Tag Archives: libraries serving persons with special needs

COVID has forced us to think again about service provision: can it offer longer term lessons for how we serve persons with disabilities?

Tomorrow, the 14th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities starts, in New York and online.

It will have, as an overarching theme, ‘building back better: COVID-19 response and recovery; meeting the needs, realizing the rights, and addressing the socio-economic impacts on persons with disabilities’.

There’s clearly a lot in there, but there is already more than enough space to see how access to information – as a need, as a right, and as a driver of development – fits in.

At least two of the sub-themes offer an even clearer connection. ‘Living independently, being involved in the community’ ties strongly to the possibility for all to find and use information to take decisions for themselves, as well as to engage in community life, in all of its dimensions.

Similarly, ‘right to education; challenges with inclusive education and accessibility during COVID-19’ is again, to a large extent, about ensuring that everyone has the possibility to access knowledge and skills.

With a mission to serve everyone, there is already a strong community of practice in the library field focused on services to persons with disabilities. Within IFLA, sections on libraries serving persons with print disabilities, and serving persons with special needs, bring this expertise and enthusiasm together.

A key impact of the crisis, however, has been that many more library and information workers have found themselves needing to think about how to reach out to community members who are unable to come to the library in person or for whom ‘traditional’ service offers do not necessarily work.

This is because, thanks to the restrictions and precautions taken to counter the pandemic, almost all library services have had to be offered differently. Every library now, arguably, has to take into account principles of design thinking in order to meet needs.

In response, we have seen an explosion in digital offers, both collections and services. Libraries have shifted budgets towards buying eBook licences, sometimes benefitting from additional government support.

Activities such as storytimes or learning have gone online. New works, games and tools have been devised, websites have been updated, and there are new and easier-to-use consultation services, deliveries to users at home, and proactive contacts from librarians to community members.

There are many examples on our COVID-19 and libraries page, which details experiences from the first months of the pandemic.

This has allowed libraries, at least to some extent, to maintain services to communities, and indeed to reach new users. As the story of the pandemic is told in future, we will of course, hopefully, also see persons with disabilities having benefitted from better access to information.

Of course, this is not to forget the costs of decisions – however necessary – to curtail services which benefit people with disabilities and others, or the additional challenges that they have faced, over and above those facing the wider population.


Clearly, the transition to a new way of doing things has not been without challenges – such services often require additional resources and training to work effectively. In providing them, reducing health risks for staff and users is vital. Similarly, acquiring and giving access to digital works – often providing greater possibilities for access for persons with disabilities – often runs up against issues of cost and restrictive terms and conditions.

Yet with sustained support, and a focus on improved regulations (not least the implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty and its extension to cover people with other disabilities), we can hope that there will be the possibility to sustain elements of pandemic-time services which will benefit persons with disabilities into the future.

How is Your Library Supporting Migrants and the Communities that Welcome them?

To mark International Migrants Day, we are pleased to welcome a blog from the team preparing new IFLA Guidelines on Library Services to Refugees, Immigrants, Migrants and Asylum Seekers. We encourage all libraries to fill in the survey on this.

272 million people around the world, according to the statistics of the International Organisation for Migration, are migrants. One in ten people in developed countries are foreign-born.

They are working to build new lives and livelihoods for themselves in other countries, often far from home, leaving behind danger, poverty or discrimination. With the effects of climate change, the phenomenon of displacement linked to extreme or changing weather patterns is set to become more and more common (see this report from the Environmental Justice Foundation, or the work of the UN High Commission for Refugees on the topic).

Yet migration has always been a feature of human life and society, contributing to the emergence and spread of ideas, technologies and progress, and the development of the communities in which they settle. Yet successful migration is not just a given. Newcomers need support and opportunities to integrate.

This stretches from both the first weeks and months, when migrants can find themselves in a very foreign country, with few resources and references. But it also stretches over time, with women from immigrant background in particular at risk of facing lower employment rates (OECD).

When this happens, the potential of migrants is wasted. Social and economic divides, left unclosed, risk turning into political ones.


Libraries Can – And Should – Act!

This makes the case for action strong. And libraries can and should help, just as they have long helped local populations for years, through providing the spaces and skills to enjoy meaningful access to information and participation in cultural and scientific life. Crucially, as democratic places, they address everyone.

Many libraries around the world have started to design and offer services to migrants, based on their needs and aiming at their inclusion in the society they chose to settle in.

Thanks to this energy, there are many great ideas and services out there which could inform and inspire others. IFLA and the Goethe Institut have therefore decided to join forces in order to bring the experience together and turn it into international guidelines for Library Services to Refugees, Immigrants, Migrants and Asylum Seekers.


Surveying – and Sharing – Practices

To do this, an international and multi-disciplinary team has been created. This team wants to make these Guidelines as helpful as possible to all types of libraries serving communities with refugees, immigrants, migrants and asylum seekers.

To do this they have launched a global survey with a deadline of 22 December 2019. This survey aims to gather examples of services, how they are developed, staff responses, and what cooperative alliances exist to deliver these services.

We therefore encourage all libraries around the world to respond, even if they provide only limited services. Your contributions will help libraries ensure better services, and outcomes from migration, both for migrants and the communities that welcome them.