Librarians’ ability to serve Visually Impaired Users: a research project

3 Oct

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!


5 Responses to “Librarians’ ability to serve Visually Impaired Users: a research project”

  1. Jimmy Paquet October 3, 2009 at 11:48 pm #

    Well, Amanda, that is quite a research projet you’ve got going there…I think it is an interesting subject and I’m very aware of the situation surrounding the increase in the visually-impaired population. Many alternative ways of reading are already in place, like the ones you cited, but there is still a lot of place for improvement. So, congrats! And I’ll be glad to provide any help on the medical aspect should you need it.

  2. Fiona October 4, 2009 at 3:07 pm #

    The New Brunswick Public Library Service currently has a librarian who is also doing a research project on library services for vision impaired users. I’m not sure what the end goal is as the project was still in the preliminary research phase when I was in the office this summer. Let me know if you want the librarian’s contact info…..

    • Amanda Halfpenny October 4, 2009 at 8:09 pm #

      That would be fantastic Fiona! My focus is on Quebec librarians so luckily I won’t be redoing the exact same study as this librarian, which is always a danger when conducting research on hot topics, but I would still be very interested in hearing what was done. Can you email me the contact info? Thank you!

  3. Graham Lavender October 5, 2009 at 11:41 am #

    I can’t wait to read your final report. Don’t forget to give updates about the project every now and then on your blog. 🙂

  4. raphael c. intsiful May 6, 2010 at 6:50 am #

    hi Amanda, keep the good work going. Yes it is my interest too, i’m working with blind students at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana. i would be glad if we can all help the blind person.

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