July 22, 2014

Settlement Expands UC Berkeley Library Service to Disabled

Rarely are defendants in a dispute settled out of court enthusiastic about the remedies they’re required to supply. But Elizabeth Dupuis, UC Berkeley Associate University Librarian and Director, Doe/Moffitt Libraries, told LJ that the library is excited by the prospect of unprecedented access: “all the books that had been in print on our shelves and not in an electronic format—it basically makes that available, which [they] never had been before.”

But then, this isn’t exactly your standard adversarial legal case. Print-disabled U.C. Berkeley students David Jaulus, Brandon King, and Tabitha Mancini, represented by Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), had entered into structured negotiations—a collaborative problem-solving alternative to litigation—with the university over their inability to access materials.

Over the course of a year, the parties “engaged joint experts to evaluate existing policies and conditions, and convened focus groups for print disabled students to voice their concerns.” arriving at a settlement announced last week, according to a fact sheet from the non-profit legal center.

One of the representative students who participated in the settlement, Brandon King, said in a statement, “Having access to library materials for the first time in a format where I can enjoy the reading at a decent pace is priceless,” and another, Tabitha Mancini, agreed: “It has always been a dream of mine to have full access to the campus library system so that I can do research, and I’m very happy this will now be a reality for all UC Berkeley Students.”

Scan and deliver

The agreement covers two aspects of materials at Berkeley; assigned readings, which are handled by the disabled students office, and library holdings, which the library handles in-house. Previously, the library had no scanning service for its 11-million-volume print collection. Now, however, students can identify a topic and the books they want, prioritize the titles, and the library will do a page-by-page scan in an accessible format, posting the results to a site the student can access with screen reading software and/or enlargement. The library aims for a five-day turnaround. (The library also now houses do-it-yourself scanners, but these, Dupuis says, are more practical for students who need a small portion of a work than a whole book.)

DM Slideshow 9 Settlement Expands UC Berkeley Library Service to Disabled

These print volumes in the Doe/Moffitt Library, part of Berkeley’s 11-million-title print collection, will now be accessible to the disabled.

“We jumped from not having a service to having this service, so it was pretty dramatic,” Dupuis explained. Though the settlement was just inked, the library actually began testing the process last fall, as a pilot. According to Dupuis, the library scanned eight full length books in fall 2012 and 28 in spring semester 2013, and is now serving some 70 print-disabled students.

The second phase of the project, piloting this semester, is for items in reference, reserve, or special collections, Dupuis said. “We’re also developing the process for journals: we have tons of international materials that are never produced electronically, which present problems for cleaning up the OCR for foreign languages, and we still do get a lot of print journals, unlike some people.”

The parties hired independent consultant Jim Thatcher to evaluate the library’s website and catalog with accessibility in mind, identifying both issues under the library’s own control and those which involve its third party vendors, including OCLC and Innovative Interfaces. (The library works with OCLC through the California Digital Library [CDL], and Dupuis says CDL is working with OCLC to resolve those issues as well.) “There is quite a bit of variation in the accessibility of the pages I reviewed,” Thatcher concluded. “The issues are quite simple and should be easy to fix.”

Dupuis said the library’s biggest challenge in implementing the program was working out procedures, training all the staff and student workers across its two dozen locations, and figuring out “How will this go into the systems? So people know it’s not available, keep it linked to that user so they know when it’s ready, but then later purge that information.”

The libraries also worked to make sure print-disabled users could submit their requests at a single library instead of having to go to each location where the materials are housed—something sighted users, at this point, still have to do. (UC Berkeley only instituted universal return about a year ago, and universal paging is still under discussion. Dupuis noted, “that’s a little bit further down the line for us, because, just like everyone else, we’re in a time of financial restraint. So we’re trying to figure out, what do we give up to make this work?”) Fortunately, the library has long had a disabilities contact at every library, so “we’re building on that network,” Dupuis said.

Unlike the disabled students program, which was given funding to hire new staff as a result of the settlement, the library handled the increase workload by juggling existing staff. It did, however, get a new $20,000 non-destructive scanner, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

“Prior to the agreement, there was no real, defined process how to create alternative media for library holdings,” The Chronicle quoted Paul Hippolitus, Director, Disabled Students’ Program, as saying. “It was kind of a black hole. Now there’s a clarity and a process to support that.”

Beyond Berkeley

There’s potential for the library’s newly digitized works to serve many more print-disabled patrons than are already in the program. “We do keep a copy of the file in the alt-media format, so anybody else who needs it in future can use it,” Dupuis told LJ. That practice has become safer, legally, in the wake of the recent court ruling in the Authors Guild v. HathiTrust case, which held that digitizing material for the blind is not just fair but transformative use, and can be undertaken in advance, not only at the request of a particular blind user.

In fact, UC Berkeley is itself a member of the HathiTrust, and is already exploring ways to make its digitized material available beyond its own student base. “We contacted them [the Trust] to ask about having them ingest them into that system; we’re not scanning anything that’s readily available. At the time, they did not have a process to ingest one-off titles like this; that’s on our wish list,” Dupuis told LJ. “We think that will create a … great nationwide service. What would be ideal in the long run is that people with print disabilities are somehow verified or certified and could extract things that are already digitized in this format from a national database.” (The HathiTrust itself recently announced improvements to its accessibility features.)

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Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz (mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com) is Senior Editor, News and Features of Library Journal.

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