September 11, 2016 by Sharee Cordes

They kicked him out of the library!

My daughter-in-law told me a sad story this evening.  Her brother was visiting the library when his carer decided to read The Hunger Games to him.  I’m not sure if he was enjoying it or not, but he expressed his feelings with some rather loud vocalisations  – the only way of communicating for this young man with significant disabilities.  It wasn’t long before he was asked to leave.  The library later supplied the family with an apology for his treatment, but I think it still leads us to an important consideration.  How do we ensure our libraries are catering for the needs of our disabled patrons?  In our twitter chat on information literacy many comments were made about services for the elderly, but little mention was made of the needs of people with disabilities.

The 2012 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC) estimated that 4.2 million Australians, or 18.5% of the population, had a disability”.  In 2008 Australia ratified The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabitilies, which states that, “States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others… to information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems”(Article 9) and also that,  “States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities can exercise the right to freedom of expression and opinion, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas on an equal basis with others and through all forms of communication of their choice”(Article 21).

Wow!  this has major implications for us as librarians!

Digital technologies have improved availability of information for many people with disabilities.  Lazar and Briggs describes how in the past they would send print impaired patrons to a special ‘library for the blind’, but now with the increase in digital resources such as ebooks, audio books and databases, the public library is more able to cater for these users.  New assistive technologies, such as the Window-eyes Screen readers , are also now available.  The Brimbank Libraries have a great range of these services.

However, A really interesting paper by Sachdeva et al, published only last year, discussing what they call the ‘digital disability divide’, identifies that people with impairments are less likely to have computer or internet access at home, and also claims that one of the most significant factors impacting on this problem is the lack of motivation by users to learn these new technologies.  They claim that “Increasing technology adoption for citizens with impairments is the first step toward bridging the disability divide” and this is an area where librarians could play a significant role.

The community of people with disabilities is a large and widely varied one.  It is a community of many different people who all have very specific needs when it comes to accessing information.  The ALIA Guidelines on library standards for people with disabilities states that “in order to provide successful library services to people with disabilities, it is essential that all staff have appropriate attitudes towards people with disabilities. Attitudes based on ignorance or misconceptions create barriers and they are most-frequent cause of inadequate or non-existent services.”  I believe this is a key statement.  The only way we can discover the needs of these individual people is to be educated about the resources that are available, open and available to talk, offer assistance and build confidence.  Individual attention is the only way we can cater for these very individual needs.

Not kicking them out of our libraries would be a pretty good place to start too!





#access#disability#equity#information literacy#libraries


  1. Helen
    September 12, 2016 - 9:05 pm

    Hi Sharee,
    It would be a good start indeed – maybe libraries could dedicate a space for reading aloud, where customers could interact freely with little impact on the way other customers choose to use the library.

    • Sharee Cordes
      September 13, 2016 - 10:39 am

      Hi Helen,
      I tend to think they should go the other way – a separate quiet space for those who want it to be quiet!

  2. Bec
    September 15, 2016 - 10:57 pm

    Lots of spaces are getting progressively better at understanding the needs of their disabled communities. But sadly it is a process that takes time, and we end up with situations like with your daughter in law’s brother. It shouldn’t happen. But I think sadly he won’t be the last until we see a societal shift towards understanding.

  3. Karina Rivett
    September 16, 2016 - 1:28 am

    I can’t reply to Helen or Sharee’s comments, but I wanted to contribute to the thoughts about quiet vs loud spaces in libraries!

    The majority of activities undertaken in libraries are quiet ones – reading, researching, using computers etc. It makes more sense for there to be a dedicated reading area / loud area – whilst being loud may disturb others, being quiet doesn’t affect anyone else. Having a dedicated reading-aloud room, and meeting spaces for people to collaborate would be a great idea to suit more people’s needs.

  4. Chloe Pickard
    September 18, 2016 - 4:46 am

    Hi Sharee,

    I feel the library really didn’t resolve the issue very well and really need to look at how they are treating disabled patrons and what plans they have in place for these kinds of situations. Did they give any kind of hint as to what they might do in the future in the letter of apology?

  5. Neil McNaught
    September 18, 2016 - 8:56 am

    Hey Sharee,

    Provision should certainly be made for people with disabilities and providing a boot isn’t really good enough. I agree with your response to Helen. Quiet library spaces should be the exception rather than the rule particularly as libraries are becoming community hubs rather than simply a big room full of books.

  6. Lisa Hetherington
    September 29, 2016 - 12:37 pm

    Hi Sharee,

    This is actually truly appalling treatment considering the generic library objective of providing safe, inclusive, welcoming spaces for all! Libraries cannot call themselves inclusive and welcoming to patrons with disabilities just because they have facilities such as:

    Lift access (with Braille control panels)
    Wheelchair access
    Disabled parking
    Accessible toilets
    Hearing loops
    Keys-u-see keyboards
    Screen reading and magnifying software

    Inclusion is just as much about attitude and tolerance than facilities.

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