Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Many a Slip

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Many a Slip

Article excerpt

online measures

It's easy to feel daunted as you try to make your library a more accessible place.

"9:55." The dark-haired librarian noted the time on the clock with approval. Five minutes before opening and all was ready for the start of a new day. The carpet had been vacuumed, the books and magazines were all arranged in their proper places, and the morning's newspapers were all on the display rack. As she continued to look around the room, the librarian went through her mental checklist. The copiers and laser printers had full paper trays and all the computers were on, their screens glowing with the library's home page. Suddenly, she frowned in disapproval as her eyes fell upon the chair, and she sighed as she crossed the room. The offending chair had been drawn up to a table clearly labeled for use by library patrons in wheelchairs and, in its present location, was blocking their access to the computer terminal on the table. She wondered, as she did every time she moved the chair, if there was anything more she could do to stop able-bodied patrons from dragging the chair over and leaving it there. What good is it to have a table at the proper height for wheelchairs if access is always blocked? After moving the chair back to its proper place, she returned to the table and moved the sign designating it as reserved for wheelchair access further to the front so it could be clearly seen. It seemed a futile effort, for she knew she would probably have to move the chair several more times before the day was over, but she made the attempt anyway.

While the above is a fictionalized account of the opening procedures at my library, the part about the chair is true, and it makes a very important point about providing access for the disabled and others with special needs. We have good intentions and we try to have the proper furniture and equipment, but often, despite our best efforts, we fall short in providing equal information access to all library patrons. As the title of this article reminds us, by way of a quote from Robert Burton, "There's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip." Far too often our efforts can be characterized as "slips." While I wish I could point you to resources that would give you all the answers, I'm afraid that is as impossible as it is to keep my library's patrons from moving that chair. I can, however, point you to resources that identify the problems and discuss the issues involved in equipping the library for free access to all users.

ALA Offers Assistance

The American Library Association (ALA) has recognized the importance of providing library services to all patrons and has responded to the Americans with Disabilities Act by issuing the Library Services for People with Disabilities Policy. ALA also offers a publication titled the ADA Library Kit, which offers practical help in implementing ADA regulations. An excerpt from the kit is available on the ALA Web site, along with complete ordering instructions.

Technology Access Issues

It is important to make public computers available to patrons with disabilities, as these computers offer valuable access not only to the Internet, but also to the library's online catalog. I've been a devoted Mac user for many years and, like most Mac users, I tend to believe that the Mac can do everything better than a PC. I was brought up short recently, however, when I read a two-part article in TidBITS, a Mac-related e-mail newsletter that detailed the Mac's shortcomings in providing access to those with disabilities. (TidBITS maintains archives on the site, so the articles with their links to pertinent information should still be available when this column appears in print.) The first article, called "Accessibility on the Mac: Trouble in Paradise," appeared in issue #568, and, after outlining the issues, it compared Apple's current efforts to provide accessibility with those of Microsoft and IBM. The second article, which appeared in issue #569, was titled "Accessibility on the Mac: Access Solutions. …

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