Library staff apply for accessibility grant

By Heather Fabritze

Student Life Editor

The Clifton M. Miller Memorial Library staff are taking steps to apply for a grant, which will provide them with opportunities to improve accessibility in the campus library.

“Libraries Transforming Communities: Accessible Small and Rural Communities” is a grant offered by the American Library Association. It provides more than seven million dollars in grants to small and rural libraries for increasing accessibility of facilities, programs, and services.

The grants available range between $10,000 and $20,000.

Libraries hoping to participate are first required to conduct input-gathering sessions among their communities to ensure that their plans align with campus needs. The initial meetings included interlibrary loan specialists, the library’s office manager, and student employees.

Each grant recipient must also select a specific group that their changes aim to assist. Miller Library staff chose to focus on students who fall on the autism spectrum and those with other sensory sensitivities, and their accessibility plans specifically involve input from those groups.

To start making connections with students with disabilities on the Washington College campus, the library reached out to American with Disabilities Act Accessibility Chair and Elm News Co-Editor junior Grace Apostol.

Apostol, who sent out a survey requesting student concerns on accessibility last semester, presented her findings to the library staff. Some of the concerns mentioned included uneven bricks, the steep ramp to the library terrace, and improved communication between the Office of Academic Skills and professors about accommodations. 

According to Apostol, her role in the process is to elevate the voices of those with disabilities at WC and start the process of acknowledging accessibility across the board.

“If we don’t start somewhere, we’re never going to get anywhere when it comes to accessibility,” Apostol said. “I think it’s great that the library staff is looking to do this grant because though it’s one small part of our campus, it’s going to make a huge difference. If this grant is approved, it’ll show that there can be real change that is made on this campus.”

Research and Instruction Librarian in Science and Mathematics Alexandria Baker said that she agrees with Apostol and hopes that other spaces on campus will further work with making the campus more accessible.

“It’s an opportunity for us to model the sort of work that should be happening all across campus and dorms,” Baker said. “Students come to the library saying this is a comfortable space because of XYZ things that are happening in other spaces on campus. And we’re grateful to be able to start that work, but I know it has to be followed. Other spaces have to follow suit.”

The current goal of the Miller Library Inclusivity Program is to make library spaces meet the accessibility needs of students and develop them with funds to create community conversations. By doing so, these changes will hopefully lead to increased familiarity with library services for the campus community.

Tentative ideas for the grant include an interactive map which will lead students through the library to explain resources; crowd mapping, which will display how busy the library is at any given time; sensory adaptation kits; accessibility training for all library staff; automatic doors; and better communication with the Office of Academic.

According to Public Services Librarian Andrea Boothby Rice, who discovered the grant and brought it to her fellow staff, the library wants to showcase that their changes will have a substantial impact on students. 

“The library is certainly a place where students come to do the research to find sources, but it’s also a communal space on campus,” Boothby Rice said. “And if we are allowing any barriers to continue to stand to using this space, then I think we’re really failing the students.”

Boothby Rice said that even if the grant falls through, the library intends to continue developing their tentative plans and “ongoing conversation[s]” on accessibility over a longer period the time. They also plan to reach out to even more groups on campus for their input.

“This isn’t something that is done with getting one grant, or getting one funding, or taking one training,” Boothby Rice said. “And we need to make sure that when we’re talking about equity and inclusivity that we’re inviting the people that we’re speaking about to the table and incorporating their voices in it, so that we’re not doing this in the name of checking the box. It’s because at the other end of it, real lives — it’s lived experiences that are going to be affected.”

Photo by Mia Snyder

Photo Caption: The brick layout of the library terrace is among the features being considered in the endeavor for increased accessibility.

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