Friday, September 5, 2014

Accessible Services

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If you work in libraries, chances are you have a favorite customer(s) - someone that you have developed a library bond with.  Most likely you helped him discover a new series or found critical information for her when she needed it the most.  My favorite customer is actually an unstoppable couple comprised of a wife who has a voracious reading appetite and a husband who sees to it that his wife gets what she wants.  Did I mention that his wife is blind?  Like most visually impaired persons, this customer (I will call her Mrs. White) became blind as a result of an age related disease and was not familiar with options available to her.  Now, if you are a fan of audiobooks then you may be familiar with the price tag that comes along with them.  They are not cheap!  It was for this reason that Ms. White and her husband came to the library.  I was more than happy to show them our audiobook collection both on CD and as digital downloads but, for such a voracious reader as Ms. White, I knew that our collection would be limited.  And so, I introduced Mr. and Mrs. White to a library that could help them - GLASS (Georgia Library for Accessible Statewide Services.)  GLASS is Georgia’s extension of the National Library Service (NLS) for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, with subregional libraries to meet the needs of customers such as Mrs. White.  If you are living in another state, you can visit the NLS website to find a regional or subregional library near you.

Libraries in general tend to have a marketing problem in that most people don’t know about the resources available to them.  This problem does not only affect the public library but is also a concern for academic and special libraries.  The NLS, and GLASS by extension, also encounter the same struggles of getting the word out about what they have to offer.  Not surprisingly, the most effective way to get the word out about these specialized services is through public libraries and interactions like the one I had with Mrs. White.  Because the couple was not even fully aware of everything their public library had to offer, it was a shock for them to learn about what was also available through GLASS.

I often wonder what would have happened if I was not aware of GLASS.  It’s quite possible that Mrs. White would have been satisfied with the public library and would have eventually discovered all the resources available to her.  In fact, I’m quite sure that is the story for most customers needing specialized services - they just are not aware of what is out there.  I must admit that, until I helped Mrs. White, not even I knew everything available. Sure, I had an idea - enough of an idea to lead her in the right direction - but we have been discovering it all together.  

As librarians it can be difficult to know everything and, yet, it seems our customers expect us to have all the answers at the drop of a hat.  Maybe we don’t know all the answers, but we should know how to find them.  And the first step to finding those answers is knowing the resources available to us. Therefore, I encourage you to become familiar with your regional library for accessible services.  Discover what’s available by visiting a library or by having a representative visit your location to share what resources are available - you never know when you could possibly change someone’s life.

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