Melissa Fortson is a 30 year old library assistant at a Braille and talking book library and is currently attending The University of Alabama’s School of Library and Information Studies. You can read more about accessible library services on her blog.
I’m a young librarian because of Playboy magazine: a Braille edition of Playboy magazine, to be exact.
Let me back track a little.
As an Alliance of Information & Referral Systems (AIRS) Certified Information & Referral Specialist in Aging (CIRS-A), I began my career bringing people and services together. While working in this position-which has its own ties to the library community- I learned of library services for people with disabilities.
I did a lot of outreach work; this sometimes included staffing booths at conferences and other events. On one such occasion, my program was assigned to a table adjacent to the state’s Braille and talking book library. As I watched the librarian show attendees audio and Braille library materials- including the aforementioned Playboy- I thought to myself: “Wow. THAT is my dream job. Who is lucky enough to get to do THAT?”
Well, me, that’s who. I left my work in the disability community to pursue a career in librarianship, and, less than two years later, here I am: an MLIS candidate and library assistant with a Braille and talking book library.
When I contacted Leah about contributing a post, I realized that there are not a lot of under-40 librarians working in this area of librarianship. Why, then, am I passionate about library services and people with disabilities?
It’s about learning. While my MLIS program does not offer a course dedicated this area of study, I’ve compiled a history of library services for people with disabilities, developed a research proposal addressing access to information and patrons with disabilities, and, through an internship, served as the librarian at a children’s center that provides emotional and behavioral services. My LIS coursework is complemented by the less formal learning opportunities that present themselves each day, through listserv discussions, association participation, and- the most fun and important way I learn- interacting with patrons.
It’s about teaching. Because it is somewhat unique, I have lots of opportunities to introduce others to this area of librarianship and promote disability awareness and etiquette. It’s my belief that it shouldn’t take “special” programs to serve patrons with disabilities.
It’s about technology. Coursework in information technology challenged me to teach myself more about accessibility and usability. In addition to offering my own accessible website, I can now help other professionals do the same. I am really excited to be involved in the NLS/BPH digital transition, and I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to get library patrons excited about it too.
It’s about people. My fellow ALA members are probably familiar with the Library Bill of Rights, but did you know that there is an interpretation of the LBOR specifically addressing library access for patrons with disabilities? It closes- and I will, too- with the following:
“The preamble to the Library Bill of Rights states, ‘all libraries are forums for information and ideas.’ By removing the physical, technological, and procedural barriers to accessing those forums, libraries promote the full inclusion of persons with disabilities into our society.”
Thanks to Leah for providing this forum, and thank you for reading.