Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of posts about accessibility. The first two posts were Access/ibility in Digital Publishing: Summer Seminar at WVU (Melanie Schlosser) and Accessibility: A Role for Libraries (Sarah Kennedy).
Hello, readers. I’m Susan Ivey, Digital Initiatives Librarian at the University of Mississippi, and guest blogger today on Lib Pub as part of the series about the “Access/ibility in Digital Publishing” seminar that took place last July at West Virginia University. Let me first apologize for my delayed post. There have been a lot of conferences, seminars, and presentations in my world since then, and I count myself lucky that the West Virginia Summer Seminar was first on my dance card, because it’s really influenced the way I’ve been thinking about my work. This also seemed like the perfect opportunity to reflect on my time at the Access/ibility seminar, as I’m currently flying over the beautiful West Virginia Mountains.
Much like Sarah Kennedy, previous guest blogger in this series, my interest in the seminar was related to a current project that my Web Services Librarian and I are undertaking, which involves re-envisioning our digital collections website (the top level website that brings the user into our content management system, which houses our digitized and born digital archives and special collections objects). We currently use an out-of-the-box webpage provided by our proprietary content management system, and we have found that this has proven quite unfriendly for a variety of our users. Though my Web Librarian is educated in web accessibility issues, I myself have little background. I knew the West Virginia Seminar would be a great way to educate myself for this project, and also to educate myself in general, as the web (and thus accessibility) plays such a large part in what we do today as librarians.
Access vs. Accessibility
As the other bloggers in this series have mentioned, one main takeaway from the seminar was differentiating between access and accessibility. It really emphasized how much I focus on access, and how much more I need to think about accessibility. As many of us working within digital initiatives in academic research libraries know, digital initiatives can include a variety of things. As of lately, my professional duties have had me engrossed in the world of metadata, linked data, and digital preservation. I’ve concentrated on how clean and standardized metadata helps give access to, in the very basic sense, materials within digital asset, content management, and preservation systems, and how implementing linked data can help to open this up on the web. These systems, particularly the proprietary systems that I use, have proven to be so hard to customize or manipulate for us that much of my world revolves around making sure the metadata that I ingest provides the most usable discovery within the system. Unfortunately, a lot of us using proprietary systems have come to a place of acceptance about the limitations, and just take what we can get. Moreover, we’re all trying to play “catch up” with linked data, trying to figure out what it means for libraries, how to use it, and what it would ultimately “look like.” And if we don’t have the resources in-house to manipulate our current systems, to implement new ones, and to begin thinking about the implementation of linked data, we simply do the best we can to give as much access within our systems as possible. The seminar really hit me in the head and reminded me to suck myself out of the hole of the system, and think more broadly about accessibility for a variety of users. Melanie touched on this in her blog post, when she wrote, “One thing I can say for sure is that, even within the constraints of platform and resources, there are things we can do to make the work we publish more accessible if we make it a priority.” The seminar also emphasized that even if we’re not talking about e-journal or e-book content, but about digital objects within an asset management or content management system, we can, and should, still consider this digital publishing.
The importance of open platforms
Another thing that the seminar did for my work as a digital librarian was remind me to continue to push and advocate for open platforms. As libraries enter this new era where digital publishing services, in terms of journals and books, are becoming a very big part of what we offer for our users, it is becoming more and more common that libraries are utilizing open IRs and e-journal and e-book platforms. Our seminar attendees, a large portion of faculty members (not to mention the students at our institutions) are creating materials and publishing these materials, in a variety of formats, and it should be a part of our mission as librarians to 1) determine our role in this, and 2) offer services in any way that makes sense for our institutional resources and our users’ needs. When thinking about IRs and e-book/e-journal objects, my thoughts immediately go towards the sustainability and preservation of the file types (which, of course, is important). However, the seminar also emphasized a need to think about the sustainability and preservation of the display of these rich and mixed media objects in the future, both in terms of human users and computers. As a content curator, I have been so focused on preserving the files themselves for administrative reasons, and less on preserving these objects for display, and to what degree this should be considered. This obviously isn’t a new idea within digital preservation—we talk about preservation of websites and how far we must preserve in terms of links to other resources, and we talk about emulation– but I realized through the conversations being had in the room that week that I’d become so granular in my thinking about the preservation of the pieces of the data, and so reliant on metadata to describe how the pieces fit together and were displayed a whole for future use.
Where do we go from here?
There were a lot of other topics covered that week, and all of them can relate, and should relate, to our work as librarians. I am, like Melanie and Sarah, still trying to wrap my head around all of it, and I assume I’ll likely be in this state, well, always. That’s what we do with these things after all, right? Learn, adjust, and repeat. So the points in this post are just a few of the issues that have personally stuck with me since July. I encourage you to go and learn about what the scholars involved in this seminar are doing professionally, including the keynotes Karl Stolley, Rebecca Kennison, and Melanie Yergeau, and the organizer Cheryl Ball. Also take a look at Kairos if you’re unfamiliar with that journal, and the work of the scholars involved with it. All of these folks are doing great things to advocate for accessibility within digital publications. As Melanie has mentioned, keep up with the LPC, too, as well as the DLF’s Digital Library Assessment group’s resources. And lastly, don’t forget to keep an eye out for our documentation from the seminar, as we work together to create resources for everyone involved in digital publishing.