Barriers to Access, Initial Thoughts

Diversity refers to the the wide spectrum of backgrounds, cultures, needs, identities, and abilities within our communities. Because libraries exist to serve the community at large, it is imperative that a library embraces, represents, and serves the whole community – not just those that may be inherently more comfortable or equipped to benefit from traditional library services.

Like in the Working Together Project discussed in Wiiliment’s article, libraries must seek to engage with the most underserved members of its communities in order to best serve them. This project teaches us that true service must be “community led” rather than driven by traditional “library-based believes.” In order to be more inclusive to diverse populations, libraries must be willing to accept that despite their intentions, there may in fact be barriers to full inclusiveness. Williment notes several common barriers including: the impact of library fines, unfamiliar jargon, and the perception of judgement and intimidation. Similarly, Frostick delineates several common policies that act as barriers to library use in school libraries including language barriers, fines for late fees and lost items, and borrower fees. These policies can block access to some of our most vulnerable, needy and underserved children. She recommends solutions such as not requiring a parent signature for a library card and partnerships with school libraries. In the article “Libraries, Low-Income People, and Social Exclusion,” Gehner (2010) notes that libraries must make several shifts in perspective – accepting that libraries should not be offering charitable solutions, but inclusive planning and actions.

Like Gehner, The Community-Led Service Planning Model also recommends that the library staff begins outside the library – meeting and developing relationships with community members and listening to their needs. Service planning is based on ideas from the community, and members of the community are actively involved in planning. Library staff facilitate and work as a part of a team to deliver programming concurrently with members of the community and then to evaluate the effectiveness. A school librarian developing new programming for the library could engage with the school community through sporting events, church activities, and PTA events. He or she could meet with the teaching staff at planning meetings and meet with students in their classrooms. The librarian could partner with all of the members the school community, building authentic relationships, and discussing the needs of patrons. How can I help? What do you need? Then, the school librarian, can assist and empower the school community to act. At a local school, the librarian is currently beginning a “Genius Hour” based on the interests and passions of the students. She is facilitating research groups and partnerships between community members who can mentor students in their chosen area of research. This is one example of a way a librarian can follow and facilitate rather than lead.  



Frostick, C. M. (2009). The myth of equal access: Bridging the gap with diverse patrons. Children & Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children, 7(3), 32-37.

Gehner, J. (2010). Libraries, low-income people, and social exclusion. Public Library Quarterly, 29(1), 39-47. doi:10.1080/01616840903562976

Williment, K. (2011). It takes a community to create a library. Public Libraries, 50(2), 30-35.

Photo by Math on Unsplash

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