon-to-be-published Canadian Guidelines on Library and Information Services for People with Disabilities, developed by the Canadian Library Association Accessible Collections and Services Network, which I have been very privileged to serve a part of in the last year.

Katya Pereyaslavska is currently seconded to the Association of Research Libraries as a Visiting Program Officer for Accessibility and Universal Design and tasked with raising awareness of inclusive library practices and accessible publishing. In her day-to day role as the Librarian for accessibility projects at Scholars Portal, Ontario Council of University Libraries, Katya has been responsible for the development of initiatives such as the Accessible Content ePortal (ACE), Accessibility Information Toolkit for Libraries and the Report on Accessible Media (ROAM).  To find out more about what Katya is up to, you can follow her on Twitter @Socialbrarian or drop her a line via email katya [at]


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