Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Library professions need greater disability representation

Logo: "Libraries and Autism: We're Connected"
Libraries and Autism: We’re Connected
“Diversity Counts,” a comprehensive study of gender, race, age and disability in library professions, indicates a need for greater recruitment and outreach among people with disabilities.

“There was not a significant change in the distribution of credentialed librarians reporting a disability from 2000,” Gwendolyn Prellwitz reported in an American Libraries summary of diversity findings. “The majority of credentialed librarians -- 96.3 percent in 2009-2010 and 95.9 percent in 2000 -- report that their work is not limited by a disability.”

Perhaps, the question should be re-framed to reflect working to full potential thanks to reasonable accommodations -- because who wants to describe him- or herself as “limited”? I am concerned that these findings indicate that people with disabilities are under-represented in library professions.

Compounding the need, accessibility issues actually cover four groups according to Katie Cunningham: people with visual, physical, hearing and cognitive impairments. Library professions should represent this diversity.

And outreach and recruitment should begin with financial aid -- similar to efforts with the Spectrum Scholarship to address imbalances in race/ethnicity.

I am not alone in advocating the unique perspectives that people with disabilities can bring to library professions and the clientele they serve.

Scotch Plains Public Library and the Fanwood Memorial Library, with their partners, created “Libraries and Autism: We’re Connected” in 2008. It offers a video and online resources with recommendations for best practices. I particularly like its recommendation about “using individuals on the spectrum and with other developmental disabilities as staff and volunteers in the library.”

A version of this entry was submitted to American Libraries magazine

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