Is Your Public Library Accessible? Report Available
June 30, 2023
The Public Library Accessibility Resource Centre (PLARC), a collaborative project between the National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS) and the Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA), conducted a two-pronged study to understand the accessibility of public libraries across Canada from the perspective and experiences of persons with lived experiences of a disability.
The Is Your Public Library Accessible? Final Report is available in Word and HTML formats:
- Word: Is Your Public Library Accessible? Final Report
- HTML: Is Your Public Library Accessible? Final Report
Is Your Public Library Accessible? Study Report
The Public Library Accessibility Resource Centre (PLARC), a collaborative project between the National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS) and the Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA), in partnership with eBOUND, conducted a two-pronged study to understand the accessibility of public libraries across Canada from the perspective and experiences of persons with lived experiences of a disability.
Conducted from June 2022 to January 2023, participants participated in two focus groups and a series of monthly surveys, discussing and evaluating the accessibility of their local public libraries. Based on the focus groups and library evaluations, the results were organized into key themes and suggested resources for getting started to help improve accessibility.
Throughout the library evaluations, participants described some experiences as generally accessible but noted that they still encountered significant barriers.
Staff Knowledge and Training
The study participants identified that the library staff’s availability, training, knowledge of potential barriers, and willingness to help significantly impact their ability and ease in accessing programs and services. This is particularly notable when barriers to accessibility exist for a particular program, service or resource and staff lack sufficient training or understanding of the issues people with disabilities face.
Physical and Digital Content
Making accessible content available and easy to find should be a priority for libraries. Participants noted that accessibility should include books (physical and digital), e-resources, and other library items like DVDs, board games, music, and much more.
Library Website and Catalogue
Libraries should work to ensure that their website and catalogue are accessible to all users. This includes testing your website and catalogue by persons with lived experiences and following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
Library Buildings and Spaces
Library physical spaces often meet the minimum legal definition of accessible, but whether they are useable for people with a range of disabilities can vary from library to library.
Participants identified significant accessibility barriers in the programs they evaluated, which could be mitigated by improving staff knowledge about accessibility needs so that programs can be developed with accessibility as a priority from conception through to completion and by asking participants about accessibility needs at the time of registration.
Marketing and Communication
Discovering accurate, current, and accessible information about various accessible services, resources and programs was identified as an ongoing challenge by study participants. Ensuring marketing and communications activities are created with accessibility in mind removes a significant barrier and addresses the impression that libraries are not welcoming to people with disabilities.
Other Library Services
Due to the pandemic, many libraries created or adapted services and programs, resulting in an impressive increase in accessibility. Participants in the study noted that these new policies, services, and program options should be maintained indefinitely.
It is estimated that more than 1 in 10 people live with a disability, and barriers to access increase as the population ages. NNELS and CELA, in partnership with eBOUND, developed this study to aid Canadian libraries in identifying and addressing barriers to accessibility and to ensure the perspectives and experiences of people with lived experience are centred in this work. This study found that while libraries are making an ongoing effort to be accessible, there are areas where improvement and training are needed.