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Career Spotlight: What I do as Accessibility Librarian

Career Spotlight: What I do as Accessibility Librarian

October 31, 2018

Tristene Villanyi Bokor
Accessibility Librarian at the Ottawa Public Library

First of all, tell us a bit about your current work and how long you’ve been at it.

I’m the Accessibility Librarian (official title: Librarian, Accessibility Specialist) for the Ottawa Public Library (OPL). The Accessibility librarian is responsible for the development and implementation of policies and projects, legislative compliance reporting, and coordinating staff training. My work ensures all branches and departments comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). The other aspect of my job is project based and where I identify service gaps or improvements.

This position was my first introduction to Librarian work; I’ve been in this role for 4 years.

What drove you to choose your career path and how did you go about getting your job? What kind of education and experience did you need?

I started my library career by working part time as a page at 19 years old. Once I graduated from University, actually twice over, I wanted to start a meaningful career not just a job. I loved working my part time library job, and felt passionate about the library and the important role is plays for communities and the people in it. So I made the decision to go back to school, again, and because I was eager to start my career, I moved across the globe to Australia to do my Master of Library and Information Management because I was able to complete the program in 1.5 years compared to 2 years at Canadian Universities. Once I graduated, I came back to Ottawa and was lucky enough to gain a temporary position as the Accessibility Librarian. The position became permanent two months later, and I interviewed. I was not going to let anyone else have it!

What kinds of things do you do beyond what most people see? What do you actually spend the majority of your time doing?

I write a lot of emails! Due to the fact that my job incorporates various departments and branches within OPL, I need to ensure all appropriate people are incorporated in decision making and any projects I’m working on. I can have quiet weeks when I’m mostly catching up on my emails, and other weeks when I’m busy as a bee going to meetings, doing outreach, dealing with customer inquiries and, of course, more emails.

What staff might not realize is the legal aspect of my job. Yearly, I complete an attestation of the library’s compliance to the AODA. It’s a chance to review what we are doing and how we can improve. This report is sent to the City Accessibility Office and they compile a document that reports on City of Ottawa’s compliance as a whole. I also go through every single Accessibility complaint, feedback and inquiry we receive at OPL and create a document that reviews how we handled every situation.

What misconceptions do people often have about your job?

I would say the main misconceptions of my position is that I’ll have a definite answer to people’s questions. Sometimes the questions I get are unique and aren’t outlined in the AODA. I often reach out to the working group I sit on at the City, to gain feedback and their best practices. Although I’m considered subject matter expert, I don’t know everything! The beauty of Accessibility is that it requires you to be creative, flexible and inquisitive. I’ve grown custom to trying things out and learning from it and sharing my experiences.

What are your average work hours? Typical 9-5 thing or not?

I usually work 9 am to 4:30 pm But I’m flexible with my schedule; I’ve started work at 8 am to co-deliver storytime or attend a community development workshop, worked all day Saturday at ComicCon, recorded an evening retirement program and have worked on Sunday to be ‘Parade Master’ during the Ottawa Pride Parade. I don’t mind changing my schedule when it gives me different experiences – it’s what makes this profession interesting!

What personal tips and shortcuts made your job easier?

I use my Outlook calendar religiously. If a meeting, event or reminder is not in my calendar, did it really happen?

What do you do differently from your peers in the same profession?

I am not considered front line staff like other Librarians. I have less face-to-face interactions with customers. During outreach is when I meet customers but this only happens every month or so.

What’s the worst part of the job and how do you deal with it?

The most difficult part of the job is talking with customers who have experienced barriers to accessing the library. Most customers call to give constructive feedback, but some expect that I can immediately make changes and accommodations, even when it is not possible. Angry customers often overlook the reason for which we do things.

How do I deal with it? Once I finish a call, I get away from my desk and go for a walk. I will talk it over with a colleague, sometimes to vent a little bit, but often as a way to review what I said. This helps me feel supported, but also prepared for the next time I get a similar call. If the call was very in-depth, I’ll write an email to my manager as a means to keep track of the situation.

What’s the most enjoyable part of the job?

I love that my job allows me to be creative via my projects and ultimately make a positive changes in our organization.

Is there a way to “move up” in your field?

At OPL there are a few positions higher than Librarian, and with time and experience anyone can work their way to get there. I believe experience within an organization is invaluable. Pair experience with training and a willingness to learn and you can certainly work your way up.

What advice would you give to those aspiring to join your profession?

Be willing to be flexible. I do not know one Librarian who has not gone through a small/big change or set backs. I’ve seen proposal of ideas I’m really passionate about be rejected, only to be accepted years later. It can be tough at times to “Think Yes” but flexibility (and patience) is rewarded. In my experience, being flexible can make your job really fun at times!

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