This semester I have been accepted by a faculty committee to conduct a 6-credit research project. The School of Information Studies at McGill does not require any research for its Masters program and apparently it is rare that students choose to do independent research despite it being offered. I think that it is disappointing that more students are not interested in completing research on a particular topic that interests them. Last year, my Intro to Research Methods professor, Catherine Guastavino, made a lasting impression on me during a speech on the importance of research in librarianship. She argued that it is research that allows practitioners to better understand certain phenomena in libraries as well as identify potential methods for improvement.
I have had no experience conducting research unless you count my grade 7 science project on “What Stains are the Hardest to Remove?”. However, I am passionate about many topics that I feel are not properly addressed in library school. I decided that one poorly addressed topic of growing importance in libraries is the service offered to visually impaired persons. Approximately 816,250 (3.2%) of Canadians aged 15 and older reported having some type of seeing limitation. This should be of great concern to librarians since visually impaired users are the group that requires the most alternatives to traditional print. However, less than 5% of published Canadian material is available in formats accessible to this user-group. The gravity of this problem will escalate steadily within the next 10 years as the generation of the baby boomers ages, therefore, increasing the number of persons suffering from diseases associated with loss of vision such as age-related macular degeneration.
While doing my preliminary lit review and through conversations with librarians, I have come to the conclusion that there have been a lot of improvements recently to accessibility such as databases like Ebsco creating specific platforms for visually impaired users and the availability of audio books such as Playaways. However, I have developed the hypothesis that librarians lack the knowledge of these improved resources as well as the knowledge of how to appropriately address this user-group which consequently prevents the librarians from offering quality service. My research project over the next 7 months will attempt to explore whether librarians are able to identify resources relevant to serving users who are visually impaired as well as if they are aware of the appropriate behaviour and attitudes to adopt when dealing with this user-group. Wish me luck and if you know of any references that might be relevant to this topic I would appreciate hearing from you!