This article is part of our Library Stories of Equity in Action series. These posts share how UMKC Libraries employees, departments, and teams are working toward change within our organization. See more of the Library Stories of Equity in Action series under News & Events on our Equity Initiatives page.
Access to Special Collections can be intimidating for a lot of reasons. Let’s address some common concerns:
“I don’t know what Special Collections are.”
We have cool, unique, and original stuff. Remember learning about primary sources? We’ve got them. Everything from medieval manuscripts (yes, you can touch them, no, you don’t need gloves, just clean hands) to puppets to letters and diaries from people who lived around here decades ago to tons of UMKC history to concert posters from rock shows to bedazzled high heels from local drag queens and so much more.
“I don’t belong there, I’m not doing ‘serious’ research.”
Anyone who is interested in our collections or just wants to hang out in our space to study is more than welcome. We try to preserve all different kinds of histories, so all different kinds of people belong here. The staff at our desk will be happy to help you find things or explain our rules. Which brings us to…
“There are so many rules.”
Yes, we do have more rules than most spaces in the library. They exist because our materials are unique and original and we want to do what we can to protect them. If you’re using them, you can’t eat or drink, use pens, or take them out of our space. If you check out a library book and your dog eats it, there’s probably another copy out there. But if you take home a one-of-a-kind manuscript and your dog eats it, we can’t replace it and it’s no longer available for other people. Much like Smokey the Bear relies on you to help prevent forest fires, we count on you to help us preserve these things for future generations.
But Special Collections (and libraries in general) can be intimidating and inaccessible for other reasons. People with disabilities may have difficulty using libraries for a variety of reasons. A disability is any physical or mental condition that limits or prevents you from doing daily tasks. One quarter of all adults in the United States have some type of disability and disabilities are more common for Black and some Indigenous people than people of other races and ethnicities. Even if we don’t have a permanent disability, most of us will experience a temporary disability at some point in our lives. Considering those factors, we are working to make changes that make our collections and spaces more accessible to people with disabilities (with bonus benefits for all users):
“I am blind or have low vision”
We provide forms to people digitally in advance of scheduled appointments so they can use their preferred adaptive technology to access them. We also run OCR (optical character recognition) on text-based documents we scan for distance researchers so they can access them more easily.
Bonus: Documents that have had OCR performed on them are more easily searchable, which is particularly helpful for researchers who request large quantities of scans or are looking for something very specific.
“I use a wheelchair or other mobility devices and find it difficult to open doors without assistance.”
We recently had an automatic door opener installed so now you can open our door any time we’re open with the simple push of a button. This was paid for with the Library Fee, so all students had a role in making this improvement possible.
Bonus: the door is also easier to use for people carrying lots of stuff or special collections staff moving materials on a book cart.
We continue to look for ways to make our spaces and materials more accessible and equitable. We are piloting a pay-what-you-can fee model for scans of materials to make sure anyone can access materials, regardless of their financial situation. There’s a lot of work still to do, but we look forward to sharing more with you in the future.
By: Lindy Smith, Head of LaBudde Special Collections