2010 Conference: PLEASED: Victorian Public Libraries Enhancing Access by Katrina Knox
This paper was presented at the 2010 conference of the Round Table on Information Access for People with Print Disabilities. You can read the full paper below, download the Word version, flip through the slides or listen to an audio recording of the presentation.
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Katrina is the Manager Darebin Libraries an inner metropolitan library service in Melbourne, Victoria and a committee member of the Victorian Public Library Network Executive. During a varied career in public libraries, her roles have included home library service librarian, children’s librarian and technical services librarian. During a break from libraries she worked in the area of Procurement and Contracting at both local and state government level.
She views the role of the public library as key in meeting the social inclusion agenda of governments and has a particular interest in technology as an enabler in both delivering library services and ensuring residents participate in community life.
The PLEASED website provides a high quality accessible web portal for public library staff with information regarding people with disability and people with age related disability, their families, carers and other supporters to access and search for information that promotes their independence and use of public libraries. The outline of the presentation will be:
- Provide the historical background to the development of the PLEASED website, incorporating the recommendations of the ‘More Than Just Equipment’ report from which the project grew. Also include what the intention of the project was.
- Discuss the set up of the PLEASED Working Group, the funding process, the development of the specifications and requirements for the website and the actual build phase.
- Explain the model developed in relation to content management and how it is intended to ensure the ongoing growth of the site and involvement of public library staff.
- Demonstrate the website (live if possible, with back-up slides if technology fails)
- Discuss the learnings from the project and future development of the site and the PLEASED Working Group
Public Libraries Enabling Accessible Services Encompassing Disability
Public Libraries Victoria Network
ICT Disability Working Group
- Convened by Vicnet for the purpose of improving the provision of ICT facilities and services in Victorian public libraries to community members with a disability
- Diverse representation:
- Peak bodies
- Interest groups
- Metro Access Officers
- Public Libraries Victoria Network (PLVN)
Research project funded by the Winthrop Foundation to:
- Investigate public library internet access and participation for people with a disability
- Assess their needs/issues
- Make recommendations to improve access and participation
The key element of the research was a survey:
- Community members with a disability
- Public library staff
- ‘More Than Just Equipment’ report released August 2007
- Internet access at the library
- Problems with adaptive equipment
- Problems with booking computers
- Need for introductory training
- Need for staff help
- Access to the library via the internet
- Remote access to catalogues and resources
- Web accessibility issues in relation to vision impairment and literacy
- Support from library staff
- Need for training
- Disability, Adaptive equipment and the Disability Discrimination Act 1992
- Knowing what/who is available in the library
- Raise community awareness of what the library offers
- Raise library awareness of the community
- Improve/develop networks
- Getting to, getting in and being comfortable in the library
- Not directly an ICT issue but most important
Public Library Sector
- Adaptive technology
- Cost of equipment
- Complexity of equipment
- What to purchase, from where and who would it benefit
- Disability awareness and use of equipment
- Improve physical accessibility
- Act on the intent of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992
- Provide support for library staff to deal with specialist adaptive/assistive equipment
- Develop accessible websites and databases
- Funding to increase the availability of internet and adaptive equipment and software
Public Library Response
A workshop was held in April 2008 attended by 20 public library staff. Representatives established three priority projects:
- Develop an online resource/directory for library staff
- Develop guidelines to aid in the development of accessible library websites
- Develop a best practice guide to designing accessible library buildings
- Three Working Groups were established to progress each of the projects
- The Online Resource/Directory Working Group’s first priority was to source funding for the development of the resource
- Department of Planning and Community Development Small Grants Program
- Funding of $30,000 approved in June 2008
- Work Group held a number of workshops to fully develop the requirements and a specification
- Vicnet appointed to develop an online resource
- Use of ‘Joomla’ a free open source framework and content publishing system
- Website www.pleased.net.au
‘Public libraries enabling accessible services encompassing disability’
- Web accessibility guidelines:
- Research established guidelines were available, but in need of consolidation
- Vicnet agreed to take on this project
- Best practice guide to designing accessible library buildings:
- Deferred until completion of other projects
Final Website Features
- Service providers
- Assistive technology
- Knowledge base
- Web 2.0 features – RSS, word clouds
- Launch of the website at the State Library of Victoria October 2009
- Website Accessibility Guidelines launched at the same event
- Presentation to Public Library Victoria Network December 2009
- To ensure the website continues to grow and develop each public library service were requested to appoint a ‘champion’ for the website
- Vicnet training was conducted for the champions and training notes developed
- The PLEASED Working Group has been expanded with an ongoing role to:
- Promote the site
- Ensure it continues to develop
- The PLEASED banner is now the de-facto name for all projects disability related within the Victorian public library network
- Detailed and considered planning achieves good outcomes
- Select the technical solution that best fits, not the latest trend
- Volunteer projects need skills and knowledge as well as interest:
- Availability of technical expertise on our Working Group was invaluable
- Volunteer projects take a long time!
[end of slides]
Full paper: PLEASED: Victorian Public Libraries Enhancing Access
This paper will background the development of the Public Libraries Enabling Accessible Services Encompassing Disability (PLEASED) website and also briefly discuss the learnings and future of the website.
This project had its beginnings with the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Disability Working Group convened by Vicnet. Vicnet is a Division of the State Library of Victoria which has responsibility for helping the library meet its goal of providing ‘access to information for everyone’, strengthening communities through the use of information technology.
The initial purpose of the ICT Disability Working Group was to improve the provision of ICT facilities and service in Victorian public libraries to community members with a disability.
The group has diverse membership with representation from peak bodies such as Vision and SCOPE, interested groups including government agencies, Metro Access Officers and the Public Libraries Victoria Network (PLVN).
I joined the Working Group in September 2006 as the PLVN representative.
The key work on the agenda at that time was a research project that was being funded by the Winthrop Foundation with the purpose of investigating public library internet access and participation for people with a disability, assessing their needs and issues in relation to access and participation and making recommendations to improve access and participation.
Equity Research Centre was engaged to carry out the research.
The main element of the research was a survey conducted with 246 community members with a disability, 40 carers and 152 Victorian public library staff. Although the project’s focus was related to the needs and issues of those with a disability, it was identified as most important to survey library staff to establish what problems and barriers they were experiencing in delivering internet services to community members with a disability. It was recognised that there was a willingness to improve services, but confusion about the best way to go about it.
The results of the survey were analysed and the ‘More than Just Equipment’ report released in August 2007.
An electronic copy of this report can be downloaded at:
The report identified key issues and themes for both the disability sector and public library sector.
For the disability sector these were:
1. Internet access at the library
a. problems with adaptive equipment either being incompatible or not available;
b. problems with booking computers, with those PC’s with adaptive equipment not being available when required and bookings not being long enough;
c. the need for introductory training with the requirement for this to be done by someone who is disability aware and either in small groups or one-on-one; and
d. the need for ongoing help and assistance from staff
2. Access to the library via the internet
a. often remote access to catalogues and resources was difficult or impossible due to the software format and platform; and
b. web accessibility issues in relation to vision impairment and literacy with many library websites not World Wide Web (W3C) compliant.
3. Support from library staff
a. the need for library staff that were disability aware and trained in both the use of the adaptive equipment provided and the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.
4. Knowing what/who is available in the library
a. the need to raise the disability community’s awareness of what public libraries offer;
b. the need to raise awareness within public libraries of community members with a disability; and
c. the need to improve and develop networks across the community.
5. Getting to, getting in and being comfortable in the library
a. the need to address the issue of physical access to libraries, including things such as ramps, parking, transport and adjustable desks.
This last point is not specifically related to ICT but was identified as critical to improving participation.
For the public library sector these were:
1. Adaptive technology
a. the high cost of adaptive equipment was a barrier to purchasing equipment and seen as difficult to justify to funding bodies;
b. the complexity of the equipment with few staff confident in using it; and
c. confusion around what to purchase, where to purchase it from and who would benefit from the equipment.
a. the need to provide training on of the use of equipment and disability awareness.
As can be seen there was an overlap in the themes and issues of the two sectors.
The key recommendations from the report were to:
1. Improve physical accessibility both in getting to the library and within the library through improved parking and embracing the principals of universal design in relation to library buildings.
2. Ensure the spirit of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 was responded to through such actions as one-on-one staff assistance, continued support and expansion of home library services and training and ongoing support for library staff.
3. Provide support to library staff to deal with specialist adaptive/assistive equipment through training and identification of best practice.
4. Develop websites and provide online resources that are accessible through compliance with W3C and the Victorian Government Website Management Framework Standards and the procurement of accessible products.
5. Funding be made available so that libraries can increase the availability of internet facilities, adaptive equipment and software.
Public Library Response
The Convenor of the ICT Disability Working Group Colleen McCombe and I presented the findings of the report to public library managers in December 2007 and received their approval to hold a workshop of library staff to develop projects in response to the report.
This workshop was held in April 2008 and was attended by 20 enthusiastic staff members from Victorian public libraries.
The workshop established three priority projects:
1. The development of an online resource/directory for library staff.
2. The creation of guidelines to aid in the development of accessible websites.
3. The development of a best practice guide to designing accessible library buildings.
Three working groups were established to progress each of these projects.
The Online Resource/Directory Working Group’s first priority was to source funding for the development. As luck would have it the Department of Planning and Community Development (DPCD) had announced a Small Grants Program, the intent of which matched the aims and objectives of the project.
An application was made and funding of $30,000 was approved in June 2008. Darebin Libraries was the funding applicant on behalf of PLVN for this project.
The working group then held a number of workshops to fully develop the requirements for the website and a specification. I will add, at this stage we were all very interested in the then trendy online technology of wiki’s, but wisely did not specify an online solution in the specification.
Following a quotation process, Vicnet was appointed to develop the resource. They reviewed our needs and recommended a website solution using Joomla, a free open sources framework and content publishing system, and PLEASED (Public Libraries Enabling Accessible Services Encompassing Disability) was born – http://www.pleased.net.au
In terms of the name, like the development all good project names we sat around a table and juggled words to fit our acronym, which needed to include the words accessible, public, libraries and disability. I do believe it was Colleen McCombe who finally succeeded.
Touching briefly on the other two projects, research established that guidelines were already available in relation to web accessibility and what was required was a consolidation of these guidelines. Vicnet agreed to take on this project, accessing residual funding from the Winthrop Foundation grant. The PLEASED website was identified as their natural home.
The best practice guide to designing accessible library buildings was deferred until the completion of the other projects, as it was just not feasible to work on all three projects concurrently. This project will now become a focus of attention.
Final Website Features
Our initial workshops identified a list of required elements for the website. Based on further discussions with Vicnet which covered both functionality and cost, we established the final features as:
- A directory of service providers listing agencies, service providers and other stakeholders who could provide specialist knowledge and advice on areas such as appropriate adaptive equipment or suitable training;
- A directory of assistive technology held by public libraries in Victoria;
- A knowledge base providing information and guidance about disability service provision;
- A discussion forum to enable ongoing dialogue between users of the site on subjects of interest;
- Articles on topics of interest such as case studies, successful programs or solutions available in the market
- Frequently asked questions (FAQS);
- Links to other websites of interest such as technology vendors and resellers;
- News with chronologically ordered items such as upcoming events, training opportunities, festivals and special days; and
- Web 2.0 features included an RSS feed and word clouds.
The major items excluded from our initial list were a training calendar and instant messaging as we felt the needs these features were included to address could be met by other areas such as the discussion forum and news area.
The PLEASED website was launched in October 2009 at the State Library of Victoria by the Acting State Librarian Sue Hamilton. The website accessibility guidelines were launched at the same event. The website was then presented and demonstrated to PLVN in December 2009.
It has been well received by a wide range of stakeholders which has been most satisfying for all involved.
The approach we have taken to ensure the website continues to grow and develop was for each public library service to appoint a ‘champion’ for the website. This was generally a staff member who had a specific interest in the provision of disability services within the library. So far we have champions from around a third of our library services.
Vicnet conducted training for the champions and training notes have been developed and made available on the PLEASED website.
The PLEASED Working Group now has an ongoing role to promote the site and ensure it continues to develop. We are looking at banners, postcards and other marketing collateral and are developing a communication strategy to recruit further champions and ensure the website remains visible in the public library arena.
A slight measure of the success we have had in this regard is that the PLEASED banner is now the de-facto name for all projects disability related within the Victorian public library network.
We learnt a few lessons along the way, mostly good. Firstly, detailed and considered planning achieves good outcomes. The considerable effort we put into scoping our requirements was rewarded, with few changes required to our original list.
Secondly, choose the technical solution that best fits your needs, not the latest trend. As mentioned earlier the work group originally thought a wiki was the way to go and we were of a mind to detail this is in the specification. However the technical solution offered in the proposal by Vicnet was much more appropriate to address the requirements we set out.
Thirdly, this was a project supported by a volunteer working group and we achieved our outcomes successfully because we had members who were not only enthusiastic and interested in the project, but also had the specialist skills needed to achieve a good result. Of particular note was a member who had the technical IT skills to work collaboratively with Vicnet to translate our vision into a reality.
And finally, one thing I am sure you are all aware of, but I continually tend to forget – volunteer projects take a long time!