NNELS: A New Model for Accessible Library Service

Reviewed By: Jennifer Bousquet ,Sonia Botello, Robyn Brown

Link to article: https://jps.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/ijidi/article/view/32194

SP 19: INFO 275
Open Access Research Assignment
Jennifer Bousquet
Sonia Botello
Robyn Brown


The thrust of the 2018 article “NNELS: A New Model for Accessible Library Service in Canada” by author Kim Johnson, is that the visually-impaired public are chronically underserved in Canadian libraries. Johnson offers an overview that that describes a shortage in readily available material for individuals who have impairments that prevent them from reading traditionally printed materials. Johnson asks the question: “How can a public library provide a rich and diverse collection that meets the needs of its entire local community, including those with print disabilities, when so little of the published material is accessible?” (Johnson, 2018, p. 114). Johnson suggests that a new solution is being created by the The National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS). NNELS is a digital library with a mission to change traditional print materials to more accessible formats. Johnson makes the point that it is less costly and more efficient to create accessible materials to begin with, rather than after publication of traditional printed matter.
The Canadian National Institute for the Blind was historically the primary resource for Canadians who needed these types of resources, and the library system in Canada has relied on the Institute to provide them as a default mechanism. NNELS is meant to empower all partner libraries to create and distribute materials themselves for print-disabled patrons without having to refer them to the Institute. The new formats of materials include synthetic voice and live narration recordings.

Johnson cites “Looking Back, Rethinking Historical Perspectives and Reflecting upon Emerging Trends,” as a thoughtful piece that examines how disability has been viewed in Canada as a medical problem, then transitioned to being seen as special needs/service model and the experience of being treated as “other,” and currently towards a movement with disability advocates fighting for equal access.

Core research question
Although Johnson doesn’t pose explicit research questions, there is a challenging tone to the article itself. Clearly Johnson feels that the print-disabled community in Canada has long been disenfranchised due to a lack of materials available to them in the public library system, and that something like NNELS is long overdue. Johnson sees the NNELS as the new frontier in building a more robust catalog for print-disabled patrons. With an “Accessible format collection and service, NNELS represents a professional practice that not only responds to the users’ needs but also builds on inclusivity and empowerment.” (Johnson, 2018, p. 115).

The researchers did an in-depth examination of NNELS in order to determine what kind of services it provided to people with print disabilities. The paper also looks at the history of accessible services to build up evidence to support their assessment of NNELS. The author’s examination of NNELS looks at what services are provides, how it provides them, and how these services benefit users. Real-life testimonials from users and examples from different libraries in Canada where the NNELS model is in use are included.
Findings and conclusion

The researchers found that NNELS provides an effective, user-driven service that takes into account the needs of the people it serves. They determined that part of the reason the NNELS is so effective is because it treats the users as customers who can demand a higher level of service, rather than clients who must take what is offered to them (Johnson, 2018, p. 116). They further this user-driven ethos by encouraging libraries to provide direct services to patrons (i.e. on-the-spot transfer of material to discs) (Johnson, 2018, p. 118). This empowers the libraries and validates the patron by not making them go through another agency to obtain the material, which would mean jumping through more bureaucratic hoops. Additionally, NNELS calls for a participatory model that allows community members to become involved by making recordings of popular materials (Johnson, 2018, p. 118).
Johnson concludes that NNELS will actually prove to be most effective when it paradoxically no longer needs to exist. The services that it provides should be included in libraries’ collections from the beginning, rather than users having to request them via a special service. Additionally, the material should originate as accessible material and not have to be reformatted (Johnson, 2018, p. 119).

What American libraries can learn from this research
To provide better services for the print disability community in America, American libraries can follow the example of Canada’s National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS). Assistive technologies are not always useful for patrons, because most of the time the book they want is only available in print (Johnson, 2018, p. 114). This becomes a problem for library users with print disabilities. Yet, in Canada, the NNELS and Canadian libraries unite and develop accessible versions of printed material for print-disabled patrons. Once the newly formatted book is created, the material becomes part of the NNELS collection and is available for other print-disabled patrons (p. 117). American libraries can learn from and follow the footsteps of the NNELS to create various formats of books for the community.

One method the American libraries can do that the NNELS does is to develop audio versions using an on-demand model. Although audio books continue to be made, not all titles are available. The NNELS, however, has people from the organization and staff from libraries record books. If a book is being requested immediately, the NNELS will use synthetic audio to create the book quickly. Another method American libraries can take in is to create electronic versions of printed books, or they can make changes to e-text to make the text more user-friendly (Johnson, 2018, p. 117). Other ways the NNELS helps the print-disabled community are developing the books into PDF, DAISY, EPUB, electronic Braille, and other formats that best help the patron (National Network for Equitable Library Service, n.d.). American libraries could consider applying the formatting methods to other printed material as well. This includes material such as “medical information, instructional booklets, provincial library legislation,” and other informational material requested (Johnson, 2018, p. 117).

While the NNELS has an emphasis on using CD recordings as a delivery method for print-disabled patrons, American libraries may be able to apply their practices while possibly updating the technologies used. Canadian libraries seem to have an expanded awareness of this user segment that American libraries would benefit from, and consequently improve upon on our own options for providing more reading material for visually-impaired patrons. Some ways include adding voice-activated prompts to locate material in the catalog and using synthetic voice for e-books.

Johnson, K. (2018). NNELS: A new model for accessible library service. The International
Journal of Information, Diversity, & Inclusion, 2(3), 114-120.

National Network for Equitable Library Service. (n.d.). Library Staff Homepage. Retrieved from