March 16, 2018

Lynne Cutler | Movers & Shakers 2004

Making Curiosity Accessible


Lynne Cutler’s driving force is the intense curiosity that led her to audit 24 additional courses while studying librarianship. It’s what drives her to make Oakland Public Library’s services available to those with disabilities, so that everyone can have ‘access to all the things in life I treasure, like books, words, music, art, films.’

Sensitized to the issue by a blind friend and a sister who interprets sign language, Cutler realized that Oakland Public Library had no formal services for people with disabilities. She set out to change that.

To create the service, she needed to identify the population, find out their needs, and research ways to fund operations. She knew she couldn’t do it alone, so she networked with other area agencies, became active in the Oakland Mayor’s Commission on Persons with Disabilities, and founded Bay Area Disability Services Librarians.

Cutler rustled up grants to purchase accessible workstations, TTY devices, a Braille catalog of the audiobook collection, adaptive software, and a special audiovisual collection.

Staff are just as important as equipment, so Cutler created a training program to increase their comfort level. She offered ‘Survival ASL for Librarians,’ cheat sheets for the adaptive equipment, and publications and fliers about the library’s disability services.

These accomplishments, recognized by the City of Oakland with its first Employee of the Year Award, are only a beginning. Cutler wants to institute home delivery and make the library’s web site fully accessible. To do it all, she might have to give up the reference work that feeds her insatiable curiosity. Until that happens, if you want to make her day, ask her a reference question about rockabilly, motorcycles, poetry, Catalan, target shooting, or silent films. She turns into ‘a complete slavering cocker spaniel, just about doing cartwheels for joy.’

Such pleasure will be hard to give up, but Cutler just wants to make sure nothing as arbitrary as disability keeps people from following their curiosity.




Current Position: Librarian II, Disability Services Advocate, Oakland Public Library
Degree: MLS, University of California–Berkeley, 1983
Active in: Local History Archivists (founder); Pacifica Film Archive
Original career goal : To own a poetry bookstore