On April 1st the ebooks@cambridge team held our annual open meeting for Cambridge library staff in the main lecture theatre at St. John’s. The meeting was attended by some forty people from across the Cambridge libraries network, who gathered to hear from a range of speakers representing libraries, students and the Disability Resource Centre on the theme of accessible resource formats, our focus for the session.
The legal and institutional context for accessibility: The Disability Resource Centre
After some networking over coffee and an introduction from Jo Milton, Chair of the ebooks Advisory Group, the meeting began with a presentation by John Harding, Head of the Disability Resource Centre. John provided the legal and institutional context for the meeting by outlining the University’s obligations to make learning resources, including teaching materials, websites, ebooks and ejournals, accessible to people with disabilities. He explained what is happening already within the University and across the HE sector to meet our legal – as well as moral – obligations, and spelled out what actions we need to take, including the action to ensure that students have accessible versions of books, e-books and journals/literature.
The student experience
Next we heard from students. A student with multiple disabilities described some of the many challenges she faces in accessing readings for her course. The amount of time she spends in simply obtaining and converting texts into something she can work with, before even beginning the work of studying from them, was eye-opening. As a user of screen-reading software, ebooks are vital to her studies, and it was gratifying to hear that the work done by the ebooks@cambridge team to obtain accessible formats of reading list titles appears to have been a significant help. Neverthless, there is obviously much work still to be done.
Helen Snelling then read out an email testimonial from a student in the Music Faculty, and regular user of ebooks. She also described the challenges she faces, including chronic pain and reduced mobility, which make trips to the library difficult, and explained that ebooks were ‘a life-line’ to her (although she qualified this by saying that ebooks that are free of Digital Rights Management and don’t restrict downloading are more useful than ‘read online’ ebooks, which are much harder and more time-consuming to put through assistive technologies such as screen readers).
Where we are at with ebooks and accessible formats: news from the ebooks Administrator
Jayne Kelly, the ebooks Administrator, then gave her presentation on the theme of ‘Aspiring to inclusivity’. She reported on the JISC ‘ASPIRE’ project, which, using an open crowd-sourced approach, has audited and ranked ebook platforms according to the quality and availability of the guidance they publish regarding their accessibility (spoiler alert: EBSCO ebooks hit the top spot for aggregators). Jayne then went on to outline the dilemma faced by the ebooks team when selecting ebook models for purchase: best price often equals less accessibility. Buying more accessible ebooks appears to mean that fewer titles can be afforded. On the other hand, purchasing more accessible ebooks could present opportunities to save money across the University, for example on scanning costs and staff time converting print materials. Jayne finished her talk by explaining what makes an ebook more or less accessible and talking through what is involved in obtaining accessible formats from publishers and services such as RNIB Bookshare.
Futurelib update – Developing the accessibility and inclusivity of Cambridge library services – and some discussion
Finally, David Marshall talked about Futurelib’s current project to explore the needs of disabled students at Cambridge through deep, qualitative research. He shared some quotes from participants, giving us further insight into the experiences of disabled students, and outlined some of the forthcoming outputs of the study, including a prototype Accessibility and inclusivity toolkit for Cambridge libraries. The meeting then wrapped up with some stimulating group discussion around our experiences in providing accessible/alternate format resources for library users and our ideas for a perfect accessible resource provision service at Cambridge.
The meeting was well received by participants – we have received some very positive feedback. The decision to focus on such a hot topic and bring in speakers from outside the library world was welcomed.
Cambridge librarians can access the slides for these presentations on the Cambridge Libraries Intranet. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about the meeting, or would like further information about ebooks and accessibility.