18 Tips for Writing a Manual for Work

18 Tips for Writing a Manual for Work

Originally published on INALJ on June 3.

I’m one of those Hermione-types of people who read manuals. If I need to learn something, my first order of business is to read the manual. Give me a job manual, and I’ll read by tomorrow morning. And if there is no manual or no instructions—I will write one.

So, I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise that I found myself in the situation of creating a full-on Circulation manual for our student workers. We had a lot of old documentation that needed updating, scattered around our staff web. We also had a lot of useful information scattered around both the staff web, the library’s official website, and my work computer left by my predecessors. And a great deal of things were not written down anywhere. Institutional memory can be very powerful…and overwhelming to a new person.

I received advice from my bosses, asked for tips and assistance from friends, and taught myself so many of the functions of Word that I didn’t even know existed. Here are some things I learned about creating workplace documentation, and I hope it helps you.

1)   Start by listing everything that the person in the job needs to know. It will take a few days to compile the list. Ask coworkers, bosses, and subordinates. Continue adding to this list even after you start writing.

2)   If there is a training outline, use that as a starting point.  If there is no training outline, write one. This will become the outline for the manual.

3)   Organize it in a logical, training sort of way. Start with the basics and work your way to the more complicated stuff. This varies from library to library. At mine, it made sense to start with an overview of privacy policies before talking about circulating materials. I’m ending with our access policies and alarm systems.

4)   Separate it into chapters and subsections like “Check Out” and then “Looking up patrons,” “Dealing with blocks and notices” and “Paying fines.”

5)   Use Word’s Table of Contents tool. This will save you a LOT of time. Include all of the heading levels you are using. I use 5 levels of headings. Some sections need more subheading levels than others.

6)   Learn how to format the ToC to make it easier to read. I like to use bigger fonts for the main chapters, and use subsequently smaller fonts for each subsection (no smaller than 10pt). The directions are in the above link.

7)   If it is a rather large manual, it is useful to have a partial ToC for each chapter for faster look-up.

8) Use Word headings for the titles of each section. You can edit the formatting of the headings to fit your library’s standards.

9) Learn how to use page and section breaks. You can break pages so that each section starts on an odd numbered page, making it easier to find each section.

10) Give the title and the partial ToC of each section its own full page for a cleaner look, starting the actual content on the following page.

11) Be thorough with the directions. Don’t assume the person knows something that seems simple to you. For example, not everyone knows how to mark books as “lost,” or which drop down menu that option lives in.

12) On the flip side, don’t include the simplest of tasks. Otherwise it will bog down and bury the actual useful stuff.  For example- hold book in your hands does not need to be said.

13) Include screen shots of processes, actually going through examples yourself if at all possible. Seeing pictures can help make it easier to understand the directions. (Don’t forget to edit out any identifying details of patrons if applicable. I frequently used my own account as an example.)

14) But don’t use too many pictures. That’s about as helpful as no pictures at all.

15) Have coworkers and bosses read through, edit, and add suggestions to your manual. Comments are your friend. Regular in-person meetings help, too.

16) I do not recommend including passwords. Keep that in a separate place.

17) Make a project timeline, like a Gantt chart.  I made one using Excel, and I can’t tell you how much that helps to keep me motivated. Mine looked a lot like this.

18) Give yourself plenty of time when estimating how much time it will take to finish each section. It’s better to finish a section early than it is to ask for extensions. Account for vacations, sick time, work emergencies, finals and midterms, and so on.

Writing a manual pretty much from scratch can feel overwhelming, but I hope this list helps you feel more empowered!

Posted in Cheap Tools for the recent MLIS Graduate, Library Science | Leave a comment

Piracy IS theft, no matter what people say

I have been seeing this image around the internets and Facebook, and it bugs me because of its simplicity. (Apologies to whoever originally made it–I wasn’t sure how to credit you for the idea.)

It’s such a simple idea, and makes an appealing argument. Piracy is simply copying–it does nothing to the original. Since copying the file doesn’t make it disappear, how can it be considered theft?

This argument completely ignores the whole reason why we have copyright laws.

On an ideological level, content need to be shared for the good of society. That’s the whole reason why we have libraries (and a whole host of library copyright laws and considerations)–so we can share content, learn, and build on the ideas within.

But we need to balance it with with the creator’s rights. It takes time, effort, and money to create content, and so creators need to have the ability to make back that money, and earn more to use toward future projects. Some people may choose to use a Creative Commons license that allows the free copy and sharing of their content (with attribution, of course), but that is their choice to make, whether they want to make money or share it for free.

Piracy interrupts this whole process. Even if it doesn’t actually physically affect the original copy, piracy takes the sale away from the creator. That’s why piracy IS theft.

If you sneak into the movie theater to watch a movie for free, even though the reel is still in the projector room and unaffected by your presence, you are still stealing. There is also the indirect costs of your presence: the water from going to the restrooms, the staffing it takes to maintain a safe atmosphere, the costs of acquiring and showing the movie, not to mention the costs of actually making the movie. Both the theater and the movie producers are entitled to earn money from their efforts, and you are stealing by not paying the admission price.

The whole concept of stealing the sale is in the fair use part of copyright law, which provides guidelines as to how much of content you can use before you infringe on the creators’ rights. This can be boiled down to four factors. PNAM. (taken from link above).

P – “The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes”
N – “The nature of the copyrighted work”
A – “The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole”
M – “The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work”

Notice how it keeps mentioning the commercial impact of the copyrighted work? That’s exactly what copyright law is all about.

By pirating a song, video game, or movie, that’s taking away part of the market earnings that the creator is entitled to.

Piracy applies to printed matter, too. I know a lot of people will copy (or scan) many articles or an entire book in an effort to avoid having to buy them, but that still does take away sales from the copyright holder–unless they choose to give you permission to use/share the item.

You’ve got to let them make the choice to be generous, and you have to go along with it.

So, yes, piracy IS theft. No matter how appealing the above argument is.

Posted in Library Science | Tagged | 2 Comments

A couple of things about that quarter-life crisis

There were a couple things about having a quarter life crisis that didn’t quite make this story on CBS2 (and holy crap, am I actually a “millennial”? I feel older than that) that I’d like to point out here.

Keep on working hard

Well, first of all, I’m extremely lucky. Or hard working. Or a combination of both. It wasn’t easy finding a full time (or a well paying part time) job right after moving to Chicago in 2010, so I took on babysitting and security-guarding to pay the bills. (the sign language bit was in undergrad–while also working two part time jobs to pay the bills at that time.) THEN I got really lucky, landing my first FT  library job in my first semester of grad school, although it wasn’t mentioned in the story. And it’s an union job that’s actually quite well-paying.  Other people I know aren’t always so lucky. It greatly depends on location, timing, and your work experience.

As I said in the story, “Just stopping to realize things take time. Things will eventually go my way.” It just takes a little while, you know?

I remember seeing statistics somewhere that it can take up to a year for recent college graduates to get full time work. Sometimes it takes longer. Sometimes shorter. I do believe that it depends greatly on your work, internship, and volunteer experience in order to get those jobs. Education is important, but it alone won’t necessarily get you the job. Your work experience and initiative will really help move you to the top of the pile.

Job vs career

That leads me to another point. I tried to make a difference between a “job” and a “career.”

Currently, my job exposes me to a lot of what librarians have to do in order to reach out to college students and improve services, but it is still just a clerical job. I hope for a capital-L Librarian job one of these days, where I can put my knowledge, experience, and enthusiasm toward reaching out to people, myself. I’d love to plan story times. I want to create guides for using databases for undergraduates, and I’d love to start sitting at the reference desk and start solving whatever people throw my way.  I especially want to try to get in a place where I can really help ensure accessibility, too, but I need to move up the totem pole a little bit more.

I enjoy the job I have (it sounded like I was an unemployed person in the story, kinda), but I’d love to be a librarian. In the fullness of time.

(Can I plug I Need A Library Job (INALJ) here while I’m talking about jobs? I volunteer with the Illinois page, so go take a look! There are so many great blogs written by my fellow volunteer editors about job hunting, too.)

Libraries are linked with the economy

Which leads me to another point. The economy definitely affects libraries and budgets.  No doubt sequestration is affecting libraries. It’s affecting even the Library of Congress. Ideally, when the economy goes south, we should investmore in libraries to help people who are hit hard to try to find resources and jobs to keep them alive and housed. Unfortunately, budgets and politics don’t always work that way.

So, as tax revenue falls, libraries have to make tough decisions about staffing and services. If people leave, positions might become attritioned instead of being posted. Similarly, libraries may try to expand services while maintaining the same number of employees, instead of creating new positions. This is the reality that faces libraries and a whole host of other companies, departments, and institutions. This is the reality us “millennials” face, as Jim Williams, the CBS reporter who interviewed me, said.

Maybe once upon a time the myth of “thousands of retiring librarians” was true, but in reality, and especially with the downturn, the jobs never became available. This is why I’m reminding myself that “these things take time,” and working on finding opportunities that might help expand my skills.

Changing identities

One thing we didn’t get a chance to get into in the interview is the whole changing identities premise. I was a student for years, and then suddenly, when I reached my goal of a MLIS, I wasn’t a student anymore. It was so strange, and it’s that feeling that precipitated my “quarter life crisis.” No more deadlines. I can spend my time after work reading…for FUN. Weekends can now be spent running and riding bikes…and not with my butt parked in my chair while I work on papers.

And the other thing about graduating is that all the other goals that you’ve put off until the fuzzy future–paying off student loans, buying a house, starting a family, –suddenly come rushing back to the front burner, and it feels like you HAVE to accomplish all of these at once. You don’t have to. You have time.

Student loans

Student loans are probably one of the biggest worries. I have some debt, all in the form of federal student loans, because of complex family issues. Paying them back seems daunting, especially if you calculate repayments straight up. There’s actually a lot of options open to us federal-loan borrowers, including

  • the 10-year public service loan forgiveness (including nonprofit, private institutions)
  • 20 year loan forgiveness
  • income-based repayment (IBR)
  • graduated repayment
  • pay as you earn

Take a deep breath, and read about options, and pick one that’s might be your best bet. For me, I’m hoping for IBR and the 10 year public service loan forgiveness. My husband has fewer loans, and so he can probably pay his off sooner than the 20-year point, at which the remainder of your loans are written off.

Private student loans….erm…

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Ice cream in the library!

Maybe we’re thinking about it all wrong when we ban food in the library. Maybe we shouldallow food.

Let me explain. My husband and I were eating ice cream cones during one of his meal breaks at his job at a department store. When we decided I should get a rain coat while there was a sale going on, he proceeded directly to the front door of his store. I protested: “But we’re eating ice cream!” My librarian brain was already imagining an ice-cream spill on the books…er, merchandise.
“Oh, it’s okay to bring food in the store,” my husband said.
“Even ice cream?”
“Of course! I see people do it all the time!” He saw the incredulous look on my face. “We’re not in the business of turning away potential buyers.”

The concept was so foreign to me. Food near merchandise or books? The horror! Maybe in a Walmart, but not in a department store. Or a library.

Every library where I’ve worked or visited has had a statement about food and drinks. Drinks were typically allowed, as long as it had a lid.

Food is far more restrictive. Any library that did allow food allowed it only in designated areas, like a cafe or in a space outside of the actual library. The problem with these sorts of policies is that it turns away people from our “merchandise,” the books we lend. Understandably, we’re protective of our materials, but that includes being protected from all the people who don’t come to the library.

Another problem with this is the lack of cafe space. Cafes invite lingerers, precisely because they can eat–but there is only so much cafe space to go around. In fact, I’ve noticed this problem in a library cafe on campus–people camp out while noshing, and there are no other tables to go around. No wonder there’s been trouble with people sneaking food out of the cafe into the reading room or stacks areas. And no wonder there’s been trouble with people sneaking in food into the library from outside without taking it to the cafe.

It could be an enforcement problem–we’d have to step up our patrols and discard food when we find people flaunting the rules. But what kind of image will that give people? That the library is a military state, if I may be hyperbolic?

Rather, the problem could lie with the policies itself. Maybe we don’t need to so much improve our enforcement as we should consider alternatives. Changes. I’ve heard people talk about how food attitudes have changed; people tend to eat more food in places that they might not have otherwise eaten. Grazing, eating small meals during the day–all are new habits among people. Also, People eat while reading books at home–why don’t we allow it in the libraries?

That’s not to say that we should have a free-for-all with food–we still have to make sure that libraries are a welcoming space for all. But if the pre-existing cafe space is insufficient, maybe we need to create more food-friendly spaces in the library. Maybe the entire first floor? Or maybe designated spaces on each floor? If there is no space in the library where people can read and eat, we should create one.

This brings up the question of food policies. If we request people have drinks with lids to prevent spills, what kind of requests can we make of food? My brainstorm suggestion is: “Food must be contained and not present a spill risk,” but I feel like that’s not quite good enough. (Send it to the committee! A policy isn’t a policy until it’s been debated on for a couple of months!)

On the plus side, asking that foods be contained does preclude teetering ice cream cones, and help keep my nightmare of ice cream landing on books from coming true.

Fortunately, I didn’t spill ice cream on anything yesterday, though I did eat it quickly just to destroy any evidence. And I did find a good rain coat.

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The Accidental Law Librarian: A book review

Admittedly, I’m one of those people whom this book is geared for. I’m shy about legal research, believing myself to be utterly unqualified. I only vaguely understand what I call legalese. Sure, I spent quite a bit of time using Lexis when I wrote a paper for my copyright class, but I know that I am absolutely still not qualified for any sort of law librarian job.

Anthony Aycock’s The Accidental Law Librarian book proved me wrong. Sort of.

I still feel unqualified, but at least if I, erm, accidentally become a law librarian, I won’t be entirely lost.

To be honest, I approached this book with a skeptical attitude. I should have been more open minded, but I had a feeling that it would either be too dumbed-down and condescending, or it would be too obfuscated with legalese and out of my league.

It was neither.

Aycock strikes that tricky balance between keeping it simple and not making me feel stupid. He provides explanations for legal terms (now I understand what Shepardization is!), essential background information for trends in the legal world (like the rise inpro se representation), basic rundowns of the pros and cons of various legal databases, and lots of links to resources that expands on subjects addressed in the book.

And slowly, as I read the book during my commute over several days, my stubborn skepticism about the book wore down. It actually is useful. At least for a few years. That’s one of the drawbacks of such a book like this–information changes so quickly. No doubt updates will be needed before long as databases add more search features, websites change, and newly graduated lawyers have different expectations about information. That’s why I’m relieved he has a website with resources, so hopefully the links will stay accurate.

The skills he shares here about searching, though, are timeless. He shares many of these tips through anecdotes–like the importance of listening carefully to patrons, and gathering the keywords from reference questions to find clues about how to approach database searches.

The other thing I appreciated about his book is that he didn’t focus solely on legal research. He talked frankly about the basics of running a legal library: figuring out budgets, making the case for funding, and just how much TIME it takes to file those darned loose-leaf resources. (I remember all too well how tedious it was to file updates in the CCH as a student worker–I can barely imagine what it would be like to doonly that as a part time job.) He also talked about law firm politics, at a very basic level. (Tip: Make friends with the secretaries. They know how to work with the lawyers.)

I finished the book actually feeling like I’m capable of doing legal research. Maybe not a law firm library, but at the very least, I got some extremely useful searching tips to help people answer the basic legal questions. I certainly do recommend this book not just for law librarians, but also for public or academic librarians who have to answer a wide range of questions, including legal questions.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely yes.

Especially for those of us who are recent MLIS graduates who want to keep on learning without paying for more classes.

Disclaimer: I got a free  and advance e-book copy of this book from Information Today, Inc. I was not required to provide a good review, and I’m getting no other remuneration for this review. Except for my newfound confidence about legal research which might help me land a professional job down the road, in which case it’s a delayed, indirect remuneration.

Posted in Cheap Tools for the recent MLIS Graduate | 3 Comments

Reader’s Advisory when you can’t afford your own Booklist subscription

When I worked in a public library as a shelver, and later, as a circulation clerk, it was pretty easy to have a general idea of what kind of books we had in a variety of genres to get people started. I could see what books were really popular, and what books people tend to check out within a genre (or across similar genres). I also especially benefited from talking with people about books they’ve read, because that helped me help others by saying, “Well, a lot of people who read that book also loved this book…”

But when I moved to Chicago in 2010 and ended up in academic libraries, I lost that pulse on the book world, and have struggled to keep up since. I even investigated the cost of subscribing to Booklist or other publications that provide brief blurbs about new books.

Fortunately, Chicago Public Library has Booklist, Novelist, and (Non)Fiction Connection subscriptions (scroll down), so I can just mooch off of their subscriptions as a Chicago resident.

I played around with them to get a feel for how they work. I think I like them. They are definitely handy for helping others find books by read-alike authors, on similar topics, etc.

The downside is that I wish it was easier to create a printable list of book titles to give to patrons. See, that’s one nice thing about of the free Goodreads account, because as you browse books, you can easily add specific ones to a list, AND you can print that list easily. This works for people who are willing to create an account, but for RA at the reference desk, it’s kind of lacking.

Another difference between these subscription resources and Goodreads is that with Goodreads, it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole, following a thread of similar books. It makes it so much more suitable for patrons to browse books digitally. I would love to browse books this way to keep up with my RA skills, because it makes it more like when I worked in public libraries–but Goodreads is more personalized. I’m not quite sure how to begin making a new personalized list just for RA research.

The subscription databases aren’t as conducive to browsing, since it’s geared for the much different purpose of librarian-ing. The best bet for browsing is the Booklist reviews, but I’m still missing the part where I can observe check-out patterns from patrons, and talk with people about what similar books they liked.  I guess that’s where Goodreads comes in handy, but a few librarian friends is not the same as just random library users.

The other resources’ drawbacks for keeping up with current book trends is that they are are search-reliant. You kind of need to know a certain preference in order to search for similar preferences.

I’m always on the lookout for more RA tools–especially cheap (preferably free) ones for us recent MLIS graduates who may not be working in public libraries. So if you have any other tips, tricks, or suggestions, please comment! I would really appreciate it.

Posted in Cheap Tools for the recent MLIS Graduate, Library Science | Leave a comment

Addressing weaknesses in a reference letter

Maybe some people don’t like providing references in general. Or they’ll provide references, but hate the time-suck for having to write it out. In my case, I actually don’t mind providing references for two reasons. 1) I truly care about my coworkers and student workers, and want to see them succeed. 2) Karma. Pay it forward. I’ve gotten many references from my old supervisors and coworkers, and I know they will still be providing references for me as I move on up in the library world.

One nice thing about references is that the questions are pretty much exactly the same no matter which company the person applied to.

  1. What was your association with the candidate? (colleague, supervisor, etc.)
  2. How long have you known the candidate?
  3. Describe the candidate’s role and responsibilities within your organization:
  4. Name some of the candidate’s achievements. How did they accomplish these results?
  5. What are this candidate’s strongest professional traits? Weaknesses?
  6. What is the candidate’s work style? (Ex. team player, independent, leader, high-pressure)
  7. In what environment would this candidate be most successful?
  8. If this candidate were eligible for rehire, would you rehire the candidate in the same or different role? Why?
  9. Do you have any additional feedback?

Pretty straightforward…except for the “weaknesses” question.

Gah. Weaknesses? I always trip over my own tongue when I’m asked that question in my own interviews, finally pushing out an awkward answer that I feel obliged to explain on end in a sentence structure that kinda sorta looks like English but it’s not. “Er, um…I work too hard?” I know I have plenty of weaknesses. Sometimes I operate on autopilot. Or I get mixed up and tell someone that a room reservation is missing when it is most definitely reserved (did that a few weeks ago during a weird migraine) and made someone nearly have a heart attack.

At least if I mess up at my own interview, it affects just me. Writing about others’ faults has a whole lot more responsibility.

So, how to write aboutothers’ faults? And without accidentally screwing up their job chances?

What did this librarian do to solve this thorny issue? I googled it.

The consensus seems to come down to these two DON’Ts and one DOs

  • Do not talk about character flaws. “Sometimes he’s kind of an asshole.” Character flaws are unforgivable sins in the hiring world. Unless, I suppose, you don’t like the person in the first place, in which case you should probably not have agreed to be a reference.
  • Do not use good qualities that can be interpreted as a bad one but are secretly good. “She’s a perfectionist.” Well, that can be a bad quality, but it’s actually a good one. And employers can see right through the act. It makes it look like you’re trying to hide the truly bad qualities about the person.
  • DO use real shortcomings through concrete examples, and show how the person is overcoming that shortcoming. “When we first hired him, he struggled with learning how to use an admittedly difficult but essential program, even after training. To overcome this difficulty, he asked me for the instruction manual, and read it every night at home, and during the slow times at work, he would practice using the program. His perseverance paid off, and has a knack for explaining it to others who have difficulty grasping the concepts of the program. He helped us revise and improve the training program.”

At least, that’s my understanding of what I found online. It shows an actual problem, instead of a falsely inflated one. It shows how the person overcame it, or is overcoming it. If I heard that from new hire’s reference, I’d definitely would see the example in the DO above as a positive thing. I’d love to have a person who perseveres in the workplace.

What do you think? Am I on the right track, or did I miss something? Please do add your comments!


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Is “Just Necessary” a meaningless term in collection development?

I’ve been attending a number of interesting presentations lately, while my library is working on hiring a new librarian. I treat these presentations like a continuation of grad school. I can’t help it, I’m just a perpetual nerd.

All of the presentations were about building and maintaining a biomedical collection, but the principles of collection building are applicable to all disciplines. One of the interesting aspects of collection development is anticipating patron needs. That is, do you build a collection just in case someone may need a book or database down the road, or do you build it with the “just in time” mentality, hoping new books will come in fast enough?

One new term I keep hearing about is “just necessary.” I had never heard it before these prospective librarian presentations. From what I gather, Just Necessary means that there are some things that we must get, whether or not the patron demand is there. There doesn’t seem to be very much information about the Just Necessary style of collection development, so I want to try to develop a good definition for it.

What makes Just Necessary so different? It sounds like an approach to building a reference collection, instead of a circulating collection. It is Just In Case on steroids, and a small jab at the idea of getting things Just In Time.

Along the same lines, there seems to be consensus among the librarians that a good collection development plan is a mixture of Just In Case and Just In Time. Doesn’t that mixture allow for the idea that some materials are Just Necessary?

hmmm, I should continue to subscribe to this database because it’s absolutely necessary (otherwise we’d fail as a library), but these journal articles we can get just in time thanks to our consortium, and I should get a few of these other books just in case someone needs it, because there’s a good chance they will.

Yet even in that imaginary thought process, there appears to be a fine distinction between Just Necessary and the other Just In Case books. Just Necessary is not dependent on patron needs and usage. No matter how little it may be used, it’s just, well, necessary. Like those World Books and encyclopedias in many reference collections.

But are Just Necessary items actually little-used? After all, it’s Just Necessary to have Harry Potter books on hand. It’s Just Necessary to have classics like Sherlock Holmes or The Canterbury Tales.

Perhaps a better way of defining Just Necessary is by erasing that last phrase. “Just Necessary means that there are some things that we must get, whether or not the patron demand is there.”

Of course, that doesn’t get into the whole definition of “necessary,” so I feel like this definition is lacking. What do you think?

  1. Is Just Necessary even a needed term to distinguish from Just In Case and Just In Time styles of collection development?
  2. If it is a needed term, is the above definition a good one, or does it need to be further explained and refined?
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Making libraries more accessible to people with special needs

We’ve made libraries more accessible to able-bodied people–so it seems fitting that there is more of a push nowadays to make libraries accessible to individuals with special needs.

I saw the announcement for this webinar on an INALJ blog post, and because I wasn’t able to actually take part in the webinar, I emailed the speaker asking her if she had notes I could send along. She was very gracious, and sent me the link to the archived webinar. I have yet to actually listen to it (yay for being busy), but I wanted to share the link because it has loads of resources.

Even though this is geared toward children librarians, many of the resources can be used to help adults, too, such as the National Library Service for the Blind and Visually Impaired, or websites that review apps.

There are a number of programs at the ALA Annual that talk about accessibility. With any luck, I’ll be able to attend some of them, depending on when they are scheduled and if I am able to get time off of work. Let me know if you’re attending one of these–I’d love to meet up with you!

  1. Are Libraries Providing Equitable Access to Information for Differently- able and Typically-able Groups? What Our Patrons Are Saying and What We Can
  2. Audio Description: The Visual Made Verbal
  3. Easy and Affordable Accessibility
  4. Experimentation and Innovation in Libraries: What We Can Learn from Lean Startups
  5. Library Services for People with Visual or Physical Disabilities that Prevent Them from Reading Standard Print (LSPVD) Interest Group
  6. Universal Accessibility Interest Group (ACRL/LITA)
  7. Why Does Intellectual Freedom Matter to Academic Libraries? (ACRL)

The ones I especially want to attend are #1 and #3. Yes, sometimes libraries treat differently-abled people, well, differently than the able-bodied. One of the primary means of unequal access is the accessibility of the collections–deaf people have difficulty when movies aren’t captioned, and libraries may not have audiobook versions of the print books. And yes, accessibility does NOT have to be expensive! Seriously, with some creativity and conscientious staff, the inaccessible can be made accessible cheap. Or free. Cheap or free are always welcome words for libraries, right?

Other recent discoveries about accessibility I’ve had is a program that CPL takes part in–it provides free spoken book access to people with print disabilities in ways much better than simply purchasing an Overdrive package. I don’t know how I’ve overlooked Bookshare before, but I discovered it when I was looking for jobs to add to my INALJ Illinois page. Bookshare’s whole existence owes itself to that very famous copyright exemption for blind/print disabled individuals. They have an awesome system using volunteers that scan books and then fix the OCR (letter recognition) to catch errors, giving screen readers the ability to read aloud books.

If only we could do captioning of videos in a similar way…

Posted in Cheap Tools for the recent MLIS Graduate, Disability Services | Leave a comment

Job-hunting and interviewing when you have a disability

Originally posted at INALJ on 3/22/2013.

Job hunting is nerve-wracking, but it is even more anxiety-inducing if you have a disability. There’s so many questions involved in addition to the usual ones: When should I disclose my disability? What if the interviewer asks? What jobs canI do with my disability?

First, know your rights. Second, be honest, but provide only the necessary details. Third, put a positive spin on it. There’s so much that can be written on this subject, but for this post I distilled the basics down to nine tips.

Know your rights

1. Employers are not allowed to ask people if they have a disability, or about the nature of their disability (especially if it is an obvious one). They are not allowed to require a medical exam before offering a job to you. If interviewers ask, you do not have to answer the questions. Deflect it tactfully and turn the focus back to your abilities. Cite the EEOC if you wish. (If an employer asks that question, it should raise red flags.)

2. Employers can ask whether you are able to perform the essential functions of a job. Can you lift 50 lbs on a regular basis? Can you reach the top shelf in the bookstacks? Can you sit for an extended period of time?

3. You can ask for reasonable accommodations for the interview. This could be a sign language interpreter, or a screen reader, or other type of assistance. Reasonable accommodations is a vague term, but generally speaking, employers will do what they can to help you as long as it doesn’t cost too much money or involve extensive changes to operations.

Be honest

4. Even though we prattle on about accommodation and empowerment, not all jobs are suited for your particular disability. Hard of hearing persons may be able to use the phone with or without accommodations, but a job that requires extensive phone usage might not be right for them. Individuals with physical limitations may not be able to do a job that frequently involves moving heavy boxes around. Be honest with yourself about what the job requires.

5. That said, if the job can be done with reasonable accommodations, by all means, apply!

6. Honesty is good, but there is a place and time for everything. In general, an interview is not the place or time to talk about the particulars of your disability. If you’re receiving reasonable accommodations for the interview or have an obvious disability (eg, in a wheelchair), you may talk about it if you wish, but focus on your abilities and the job itself.

Put a positive spin on it

7. Phrase things positively. Instead of, “I need to use an iPad to help me with my ADD,” say, “I use my iPad to help me take notes and record things. It helps me to stay on top of all the tasks I need to accomplish in any given day.”

8. Show setbacks as opportunities. “While I was on medical leave last year from a car accident, I used that time to learn Spanish, which will help me better serve the Spanish-speaking population in this neighborhood.”

9.  Have a plan for how you will accomplish work with accommodations. While this is more suited for after you get the job, but it is good to be mentally prepared to emphasize your ability to do the work. It will help you keep confident during the interview. “I understand that in a quiet environment I have to use headphones for my screen-reading software; I stay aware of my surroundings by simply using an earbud in one ear to keep my other ear open.” “I find my CapTel very useful for providing phone reference assistance.”

Bonus Tip

10. Check in with your state’s Vocational Rehabilitation office (or similar organization in your area). They provide many forms of assistance to help individuals with disabilities gain and keep employment, especially if you have limited means. I was able to get a hearing aid some years ago with the NE Voc Rehab’s help when my old one bit the dust. It was absolutely critical for me so I could keep my two part time jobs and finish out my undergraduate program. There was a lot of paperwork involved, to be sure, but it was very much worth it.



United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (n.d.) “Disability discrimination.” Retrieved from: http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/disability.cfm

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