Friday, April 07, 2006

Ideas on how the Library can reach out to people who find it physically inconvenient to get to the library

My colleague over at High Browse Online just blogged this:
Perhaps secretly, I'm hoping that there is someone who has been reading our blog, who wants to visit the library more often, but finds it really challenging to do so. Someone who can give us ideas that are feasible... [Read More]

Incidentally, the first comment was an anonymous one that said: "you guys are wasting for time soliciting for feedback, just provide free delivery service to them."

Soliciting feedback considered a waste of time? I bet you anonymous there ain't cut out to be a librarian : )

Seriously though, it's not a matter of just providing free delivery. One has to plan the entire service from a holistic point of view (e.g. type of collection, access within the library, access to the library, alternative modes, and so on). As Elf subsequently replied, enabling independent access would be a better idea and that's the ultimate goal if you ask me.

As I've learnt from my MSc dissertation, the needs of people with disabilities are no different from you and I. In the concluding paragraph, I wrote: "Ccompared to developed countries, Singapore lags behind in the provision of public library services to the disabled."

That study was completed in 1999/ 2000. I'm glad to say since early part of 2000, there's increased emphasis by the NLB management on services to the "Disadvantaged" (a very broad category that includes people with disabilities). I wish I could say that was brought about by my groundbreaking dissertation but alas, my study was neither groundbreaking and I doubt if they read my thesis. : )

I doubt if Singapore will see any specific legislation for the provision of services to people with disabilities (apart from legislation on building codes). I'm still half-hearted whether legislation is a good thing.

What I'm convinced is that individuals in NLB has the heart for reaching out the people with disabilities (and those in lower social strata). Things are happening, and maybe I'll get permission to blog about it.

But I'm also convinced that NLB cannot do this alone if we want to sustain the service. It's easy to start a service, but difficult to maintain one. Biggest problem is the seemingly lack of demand, if you ask me. The recipients of services that we are trying deliver to should also play a part (either by coming forth with constructive views, or making time and effort to utilise whatever we are trying to provide, or just advocacy).

As they say, it takes two to tango.

Let me just cite the concluding paragraph of my 1999/2000 study:
The information needs and reading habits of wheelchair-bound young people seemed no different from those of any young person. Gender, age, interests, involvement in school projects (or lack of) are factors that determine the kind of information they require. Being wheelchair-bound is not a major determinant of their information needs but is a crucial factor in how they go about obtaining information.

The main problem in using libraries is getting to the library in the first place. Within the library premises, there are problems relating to stairs, curbs, furniture, computer equipment, and other physical obstructions.

The findings of this study suggest that the wheelchair-bound young person wants to make use of public libraries. At present, however, the need for better means of transportation takes precedence over the demand for any other services.

Since its formation in September 1995, the National Library Board has prototyped and introduced new and improved services to make libraries more convenient and accessible. One might venture to say, however, that most of the public library facilities have not been designed with the disabled in mind. Implicit in the implementation of the services has been the assumption that the users are able-bodied. There have been no significant initiatives for the disabled after the formation of the National Library Board in 1995. As priorities have shifted towards fulfilling the goals outlined in the Library 2000 report, it would seem that the needs of the disabled population have been neglected. Compared to developed countries, Singapore lags behind in the provision of public library services to the disabled.

Montgomery (1990) wrote that society and its institutions will be judged by their success in preparing the majority of young people to make an effective and valued contribution to the community as a whole. Thus, enhancing opportunities for this contribution rests on the ability of the National Library Board to enable both able-bodied and disabled persons to make full use of their public libraries.

OK, what's your view or experience? I'd love to hear from you.


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