A Visit Will Get You Thinking:
A Tour of Ottawa Public Library’s Accessible Services
November 1, 2018
Have you ever tried to open a heavy door, and realized that you did not have the strength? With no ‘push to open’ button in sight, there is a sense of panic that seeps into the pit of your stomach, as you quickly realize that you will be stuck waiting until someone can open it for you. Have you ever come across an ‘out of service’ sign on an elevator door and realized that you just wouldn’t be able to get to where you needed to go? These are some of the everyday challenges that people with disabilities face. Just like anyone else, we want to have the ability to go anywhere and to access anything without issue. Sadly, that is not always possible. Giant leaps are being made with respect to accessibility. Unfortunately, there are still many barriers that people face in pursuing self-sufficiency which need to be eliminated.
On October 24th I had the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at some of the initiatives that the Ottawa Public Library is taking towards truly making information accessible to all. Our tour guides pointed out some simple things that make a large impact for people with disabilities. For example, pictogram signage for easier distinction, and the ability to have extended borrowing times by completing an application for accessibility status.
The power of art is something that everyone deserves to have the chance to experience. Accessible materials like audiobooks and other recordings can brighten someone’s day or even change their life. One of my friends helped me to understand the importance of accessibility. She was born without eyes and, as a result, had never been able to see. She told me about an amazing dream that she’d recently had. In it she had finally met her childhood hero: the woman who narrated the Nutcracker ballet on an audio cassette she’d checked out at her local library. This narrator had inspired her childhood passion for Tchaikovsky, so much so that my friend has spent the past 10 years desperately trying to find a copy of that specific cassette, but without success. In her dream, my friend was able to tell the narrator that she had changed her life and given my friend hope when she had none. This would not have been possible without accessible library materials.
The value that Homebound Services provides is indescribable. They essentially bring the resources of the library directly to the clients. It currently services approximately 600 residents in Ottawa, most of whom are housed in assisted living facilities. We learned from their testimonials that the ability to access library materials brings them great joy and truly provides a purpose in their lives. Surprisingly, due to the specificity of the requests of the users, an old card catalogue system remains the best option to meet the needs of the clientele. Clients indicate their tastes and desired types of materials which the team uses to aid in their selections. A pocket is on the back to keep any notes for the team from being lost. The software that would be required to mimic all the thought that goes into choosing the materials just does not exist at this point.
- Discover the Homebound Services in this video by AMI (Accessible Media Inc.)
Assisted living facilities also feature “pop-up libraries.” We had the chance to view a mock up of what one would like. Library staff curate a small collection of materials which are then made available to residents. These pop-up library sessions mimic the library experience, even going as far as to feature the fun of the Ottawa Public Library’s Golden Ticket Contest. An initiative to celebrate library month by hiding the golden tickets throughout the library. Every golden ticket is redeemable for a locally handmade book bag. It is these small things that make an impact on a child’s love of reading. My daughter was quite thrilled to find a golden ticket peeking out of a book on the shelf and couldn’t wait to fill up her new book bag with materials from the children’s department.
The Bookmobile service has two vehicles which stop at numerous areas around the city. It allows people who live in areas without an Ottawa Public Library branch to access services. The bookmobiles have almost full library capabilities, including access to museum passes. The only thing they are not able to provide is access to computers.
The Ottawa Public Library is starting to incorporate the DAISY audiobook collection into more of the branches to be more accessible to its users. This collection is available to clients with a print disability. To access them, a user simply has to self-register to gain checkout capabilities; no doctor’s note is required.
The DAISY format is special in that it allows up to 30 hours of material on one disc. Specialized CD players are also available to rent for a period of up to three months. After this trial period, clients can purchase their own through a specially-funded program which covers the cost.
Beacon technology is being developed so that visually impaired clients can navigate the library on their own with the use of a free app. Most are familiar with GPS navigation; however, this takes it one step further with the ability to navigate within a building. Beacons will connect only when the app is open and indicate the proximity to things like the washroom, or circulation desk. This allows for a greater sense of independence.
The library needs to continue to find ways to be more inclusive and allow access to information to all its users, regardless of where they live or what their needs are. The passion of our tour guides, Alexandra Yarrow, the manager of Alternative Services, and Tristene Villanyi Bokor, Accessibility Librarian was inspiring. As a disabled person, I was quite impressed at the progress that is being made. The Ottawa Public Library is promoting the freedom and independence of its users. The popular quote from Francis Bacon, “knowledge is power” still carries a lot of weight today. We must continue working to make library services, and their wealth of knowledge, accessible to everyone—especially those in our society who often feel the most powerless.
Erin Camelon has a Bachelor’s Degree of Business Administration, with a minor in Greek and Roman Studies from Trent University, and is a current student in the Library and Information Technician Program at Algonquin College. She is currently working on the launch of a passion project, an online database to assist in the navigation of health care services in the Ottawa and Valley area.