Accessibility and Universal Design: A report on the BTAA Library Conference

This month, along with several others from my library, I was able to attend the Big Ten Academic Alliance Library Conference. Every year, the Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA) chooses a topic of interest to libraries, finds experts and organizes speakers, and holds a conference on that topic. This year, the conference was about accessibility, and since one of my secondary job responsibilities is accessibility, I had the opportunity to attend. This was my first BTAA conference and my first conference that didn’t offer breakout sessions, so I was excited to see how it would play out.

There was a keynote each day, from Jay Dolmage and Amelia Gibson. Both were fantastic. Dolmage began by discussing the design of buildings, including libraries, with several examples of buildings designed around stairs. Though there may be a ramp or elevator available, it is not the focal point of the building. Of course, then, we must ask, “Why?” Why is universal design not prioritized? Why is universal design not the norm? Taking the buildings as an example, Dolmage then moved on to discussing universal design in other contexts, especially with regard to teaching and learning. Dolmage stressed the importance of “positive redundancy,” ensuring that there are multiple modes of engagement, such as having information for a lecture in slides, in a handout, and in an electronic form.

Amelia Gibson touched on similar themes as Dolmage, such as the existence of internalized ableism that must be identified and worked against. Gibson advocated for moving beyond ADA requirements and instead focusing on meeting individual needs, beginning with the premise that anyone who is at a school is there because they can succeed and that it is our job to help them succeed. Gibson also discussed the fact that identities, including disability identities, are intersectional. This means that challenges can be even greater for people of color who also have disabilities. Gibson asked us to consider the various reasons that people might not seek information or help from a library, citing cases where potential library patrons have faced ridicule for their child’s behavior because their child was on the autism spectrum, or cases where black patrons have been thrown out of libraries. For some people, concern about being in library spaces is real and justified.

Finally, a point brought up by both Gibson and Dolmage and throughout the conference was how often people with disabilities are asked to disclose their disabilities and how detrimental this is. People with disabilities should not be asked to disclose their status; instead, we should be creating inclusive spaces that do not retroactively try to account for disabilities but instead are designed to accommodate various needs right from the beginning. For example, there is no need for publishers to require an individual student disclose their disability before an accessible version of a document is supplied. Electronic publications could be accessible from the start or, if remediation is necessary, the extra step of disclosing a disability does not need to be mandated. There are also numerous reasons that people might not disclose their disabilities, be they financial (getting diagnosed is expensive) or out of fear of repercussions. Again, designing with accessibility in mind is key.

This brings us back to the idea of universal design. These principles can be applied in any library space, from making library instruction more welcoming to people with a variety of learning styles to working with vendors and publishers to ensure that content is readable not only for screen readers but for users who want to change the font size or color to suit their own needs. We cannot make everything completely accessible immediately; in many cases, accessibility will be an iterative process, with changes made over time. However, we can strive to bring principles of accessibility and universal design into our own individual practices as librarians to begin making changes today.

Overall, I found this conference extremely worthwhile. I often find myself a bit untethered at conferences, unsure how to choose which sessions to attend from a long list and drawn in several different directions because of all my different interests. This conference provided a more concentrated experience and, because of the more focused theme, there was enough time and space to delve into library accessibility in more detail than I’ve experienced in other conferences. Now it’s time to refocus, take what I’ve learned, and find more ways to incorporate accessibility into my work on a daily basis.


For more on universal design, get started by looking at the UDL guidelines website.

Read more about the BTAA’s e-resource testing initiative.

And check out the conference hashtag, #BTAALib19, for more on the conference.

Library Open Mic

I work in a large library, and even after eight months, there are still people I barely know and certainly people whose work remains nebulous to me. And I continue to come up with new questions about one thing or another without any idea of who to ask. Which then means I have to direct my questions to someone at random and hope they can at least point me in the right direction.

This is probably the way of things in all large libraries and I know I’ll learn more with time. But that’s not what I want to talk about today. Instead, I want to talk about one thing that has helped me see more of the library and more of what others are doing. One of my first days on the job, there was what seemed to me a rather confusing event occurring, in which people were going to give lighting talks about…something. Since I was new, looking to fill my day, and looking to meet people, I went. And I’m so glad I did.

As it turns out, the event was slowly morphing into what is currently known here as “open mic,” in which people closely associated with the library (but not necessarily librarians!) give five-minute talks on topics that interest them: something they’re working on, a thought they had that they’re still exploring, an interesting new tool they just discovered. Each of the sessions generally has a theme, but the themes are broad, and you don’t have to stick to them if you don’t want to. I’ve found that the themes are helpful to get my brain started thinking about different topic ideas, even if I veer away from the theme in the end.

As a new librarian, this event has been extremely helpful for me. Not only have I heard more about what people are working on (a fascinating reading of letters to the editor on women’s place in golf, for example, taught me about our Turfgrass Information Center), I’ve also learned a lot more about my particular library’s culture. Presentations often lead to larger group discussions about broader trends in the library or projects that need more people to work on them.

Organizing these sessions was not my idea—well-deserved credit for that belongs elsewhere—but they have become something I look forward to every month. Since starting my job here, I’ve heard about text mining projects, Library of Congress crowdsourcing efforts, the Christmas tree economy in Michigan, and enjoyed a MARC-inspired sonnet. I’ve also heard from people all across the library, outside of my unit and outside of the area where my desk is, making me feel more engaged and more connected. I do feel like I’m still settling in, but these open mic sessions have certainly helped that process along. One day soon I’ll feel inspired enough to give my own little lightning talk!


How do you communicate across departments in your library? What opportunities do you have for more informal interactions concerning your current projects or interests?

Reflections after the Association for Asian Studies Conference

A few weeks ago, I attended the Association for Asian Studies annual conference. This conference has been a staple of my repertoire since I started library school, because along with all the usual scholarly panels, there are also several meetings of librarians. With two years under my belt, I was excited to approach this conference as a professional, voting on CRL global resources projects for the first time, and actually representing an institution instead of just coming along for the ride to observe discussions.

I also wanted to approach this conference thinking about librarianship more broadly and how subject librarians interact both with the world of their subject and the world of librarianship. At least in my areas, I sometimes feel like I’m splintered off from the rest of the library world, focusing on regions outside of the United States and languages other than English, which sometimes bring with them different challenges than what the rest of the profession in the United States might be facing. I wanted to make sure I paid attention to all facets of my librarian identity during this conference.

This year also happened to be the fiftieth anniversary of the Committee on Research Materials on Southeast Asia, which meant an extra celebration and a lot of reflection. Many librarians, including me, presented on some aspect of their work, either highlighting unique collections or discussing collaborative relationships between institutions both in the United States and abroad. We also honored retiring and past members, which was a good history lesson for me: there’s a lot of work that’s been done already for me to build upon. I appreciated this introspective and retrospective time, as it showed me all the things that have been done and helped to inspire me to do things like work harder on building my own library’s collection. I’m now thinking about might make the collection here unique and how I can help in that process.

A good portion of all my meetings also focused on looking outward. Even if we’re dealing with materials from our subject areas, we still encounter the trends seen throughout librarianship. For example, an increasing demand for electronic materials means that we had discussions about everything from digitization initiatives to projects collecting electronic journals from South and Southeast Asia. It was exciting to hear about everything that was going on, and a little intimidating as well. A big lesson from my year so far has been that I need to be involved but that I also need to be selective about my involvement. When I hear about all these initiatives, I want to participate in all of them, if only to learn more about them. There were definitely times during the conference when I had to sit back and remind myself that I can learn from the sidelines, at least for now.

Finally, there were also discussions about more unique concerns for area studies librarians, such as support for cataloging in languages other than English. With problems like this one, which seem so specific to a certain subset of librarians, it might be useful to take a step back and look at librarianship more broadly to see what solutions there might be. One thought that particularly interested me was to work on training librarians within the countries of origin. While we did not follow through on this discussion, it does take me back to broader questions I’ve had recently about collaboration and how collaboration that crosses geographic lines can be accomplished. We’ve managed it in other projects, can we manage it in realms such as cataloging as well? What considerations—such as indigenous systems of organizing information—do we need to take into account? I don’t have the answers yet, but I’m trying my best to crosspollinate what I learn in subject-specific conferences with what I learn in library-specific conferences: I’m very excited to see what new ideas and potential solutions ACRL’s conference will bring.


What sorts of conferences do you regularly attend? How do you leverage information from conferences that aren’t focused on librarianship?

Thoughts on the DISC assessment

Earlier this year, everyone in my little division of the library, area studies, took a DISC assessment in order to learn more about dynamics within our group. The DISC assessment (trademarked DiSC for the particular version that we took) is based off the William Moulton Marston’s 1928 book Emotions of Normal People. Marston posited that people present one of three personality traits: dominance, inducement, submission, or compliance. In 1956, Walter Vernon Clarke developed a behavioral assessment tool based on Marston’s model. Over the years, this assessment has been further developed, and marketed to organizations as a tool to discover how people act at work, why they act that way, and how they can be encouraged to work more effectively with each other. The categories have also been changed to (the perhaps more appealing) dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness.

I’m a fan of personality tests as a rule, especially ones that tell me which book character I am, but I don’t take them too seriously and was fairly skeptical of the test in general. However, it was stressed to us that this was not a personality test but instead a test that would show how we act in the workplace, so I answered the questions with an open mind and waited for my results. And let me tell you, when my results came back they were dead on. I tend to be timid, I avoid conflict, I love routines, and all of that was there in my results. I was impressed. Of course, the categories are very general, so it likely is easy to find yourself in your results.

That said, in discussing with others, there were definitely characteristics embedded within results that some of my co-workers did not feel resonated with themselves or their work styles. Our facilitators were quick to suggest that we cross out any terms we felt did not fit and change them to other adjectives that better described us. I appreciated this flexibility: even if it did not change our overall result, it did allow for some fluidity within the more detailed report and afforded it a bit more of a personal touch.

Depending on how the test is administered, there may be the opportunity for further reports to be generated to compare you to other people on your team. This is what we opted to do, and this meant that I received reports detailing areas where I would likely find the most difference between myself and my co-workers. The reports also gave us advice about how best to interact with each of our co-workers. With more discussion or group activities, this could be developed into an interesting exercise to discuss and improve upon group dynamics.

However, I do not see the DISC assessment as an immediate fix for teams. It might be a place to start, but it would take more work to build upon the results and create a constructive space within a group to discuss how to work together. It also seems that results could easily come out skewed, which might hamper further discussions. We were instructed to answer the questions while imagining work settings, which helps get at how you behave in work situations and not in your personal life (which might be very different). However, when taking the test, it would be easy to answer the questions based on how you aspire to act and not how you actually act, because we aren’t always aware of some of our faults or some of strengths. This, of course, could change your results and then change the baseline you’re starting from in any further discussions.

Another major qualm I have with the DISC assessment—brought up during our meeting by one of my co-workers—is that it does not address cultural differences. While it would be easy to claim that the test is not biased, this is an assessment based in the United States and it is therefore going to be relying on the norms and values of mainstream American culture. This especially applies when considering comparisons: how a person coming from one culture views their interactions with others could be very different than a person from another culture. There could be more value placed on being forthcoming or, conversely, more value placed on being tactful.

For me, I especially considered these ideas when answering the questions in the assessment and considering a work environment. I kept wondering what sort of work environment. I had my first serious job overseas in an office where fitting in and maintaining the status quo was very important, so I quickly learned not to allow any conflicts to surface and instead to work on them behind the scenes. While I know American work environments are much more up-front than this, I sometimes still slip into these patterns because I became good at interacting with others in these ways. Can the DISC assessment account for this sort of flexibility?

If your library is considering a DISC assessment, I think the biggest takeaway from my experience is to know what to expect. Learning everyone’s profile, even with comparison reports, will not in and of itself address conflicts or instances of miscommunication. To do this, you will still need to put in the work to have discussions about norms, expectations, and methods of communication. Do you need the DISC assessment to facilitate this? Certainly not, but if you’re finding that other methods aren’t working, this may be one way to get the conversation started.


If you’re interested in taking the DISC assessment, there are several free versions available online.

Have you ever taken a similar assessment in a work environment? What did you think of it?

#1Lib1Ref: An Easy Gateway to Wikipedia Editing

If you haven’t heard yet, the latest round of #1Lib1Ref is currently underway. This initiative, running from January 15 to February 5 this round, encourages librarians to add one missing citation to a Wikipedia article. Much has been written before about Wikipedia, its uses in libraries, and how librarians can help to improve Wikipedia. Check out Siân Evans’s post from a few years ago to read a bit more about that.

In the case of #1Lib1Ref, the idea is simple: as librarians, we’re good at finding resources, so even if writing a whole Wikipedia article seems daunting (which it certainly did for me!), we can bring those resource-finding skills to bear by editing articles that have already been written but aren’t up to Wikipedia’s citation standards.

I’ve been interested in learning to edit Wikipedia, but haven’t managed to get to an edit-a-thon yet, so hadn’t done any editing at all until I learned of #1Lib1Ref. When I did, it sounded like the perfect opportunity to get started. I was especially drawn to the idea of adding citations. Lately, I’ve been thinking about librarians (like me) with specialized subject knowledge, and how we can make use of that knowledge in our work. Yes, I have a degree in Southeast Asian studies, but I don’t know everything about Southeast Asia, nor can I know everything. That said, I do know enough to edit some Wikipedia articles, so spurred on by #1Lib1Ref, I set out to do just that.

There’s a lot of ways to get started with editing. I decided to start with finding an article to edit. Citation Hunt is a fun tool that scans through articles and shows you the snippets tagged with “citation needed.” If you think you can add the citation, it will take you that page for you to edit it. I found, though, that this cast too wide of a net, so I instead turned to the WikiProject Cleanup Listings. This page has articles grouped by topic, which made it much easier for me to drill down to a topic I felt I knew something about. Clicking on “by cat” takes you to a list of articles that need various sorts of attention: the neutrality has been called into question, or the article has been flagged for redundancy and possible merger with another article. On this page, I paid particular attention to articles under “Cites no sources,” “Cites unreliable sources,” and “Unsourced passages need footnotes {{citation needed}}.” This gave me enough options to find an article on a topic I knew something about that also needed a citation or two.

Which meant it was time for editing. The #1Lib1Ref page has a quick guide to editing Wikipedia articles, and Eric Phetteplace has also made a short video documenting his edit for #1Lib1Ref.

Beyond the technical aspects, though, I had questions about sources. What kinds of sources does Wikipedia favor? What’s this about valuing secondary sources over primary sources? There’s extensive documentation available to learn more about sources on Wikipedia, as well as a helpful guide addressed specifically to librarians and other cultural professionals. One major takeaway is that Wikipedia favors open access sources, which makes sense: people using Wikipedia might not have the access necessary to view the full text of books or articles cited, which means that the citation doesn’t allow them to read more. That said, Wikipedia also recognizes that sources will not always be open access, and there is no open access requirement. Again, though, this is where librarians can help: can we find alternate sources that are open access?

With all that reading under my belt, I finally felt ready to start editing, and began by combing through some of my favorite sources on Javanese gamelan and dance. Look for me poking around through related articles for the rest of #1Lib1Ref!


Are you participating in #1Lib1Ref, or do you run other sorts of Wikipedia-related events in your library? Let me know in the comments!