Interview with the Author: Disabilities and the Library: Fostering Equity

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

January 10, 2023

Dr. Clayton Copeland recently wrote Disabilities and the Library: Fostering Equity for Patrons and Staff with Differing Abilities. It was published by ABC-CLIO in November of 2022. My interview with her is below.

Lauren: Please introduce yourself to our readers.

Clayton: I am on faculty with the University of South Carolina’s School of Information Science. I am also the director of the iSchool’s Laboratory for Leadership in the Equity of Access and Diversity (LLEAD) and help to manage the Linda Lucas Walling Collection for Disabled Children. My research focuses on equity of access to information for underserved populations and literacy. I also pursue research interests in technology, universal design, facilities planning, materials and programming for children and young adults, and information behavior. Finally, I teach courses in foundations of library and information science, technology, information literacy, information resources, planning library and information facilities, and materials and programming.

Lauren: Briefly summarize your book Disabilities and the Library: Fostering Equity for Patrons and Staff with Differing Abilities.

The Book was published 11/11/22, and the description from the publisher is as follows:

Librarians need to understand the needs and abilities of differently abled patrons, and anyone responsible for hiring and managing librarians must know how to provide an equitable environment. This book serves as an educational resource for both groups.

Understanding the needs and abilities of patrons who are differently abled increases librarians’ ability to serve them from childhood through adulthood. While some librarians are fortunate to have had coursework to help them understand the needs and abilities of the differently abled, many have had little experience working with this diverse group. In addition, many persons who are differently abled are—or would like to become—librarians.

Disabilities and the Library helps readers understand the challenges faced by people who are differently abled, both as patrons and as information professionals. Readers will learn to assess their library’s physical facilities, programming, staff, and continuing education to ensure that their libraries are prepared to include people of all abilities. Inclusive programming and collection development suggestions will help librarians to meet the needs of patrons and colleagues with mobility and dexterity problems, learning differences, hearing and vision limitations, sensory and cognitive challenges, autism, and more. Additional information is included about assistive and adaptive technologies and web accessibility. Librarians will value this accessible and important book as they strive for equity and inclusivity.

Specific Features Include:

  1. Identifies the differently abled who are patrons and employees in libraries
  2. Details the needs and abilities of a special clientele
  3. Encourages the interest of management in hiring applicants who are differently abled
  4. Includes chapters written by working librarians, educators, and researchers
  5. Offers advice to strengthen services, programming, collection development, accessibility, and legal compliance

Lauren: What sparked your interest in this topic?

Clayton: From my early days, I knew I wanted libraries to be my life’s work. The library was such a peaceful, tranquil place to me, a place where happy days were made happier and challenging days easier. No matter the burdens of my heart, somehow opening the library door, finding just the right book, and cuddling in a soft comfy chair made everything seem o.k. again.

Following a premature birth, I have needed to rely on a walker to aid me with ambulation. With the selfless, determined work of a few incredible librarians, my own experiences with libraries have largely determined my life’s work and purpose. When I was young, “reaching for the stars” meant someday becoming a librarian. Now, “reaching for the stars” means making a difference for other people. More than anything, I want to do all that I can to be a part of making libraries as accessible as possible to all people. This work was born out of a heartfelt desire to bring the lived experiences of our library patrons to the forefront and to help the voices of those whom society labels as disabled to be heard.

Lauren: You are the director of the iSchool Laboratory for Leadership in the Equity of Access and Diversity (LLEAD). How is the book influenced by your work with LLEAD?

Clayton: The iSchool Laboratory for Leadership in the Equity of Access and Diversity (LLEAD) conducts research, provides resources, and plans programming related to protecting access to information people need.

Areas and issues of interest for LLEAD include:

  • Universal Access and Universal Design
  • Access for people with different abilities
  • Digital Divide
  • Freedom to Read
  • Information Access Policies
  • Electronic, web, and mobile accessibility
  • Inclusion and Diversity Policies
  • Preservice and Continuing Education
  • Skills development and job training

This work helped inform areas of needed information, to which we were able to respond through the book.

Lauren: What are three things you hope readers of your book apply immediately?

Clayton: The contributors represent librarians and educators, either in the k-12 environment or in higher education. 99% of the contributors also have personal, lived experiences with disability, either because they personally identify as having disabilities, or they are parents or family members of people with disabilities. It was critical to me to include these voices, the voices of people who understand their needs and who advocate for IDEAS (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility Solutions).  Many barriers are rooted in lack of awareness or fear and in the social construction of disability. By learning more about disabilities and seeing disabilities as differences from which unique abilities are often born, we can be empowered to create inclusive practices and inclusive libraries where everyone feels welcome and everyone has something valuable to contribute.

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri, and a frequent presenter and interviewer on topics related to libraries and librarianship. Her expertise includes information literacy, educational technology, and library and information science education.  Please read Lauren’s other posts relevant to special librarians. And take a look at Lucidea’s powerful integrated library systems, SydneyEnterprise, and GeniePlus, used daily by innovative special librarians in libraries of all types, sizes and budgets.

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