Thursday, November 16, 2017

Librarians with Disabilities: Accessibility in Action

Accessibility Series logo by Chris Frantz (On a Roll Designs)

Amanda M. Leftwich is currently a Circulation Supervisor at a small fine arts college in Philadelphia, PA. She tweets as @thelibmaven. 

As a person of color with visible and invisible disabilities, navigating librarianship has been a complex and oftentimes frustrating experience. Most conversations about equity and diversity in librarianship solely involve race or gender, but exclude people living with disabilities or chronic illness. Dealing with health concerns in a rigid environment such as libraries can seem impossible; however there are ways to thrive in the field with disability.

Understand your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 1991 & ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA)! Although these protections set in place by law they are under attack due to H.R. 620. It’s still important to learn about both laws. The ADA is the original law granting people with disabilities civil rights protections. The ADAAA expanded the terms of “disability” which previously had not counted learning disabilities under civil rights protections. Your disability may be under the protected class, but you have to learn the basics of the laws first.

Reasonable accommodation exists for a reason; use it. Under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) policy employees with a disability have the legal right to request accommodations to perform their job duties. For example, employers providing changes to schedules, assistive technology, an interpreter, removing job duties that are deemed harmful to one’s disability, and moving office space are all examples of reasonable accommodations. Employees may request reasonable accommodation at any time (including the interview process). One must provide written notification of outlined restrictions from a medical professional. Although most librarians shyaway from the topic of reasonable accommodation, it shouldn’t be avoided if it’s needed to complete job tasks! Most requests can be filled cheaply and without much hassle to employers.

Don’t feel the need to apologize for your disability. Most librarians are used to working with few colleagues. This can create familiarity in the workplace. However, this doesn’t mean that anyone has to give detailed information about their health issues. The only person who should be concerned about your disability is your health care professional. Others will frequently ask questions (to the point of harassment) about your illness, especially those that are invisible. Quite frankly, it’s none of their business. You don’t have to prove nor should you feel guilty about having an illness while “looking perfectly healthy”. You do not need to explain anything related to your health to your colleagues, friends, neighbors, or anyone that you aren’t comfortable with providing.

Save your Spoons. Spoonies (anyone suffering from a chronic invisible illness) understand the importance of pacing themselves. I suffer from Meniere's Disease, an invisible chronic illness that impacts balance and hearing. Some days, I have enough spoons to complete all of my duties and tasks. Others, I only have one spoon just to get out of bed. For me, saving my spoons means not completing certain balance-heavy library projects (shifting, moving heavy carts, or anything that requires lots of walking around the Library, etc.) and on my “drop attack” days; it means calling out sick. Prior to being diagnosed with Meniere’s, I had to call out frequently due to issues with vertigo. I felt like a failure until my parents reminded me that “sick days are there for a reason”. I never used sick days prior, simply because I wasn’t sick. Not even for mental health days; this was a mistake. Sick days (and personal days) are there for a reason- they aid in you allowing your body time to recover from an episode, if necessary. If you need them due to illness (or mental health), TAKE THEM. Never be afraid to put your health ahead of your job.

Have compassion for yourself. We all know that one librarian that’s been with the Library since they “graduated from Library school”. The super dedicated, always dependable person ready to answer a reference question in a jiff. Most importantly, never called out sick a day in their career! As a spoonie, this will not be your testimony. Perfection does not exist. You’ll need to accept yourself at whatever stage in life you’re in. This will mean accepting the fact you won’t be able to control your illness. You are more than your illness! Remind yourself every day that your self-worth doesn’t revolve around your profession, but life outside of work.

Acknowledge that others won’t get it. Others will question your illness. What’s wrong with you? Are you really sick? You look fine to me. Unfortunately, questions and statements like these will continue to occur. In the face of chronic illness, most people have no idea what to say. This is not your problem. Only you understand how your disability affects you. Don’t concern yourself with the thoughts of others.

Get involved in the conversations about accessibility. Unfortunately, the conversations about inclusiveness and access oftentimes exclude librarians with disabilities. Organizations like the Association of Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) and ADA Center aim to train and promote scholarship for disability justice. Although these organizations don’t fall under librarianship, we can carry the conversations had in those spaces into our field. Write about your experiences as a disabled librarian to library blogs (this one), chats, discussion boards, etc. Follow disability justice leaders such as Mia Mingus, Emily Ladua, Lydia Brown, and Haben Girma to get involved in a larger discussion about accessibility to bring these ideas into the libraries.

Compassion in libraries shouldn’t only be directed towards patrons we serve, but also the librarians and paraprofessionals working in these settings. Don’t be afraid to challenge the norm and fight for your place in the field. There’s more than enough room for all of us, including those with disabilities.

Want more on accessibility? Click here for more in the Accessibility Series.

Are you a disabled/neurodivergent/chronically ill library staff member who would like to guest post on BDP? Click here for more information on writing a post of the accessibility. Posts on accessibility by abled members of the library community are not accepted.

The Accessibility Series was made possible by a grant from Awesome Without Borders.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Be my Blogging Intern!

Icon picture of a computer on an orange background.
Text reads, "Be my Blogging Intern!"

Those of you who have been readers for awhile know that BDP has had a variety of focuses. When I was a front-line staff member, my posts focused mostly on programming, and those posts continue to be useful to many.

Some of them are really old. And I know there are people out there who are doing awesome and innovative things in these areas and sure most of my stuff is perennial but I hate to see it get stale. I will forever appreciate the bloggers I've connected with but it was always my hope that that once we all moved into management or other roles that are not so easy to write "steal this idea" posts about, that a new group would take the reigns and add their experiences and ideas to the Internet Collective.

This is not to say that this isn't happening in other ways. There are great ideas being shared in Facebook groups everyday, but those are less easy to pin, bookmark or otherwise find later, judging by the amount of times the same questions are asked.

After months of lamenting this possible loss of information (and admittedly getting a salty about the nature of consumption and use of blog posts in youth services), I decided that there is something I can possibly do about it: start an internship program.

What I'm looking for:
-Commitment of 1 post per month for 6 months, with the option of continuing for another 6 months as you build your online presence.
-Posts that are how-tos about programming, displays, outreach, tours, and/or patron relations that can be easily replicated in a variety of public libraries for little to no money
-Programs can be based on existing blogposts/something you found on Pinterest but the program should be changed enough that a new post about it is warranted
-Post should be about something that has already been executed BY YOU in or on behalf of a library
- New to the field or to youth services are welcome to apply; veterans also welcome. Established bloggers who average at least 100 views per day need not apply.
-you don't have to have a blog of your own yet, but it's okay if you do

What you'll get:
-Mentoring and assistance throughout the writing process to help turn your programs into blogposts
-Full license to co-publish your post on your own platform; you retain ownership of your content. In the event you haven't yet created a blog, you are welcome to republish the posts you share here at a later date.
-Advice along the way to create and maintain your own blog
-Exposure to an audience it took me 6 years to build
-At the end of the internship, I'll gift you a custom logo from Chris at On a Roll Designs. Valued at $52.50, a custom logo will help you on your way to creating and maintaining your own blog and putting your own custom stamp on the youth services blogging community.
-Depending on our working relationship, I may be available as a professional reference for you in the future.

How to apply:
Email me at brycedontplay at gmail dot com by December 1, 2017.
Email should include the following:
-Title and library
-a short bio to appear on this blog if you are a successful candidate
-Why you're interested in becoming a BDP intern
-Description of a program you're excited to blog about. Ideally the successful candidate(s)' first blogposts will be published by the end of January, so the more you can tell me the better to jump start the process. Descriptions should be at least 100 words.
-Entries that do not follow the instructions above will not be considered.

I'm currently in search of 1-3 interns.

Decisions will be made by Friday, December 8. First cohort of interns will be announced on BDP on Tuesday, December 12 (Unless no one applies, which is a distinct possibility; then, you know, nevermind).

If you're not ready to make a commitment but would like to guest post, please also email me at brycedontplay at gmail dot com!

Recently started a blog? Leave the link in the comments and I'll link you in an upcoming post.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Autistic Perspectives on Dr. Temple Grandin at the ALSC Blog

Do you remember Justin Spectrum, the first autistic librarian to write about autism at the ALSC blog? Last week, he published a new blogpost regarding his thoughts on The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin, a new biography for children by Julia Finley Mosca (illustrated by Daniel Rieley). It's a thought provoking piece. Please take a minute to read and consider it.

Representation has been on my mind recently, since I've been writing content on evaluating books with disabled characters for my upcoming course. You may remember that I started the entire Accessibility Series  with a story about how I didn't really see my experience with disability reflected in a book character until I was 29, and how dismayed I was to find that as whole the book was not well-received, because I wanted more. Justin, similarly, praises this book for its representation and potential for mainstream appeal, while lamenting that its subject can be problematic. He does a great job summarizing much of the autistic community's criticism of Temple Grandin, and I encourage you to dive in.

Lydia Brown at Autistic Hoya additionally outlines some ways that Temple Grandin is used by abled people as a "token" autistic person and the problems with that, notably: "Because she is autistic and her statements align with those articulated from an ableist sensibility, neurotypicals advancing the views that autism presents a problem of pathology can claim authenticity or legitimacy for their position through Temple Grandin's reiteration of the same sentiments."

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Youth Services in Action: Here's What We Do

Black text on a green background:
"Youth Services: Here's What We Do"

When libraries consider disbanding age-specific departments, it particularly affects youth services in a way that it might not in other sections of the library. This tweet at Librarian Problems, which right now has 700 engagements between Twitter and Tumbler, plays on this idea: Homer Simpson gasps as he's met with a room full of babies; this GIF is accompanied by the phrase, "When a reference librarian wanders into storytime". In the episode this GIF comes from, the room full of babies is silent save for their pacifiers; in storytime, as we know, this is not the case.

It's a funny concept, which is why so many liked, retweeted, and reblogged it. But those engagements and the comments it's garnered definitely tell me: it's funny because it's true. 

I have no doubt that plenty of libraries disband age-specific departments in a supportive way that values the strengths of all staff, and I've even seen it happen at libraries in my cooperative. Heck, my program is doing this when we soon on-board our new Youth Services Librarian, as the two positions were originally conceived as "Early Literacy" and "School Services" but will now work in a more collaborative, project-based way. The pearl clutcher in me, however, is ever the cynic and the skeptic.

There are lots of things to consider when thinking about the design of services to youth in your public librarian, and librarians much smarter than me have already begun to tackle them. Karen Jensen of Teen Librarian Toolbox and Melissa Depper of Mel's Desk have some awesome, required reading threads. Kendra Jones started a Facebook conversation about a recently announced PLA Conference session; the post and comments are edifying and worth a read. Tess Prendergast wrote an open letter to PLA  about it complete with a citation list, and was able to get the title changed, at least. Please follow those links. I'll be here.

I am so grateful that my cooperative has a position like mine, and that it's valued so much we are expanding our program. I do coordinating things, but I also take advocating for youth services and our youth services library staff seriously. I try my best to help our library staff break down barriers to youth access and provide the highest quality services to youth possible. It's a job that can be tough but I'm honored that the trust has been bestowed upon me to do it.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Accommodations and the ADA: Writing Policy to Exception

Accessibility series logo by Chris Frantz

I had a less shouty post brewing. I really did. It was about research or maybe it was about other favorite tools or trust and maybe I'll get to those later.

But then I found out about H.R. 620. And I thought about how little I'd seen about it yet. But then I read the intent of the bill, and I thought about how libraries sometimes approach disability, and I feel the need to talk about this instead. I also feel compelled to say that the appropriate response from abled people here is not outrage/shock. (Seriously, read that link, it's really good).

Here's what the link to H.R. 620 says: "The bill prohibits civil actions based on the failure to remove an architectural barrier to access into an existing public accommodation unless: (1) the aggrieved person has provided to the owners or operators a written notice specific enough to identify the barrier, and (2) the owners or operators fail to provide the person with a written description outlining improvements that will be made to improve the barrier or they fail to remove the barrier or make substantial progress after providing such a description. The aggrieved person's notice must specify: (1) the address of the property, (2) the specific ADA sections alleged to have been violated, (3) whether a request for assistance in removing an architectural barrier was made, and (4) whether the barrier was permanent or temporary."

Right now, the Americans with Disabilities Act puts the responsibility of ensuring accessibility on a building's owner, proactively. Meaning, if your building does not comply with ADA, whether or not anyone told you about it, or whether or not a disabled person had to compromise their humanity to tell you about it, your building is breaking the law. This bill would put the responsibility on disabled people to announce themselves in order to use a space effectively, in writing, not only the specific ADA non-compliance but also that they asked for assistance. One reason for this proposed change is that many, many buildings built before ADA passed in 1990 still do not comply, after 27 years, and their owners cannot be bothered to think about disabled people as actual people who need to use or work in their buildings.

FYI: There's a very good chance your library is one of those buildings.

Not that you need to be told that, of course; disabled people in libraries are reminded of their statuses as potential lawsuits all the time. I recently heard from a librarian whose library's elevator wasn't working, told that it would be "fine". When another brought up that people using walkers couldn't get through the exactly 36" wide hallway in a library during construction, they were told "no one will probably say anything, and they can't sue."

I really implore you to think about what it tells disabled patrons and staff when your ADA compliance is based on convenience and lawsuits rather than, I don't know, actually giving a damn that people can accessibly use your spaces.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

"When You Find a Hill to Die On": A Tale of Workplace Toxicity

this image is decorative

A US librarian recently approached me about doing a guest post on the topic of workplace toxicity. I was honored, especially since I've been reading and writing more about workplace culture in my attempt to continue to foster a healthy working environment for myself and my team. They wish to remain anonymous.

CW: Sexual harrasment.

Can we talk about toxic expectations and working environments in public libraries? You know, the ones that tell librarians that we are meant to live for our jobs and that being a librarian is a sacred calling that must be honored by keeping our criticisms of the field very kind and positive.

Public libraries have a long history of building on a foundation of unhealthy cultures and they tend to be breeding grounds for harmful concepts in the workplace like a culture of poor boundaries and expectations of personal sacrifice. It creates an unspoken pressure to perform tasks outside your job description, to work up to and through burn out, and to shape our personal plans, like vacations, around the needs of patrons. It makes us more likely to sacrifice our personal time to work more than 40 hours a week. It sets us up for occupational martyrdom and there are very real dangers that lurk around its edges.

I have experienced an extreme version of these issues and, as a natural result, extreme consequences. When we’re reluctant to see problems and to raise concerns with our employers, they gain a false sense of their progress as leaders and they can easily start to think of poor working conditions as normal and necessary. This was my disaster and it led me to a place where, in addition to a lot of other minor abuses, I was expected to place myself in physical danger without complaint. I was a solo librarian (with backup from paraprofessionals) for a system made up of small town and rural branches and, as part of my position, I sometimes needed to work alone in a building. This standard of solo librarians is still so common in rural and small libraries, but even some urban libraries are built on the idea that staff should face physical danger and unhealthy working environments for the sake of work and our patrons. Maybe you haven’t faced working alone, but I bet you can relate to feeling the pressure to give endlessly because, well, you love your job don’t you? You want to provide the very best for your community, right?  (For more on this concept, check out Fobazi Ettarh’s blog post where she coins the term vocational awe.)

I feel so strongly that these kinds of toxic cultures need to be addressed that I want to share my personal experience with trying to do just that.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Prizeless Prize Wheel: My New Favorite Outreach Tool

A blonde woman in a blue sweater and dress standing
behind a table with a black tablecloth on it. On top of the table are
various pamphlets and other small giveaways. To her right is
an 18-inch, rainbow-colored prize wheel.

Last week my coworker Cynthia and I attended a Health Fair on behalf of our cooperative. It was a "tabling event", as opposed to an outreach event like a class visit. Those who have been following me for awhile probably know how much I've wanted to crack this type of event, how a couple years ago I started seeing the similarities between tabling events and brewfests; and my hard-held belief that, all other things being equal (for instance, we are tabling among other community organizations) we can be the most popular table on the block.

So. Last week: we were.