Disability and inclusive practice in the University Library

Picture of Daren (centre) and two members of the group (Tracey and Amanda)
Daren (centre) and two members of the group (Tracey and Amanda)

Subject Librarian, Daren Mansfield, chairs the Library Disability Group which was founded a year ago in June 2017. Meetings are held in the Library roughly every five weeks to discuss disability issues. The group currently consists of eleven members, which amounts to 16% of all Library staff.  Daren feels that this shows that people are engaged and want to do everything they can to support students with disabilities.

The aim of the Library Disability Group is to act as a forum to discuss the disability agenda and initiate ideas with an emphasis on maximising involvement, awareness and participation.  The University of Lincoln has an increasing number of students with disabilities and alternative needs and Daren feels that the students in Lincoln feel comfortable with the services that the University provides and that they see Lincoln as a friendly, welcoming University.

According to the Higher Education Funding Council England (2017) the increase in the rapid rise in the number of students requesting support may be the result of improved awareness of mental health issues.  The aim of the group is to celebrate and further enhance the experiences of these students in the Library setting.

The group is ideas-driven, interested in change and innovation. Daren is keen to put ideas into practice and measure the outcomes.  Initially, this has involved fact-finding missions to find out what is happening in other institutions.  The group had a trip to Leeds Beckett University last October which provided an insight into the possibilities of improving accessibility and the value of an eBook audit.

We contacted JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) who conducted an ‘accessibility snapshot’ on the 8th May this year with the aim of reviewing the Library website and e-book platforms and test accessibility for various disabilities.  As a result of the trip and the audit, the group are now acting on the recommendations.  These include:

  • accessibility plug-ins
  • broadening our services to visually-impaired students.
  • acquiring the accessible format software ‘SensusAccess’ to directly support disabled students (this produces MP3 audio files, structured audio books, e-books, digital Braille books and converts inaccessible and tricky documents into more accessible formats as well as supporting a multitude of languages)
  • presentations about the Leeds Beckett trip were delivered to the Library Management Group ( LMG) and library staff in November 2017 to demonstrate potential develoments.
  • a Library wellbeing guide was developed and dedicated Library Wellbeing team appointments were made available and promoted in print and online: https://staffnews.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2018/02/05/the-library-wellbeing-team/.
Graphic linking to wellbeing guide
Click on picture to link to guide

In addition to these developments it was arranged with the University Student Wellbeing department to have dyslexia software training and also a visit was arranged with an expert from the British Dyslexia Association in November.  The training demonstrated the liberating effect of improving accessibility for dyslexic students with an amazing range of tools and software. Oliver Bostock from Student Wellbeing also ran several sessions for library staff on dyslexia specialist software last year, all of which were well attended.

Future plans for the group include:

  • the possibility of delivering a talk at the Mercian Collaboration Conference about democratising disability,
  • working with the Library E-Resources Librarian to develop an enhanced Library Wellbeing online guide
  • visiting Coventry University in August to discuss disability services at their city Library
  • arranging for staff to attend the University of Nottingham workshop on ‘Inclusion and Assistive Technologies’.