Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Collection Accessibility: A Best Practices Guide for Libraries and Librarians

Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Collection Accessibility: A Best Practices Guide for Libraries and Librarians

Article excerpt


The purpose of chapter 5 of Library Technology Reports (vol. 48, no. 7) "Making Libraries Accessible: Adaptive Design and Assistive Technology" is to provide libraries and librarians with best practices for increasing the accessibility of library collections to patrons with print disabilities. The chapter summarizes demographic, legal, and technological information that is relevant when considering how to improve library accessibility; it also discusses the methods for enhancing access to library resources, print and digital


Over the past decade and a half, the growth of the Internet and the rapid migration of a majority of periodicals, journals, and online library resources and tools into the digital environment have reshaped the meaning of access. This shift brings a responsibility for making collections decisions that encourage accessibility of online resources to users with print and other disabilities. Chapters 1-4 of this issue of Library Technology Reports outline foundational steps in this undertaking, from building awareness about disability among library staff to understanding adaptive technology to accessible Web design and emerging e-text formats. This chapter will suggest approaches to building accessible library digital collections from the perspective of persons with print disabilities.

Summarizing the Accessibility of Library Digital Collections

For users with disabilities, "design in the online world matters as much as it does in the physical world." (1) While there is a dearth of research into the accessibility of digital content after 2010, studies by Comeaux and Schmetzke; Byerley, Chambers, and Thohira; and Tatomir and Durrance examine the extent to which federal and international Web accessibility guidelines outlined in chapters 1, 3, and 4 have been incorporated into the products and services that still comprise the open and subscription-based library digital information environment. (2)

In 2007, Comeaux and Schmetzke examined the accessibility of the webpages belonging to American and Canadian library schools and their associated university libraries. Analyzing all American and Canadian library schools based on barriers (such as unreadable icons, images, text, and links) per page and page complexity as measures of accessibility, the researchers found that 47 percent of library school pages and 60 percent of university library websites did not comply with the high-priority components of the WCAG standards and even less in regard to compliance with Section 508 standards. (3) Their data indicate that the "majority of LIS and university library web sites fail to provide adequate skip-navigation links, text descriptions and/or alternative plaintext versions for integral components of web pages." (4)

In 2007, Byerley, Chambers, and Thohira conducted a study of twelve online databases commonly subscribed to by libraries. After extensive questioning of each participating company, the researchers found that, due to the lack of comprehensive usability testing with disabled users, persons with disabilities were unable to easily or fully utilize these online products. Of the twelve companies studied, only four--ABC-CLIO, Elsevier, JSTOR, and ProQuest--stated that their products met all of the accessibility guidelines established under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and the WCAG standards. Similarly, researchers found that only seven of the twelve participating companies had incorporated and were continuing to integrate accessibility features into their products, while the remaining five companies indicated that accessibility represented a low priority concern due to the difficulty and expense of complying with federal and international standards. (5)

A more recent study by Tatomir and Durrance found that twenty-five of thirty-two major database vendor platforms such as proQuest and JSTOR were "marginally accessible" or "completely inaccessible" to screen readers, a sobering proportion considering the share of annual library budgets these materials consume. …

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