Removing barriers to access

I chose to focus on the Public Library mini-module, and while I found many of the library examples inspiring, I thought Edmonton Public Library’s (EPL) story from the library of the year article was especially compelling. There were so many great examples of Edmonton’s commitment to community-led service.

As I was reading the article, I noticed that many of their services were strategies to take away barriers to library services and resources. For example, the no ID, no address library card. “Until they can show proof of identity and residency, customers get a library card with a borrowing limit of one item and computer access.” I’m sure for many libraries this is a scary concept. For example, in the public library I work at, we loan out Chromebooks. We started with 20 and after about 2 ½ years all but six of them have, for one reason or another, never been returned. Despite examples like this, which to some might suggest that patrons cannot be trusted, EPL’s no ID, no address library card is a good balance of trust with conditions. In my opinion, helping patrons in their moment of need is worth the potential loss of one library book.

Next, at Edmonton Public Library every library branch has a community librarian who is there to connect and consult with users out in the community. The purpose is to “understand community needs, identify and eliminate barriers to service, and set the direction of library services and policies.” Rather than waiting for users to come to them, Edmonton is sending staff out to meet their community. I so admire EPL’s dedication to this idea. Unfortunately, I think that hiring a librarian for this sole purpose is beyond most libraries’ financial capabilities. But, I’m sure forays into the community that require shorter amounts of staff time could still be successful.

One final example. In a stroke of sheer brilliance, EPL has partnered with the University of Alberta School of Library and Information Studies to give recent library school graduates an opportunity to conduct research for their library system. “In one such study, EPL identified 11 underserved communities, and five barriers to access” which is actually where the idea for a no ID, no address library card came from. In addition, EPL also made changes to loan periods, eliminated late fees, and provided better service to geographically underserved areas.

Edmonton Public Library is a shining example of how libraries can take away barriers, many of which come from internal policies, and focus on inclusion and access for all members of their community. While I have little input over the way my public library handles many of the policies contributing to patron barriers, I do have to ability to start conversations with other library staff that could kindle ideas that possibly leads to change.

Berry, J. (June 11, 2014). 2014 Gale/LJ Library of the year: Edmonton Public Library, transformed by teamwork. Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2014/06/awards/2014-galelj-library-of-the-year-edmonton-public-library-transformed-by-teamwork.

4 thoughts on “Removing barriers to access

  1. @anjanette I love the no ID, no address card idea. Especially that it allows computer access. For the homeless, youth, etc., this is often a deal-breaker. Eliminating that barrier is relatively easy. Los Angeles PL is working on rolling out a deal with my district, LA Unified, to get students an automatic library card, at the time of enrollment, with which they can check out up to three books, with NO fines, access the databases, and computers. If they don’t return a book, there will be no fine, but it will stay on their records so then they can only check out two books. It sounds great. It’s starting with a small roll out to work out the kinks.

    • Hi @loribromac. This is a great idea to extend the easy access library card service to youth. I hate having to deny teens the opportunity to get a library card when giving tours or demonstrating how to use library databases. We have a large Hispanic population where I work, and I feel many parents may never come in with their child to get a library card for fear of government institutions or just lack of understanding what services libraries offer. They may also fear racking up fines they cannot pay. These teens may never have a chance to get a library card unless policies are changed. I really hope my library considers changes like this in the near future.

  2. The No ID, No Address card is brilliant. And how wonderful that EPL cam help LIS students gain experience in user-focused research (and other types). I would argue that this should be replicated and partnerships with LIS schools should be a given in the library world!

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