Thursday, August 18, 2016

For Whom Library Use is Difficult, Limited, or Minimized

In my last post, I discussed what it means to be inclusive. Here at DPI, we have been actively discussing Statute 43.24(2)(k) Promotion and facilitation of library service to users with special needs. In addition, inclusive services are emphasized in the 2017 LSTA Information & Guidelines in the "Serving Special Populations" category. 

Image of a human figure climbing over rocks
Using the library can be an unnecessary struggle (Pixabay)
The Division of Libraries and Technology interprets services to users with special needs as inclusive services. Inclusive library services are holistic, spanning library policies, collections, space, and services. Inclusive services reflect equity and accessibility for all members of the community, including services to individuals or groups for whom using the public library is difficult, limited, or minimized. This post will explore this terminology and offer resources for additional food for thought.

What do we mean by "difficult, limited, or minimized"? First, identifying special populations depends on each community; an individual or group whose use of the library might be compromised in one locale might look very different elsewhere. Second, library access and inclusion might be a temporary or ongoing issue. Here are some examples:

  • Neighborhood residents find it difficult to access a branch of the public library during road construction when no outreach or alternate services have been identified
  • An individual finds it difficult to apply for a library card because of literacy and/or language barriers 
  • Infrequent evening and weekend programs make attendance by working families at youth programs limited
  • Lack of flexible library account types (such as short-term resident or visitor cards) and/or fine and fee structures limit library use by members of the public for various reasons
  • A parent of a transgender teen finds minimal resources on gender identity in the library collection because materials are not readily identifiable through the catalog or on the shelves.
  • A group of immigrants received mixed messages about library services and therefore feels unsure about English classes offered at the library through the local literacy council
Playmobil figures standing around a table
Community engagement invites everyone
to come to the table (Pixabay)
In all of these examples, individuals and groups likely felt frustrated, misunderstood, or excluded by the library. These messages are often felt or experienced before even stepping foot in the library. This is why community engagement--connecting with leaders, individuals, and groups--in your village/town/city is critical.

The grants available through the Serving Special Populations category offer financial support for community engagement on matters of inclusion. Please consider applying for a planning grant or a project grant to improve literacy services or access to information. We await your grant application!

The following sampling of resources offer various ways in which you might identify and respond to specific needs in your community. 
Tessa Michaelson Schmidt, Public Library Development Team