Inclusive Services at Public Libraries

Inclusive Services at Public Libraries


We all know libraries and their services are
supposed to be available to everyone. It’s even in Wisconsin law that libraries
have to be accessible to people with “special needs. ” But how can we predict which special needs
we need to accommodate? Or which unique combinations of barriers and
assets people will need us to address? The Inclusive Services Assessment and Guide
for Wisconsin Public Libraries is meant to be your roadmap for these issues. But how to best use it will look different
for every library. However, there are some commonalities in the
overall approach. To illustrate what we’re talking about, let’s
see how a library director named Camila has evolved in her thinking on how to make library
services inclusive. Camila always felt pretty good about the work
she and her staff did to make the community welcome. She knew some patrons personally. There were wheelchair-accessible entrances,
and some materials in Spanish. We used to think serving everyone in the community
meant making a list of known barriers and as time allows, addressing them. But Camila starts thinking somewhat differently
after Marco comes to the library and asks if there’s a private room where he can connect
to the internet. There’s a meeting room, staff tell him, but
it doesn’t have good wifi. (People use the room for things like storytime
and discussions. ) But, there’s wi-fi in all the common spaces. Marco leaves — and this surprises Camila. What she doesn’t know is Marco’s story. He’s been staying with his parents as he tries
to get his life in order after leaving the armed forces. He joined an online veterans support group
but his parents’ WiFi is unreliable. He needs a better connection to talk with
the group — but in a private place. Luckily, Camila’s curiosity helps her draw
him out when she bumps into him later. Hearing his situation, it hits her You have
no way of knowing the needs of people who don’t use your services unless you create
opportunities to learn. From then on, getting beyond her assumptions
to discover and address people’s actual needs for information and services becomes one of
Camila’s ongoing quests as a director. In her conversations in the community — formal
and informal — including regular meetings with community organizations and other channels,
she works to understand needs and barriers and addresses them whenever possible. With this mindset, she’s better prepared. At a community event one day, Ashley asks
how to start checking out books for her kids. Staff ask Ashley to provide a different photo
ID with her current address. Camila doesn’t want to repeat what happened
with Marco, so she asks Ashley how well the library policy works for her. It turns out Ashley just moved to town and
is staying with her brother while she looks for work, so it could be a long time before
she has an official document with her name and current address. Camila and her staff decide the library could
start sending returnable postcards for proof of address. Camila immediately begins working to revise
the policy with her library board. At the state level, this is the inclusion
mindset we’re now articulating an ongoing drive to discover the needs in the community,
andan ongoing commitment to problem-solving and fixing current procedures that stand in
the way of serving particular people. Special attention is always necessary to hear
the voices of people who are underserved or under-recognized. One tool for this ongoing work is the Inclusive
Services Assessment and Guide for Wisconsin Public Libraries. It was created by library staff from around
the state and the Public Library Development Team. It includes prompts to get you thinking, on
everything from governance to physical space. The guide is most useful when embedded into
your ongoing quest as a library professional. We suggest taking the self-assessment at a
realistic pace and returning to it in reflection and discussion. Inclusive services promise lots of benefits. They’re the reason Ashley and Marco join the
growing number of people who can use, appreciate, and advocate for the services Camila’s staff
have been providing for years. To get answers to your questions about inclusive
services and to find the self-assessment and guide, visit the Inclusive Services page on
the Department of Public Instruction website.

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