Amrish Chourasia, PhD
Assistant Scientist, Trace R&D Center
University of Wisconsin – Madison
Ph: (608) 263-5485
Raising the Floor – US
Gregg Vanderheiden, PhD
Professor, Industrial and Systems Engineering
University of Wisconsin – Madison
Ph: (608) 263-5788
A new global initiative will offer libraries a better way to serve all patrons, including those with disabilities and unique technology preferences. To explain how this low-cost, cloud-based personalization solution will work, it’s first important to understand the problem it has been designed to address, and how its larger promise will be implemented first in libraries.
Libraries perform several unique functions in American society, such as repository of information resources in many forms, a community rallying point, an extension of the education system, especially for adult education, access point for public services (employment, welfare, tax preparation, etc.) and, access to Internet, including digital literacy training. Libraries have a strong public service professional culture, and many libraries and library organizations have active accessibility programs (ACRL, n.d., LUA, n.d., ASCLA, n.d). The ALA as part of its policy on library service for people with disability, strongly recommends that libraries should work with people with disabilities, agencies, organizations and vendors to integrate assistive technology (AT) into their facilities and services to meet the needs of people with a broad range of disabilities, including learning, mobility, sensory and developmental disabilities (ASCLA, 2001).
However, the desire to serve and the mission to serve are not sufficient if the libraries are not actually able to serve the patron. The diversity of people with disabilities (including all of the different types, degrees, and combination of disabilities) raises the cost to secure all of the technologies needed to address them beyond the means of most libraries. Even if the technologies were available and affordable, library staff cannot be expected to be technology experts, particularly assistive technology experts and to set-up and explain assistive technology to patrons with disabilities.
The problem is not one of lack of desire to serve on the part of the library staff, but of the ability to do so within the budget, training, and time available to serve each patron, and within the overall library ecosystem. What is needed is a way:
- to make access to library materials and equipment much easier (for staff and patrons) to set-up and use.
- to meet the needs of patrons with very diverse needs and abilities – whose needs cannot be met with a couple solutions.
- to meet the needs of individuals with assistive technology
- to be affordable by libraries large and small.
- to make materials accessible on demand so that any material that a person needs can be made accessible if it is not already.
- to provide a way to instantly and effortlessly set up workstations, not just with the type of AT a person needs, but with that user’s AT settings, each time they come in.
- to have diverse AT work integrally with the ICT systems in libraries, in a stable and secure manner.
- to provide a way for libraries to keep up with the rapid change of assistive technologies and access features in their mainstream technologies.
The Global Public Inclusive Infrastructure
The Global Public Inclusive Infrastructure (GPII) can help address the above demands. The GPII is an infrastructure that uses the Cloud and the capabilities of ICT to make it easier for individuals and staff to a) find out what features or assistive technologies a person needs, b) to instantly launch and configure any features or assistive technologies on the workstation in front of the individual that they need, c) to help convert materials into a form that the individual can use and d) help the library to affordably have on-call all the different assistive technologies they might need for the different patrons that might come in, and e) reduce the disability and assistive technology expertise needed by library staff in order to help users who face barriers to the user of library ICT due to disability, literacy, digital-literacy, and aging.
The GPII concept is based on the creation of an explicit and implicit user-needs profile (stored either locally or in the cloud; depending on user preference) that automatically matches the access features (of assistive technologies, mainstream products and access services) with the user’s needs, preferences, and the current context of use. It enables the user to have the interface instantly change to meet their needs, on any device the person encounter (PC, smart phone, tablet, etc), in any location), seamlessly and holistically (configuring both content and user interface). The GPII can also augment the accessibility of the local device when needed through special web applications, cloud based assistive technology, cloud based desktops, run without AT installation or with download and AT installation.
The GPII project was launched in 2010 by the Raising the Floor (RtF) consortium, an international consortium of over 100 academic, industry and non-governmental organizations and individuals. Since then the idea of the GPII has been moving from concept to reality since.
- Original concepts were developed at the Trace R&D Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Inclusive Design Research Center at OCAD University.
- The GPII’s “cloud based auto-personalization from preferences” (APfP) capability was moved from concepts to prototypes by the Cloud4all project, (www.cloud4all.info) an international project funded by the 7th Framework Programme of the European Union. At its completion in 2015, Cloud4all will have developed proof-of-concept implementations of the auto-configuration capabilities in up to 19 platforms, devices and applications.
- In February 2014, work started on Prosperity4all, a second European Union funded four-year project with 25 partners focusing on the developer portion of the GPII. The Prosperity4All project is building the infrastructure components needed to foster the evolution of a new ecosystem for eInclusion.
- Starting in 2013 the US Department of Education has funded the development of the “Needs and Preferences Discovery Tools” that will allow individuals to discover their needs and preferences .
- Since 2014, The US Dept of Education and the Administration for Community Living have funded the development of “Shopping and Alerting Aids” component of the GPII to make it even easier for users and professionals to find individual solutions and to stay abreast of new developments of interest to them.
Libraries – the first proving ground
The most recent funding from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR -formerly NIDRR), is focused on the first actual real-world implementation of the GPII. Specific solutions for the problems faced by libraries that are noted above are under development in the Library GPII System (LGS) project. The LGS is a project in the Universal Interface & Information Technology Access Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (UIITA-RERC) based out of the Trace R&D Center at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and Raising the Floor – US. The LGS will be deployed in public and university libraries.
The objectives of the LGS project are:
- Clearly identify the objectives, constraints, resources, and organizational needs for each stakeholder in the library ecosystem.
- Explore the ways that a cloud-based, “auto-personalization from preferences” (APfP) capability and access-technology-delivery-system of the GPII might help address these issues and maximize the resources.
- Develop the library-specific first implementation of the GPII, tailored to needs and ecosystem of libraries. After the LGS is developed we will be quantitatively and qualitatively testing the LGS in diverse libraries to determine its viability and ability to address the issues outlined previously, and to identify any additional modifications to better meet library needs.
So far the LGS project has carried out the first round of interviews and discussions with various stakeholders in the library ecosystem and recruited development partners in higher education and public libraries. Currently (March 2015), we are completing development of a first release system for installation at partner libraries; several cycles of development and evaluation will proceed throughout 2015 and 2016..
Some of the challenges in the library ecosystem that stakeholders have identified so far include:
- Lack of control over the information and communication technology (ICT) environment. Library hardware and software is often limited to that selected by a higher administrative body, not selected or even managed by library staff themselves.
- Infrequent and unplanned requests for accessibility support. A patron with a given disability may appear at any moment and expect service, or may never appear.
- The available AT may not match the patron’s needs or experience, or library staff may lack the expertise to provide the level of assistance needed for setting up or using the AT. Mismatch can lead to low usage and this makes it hard to justify staff training and equipment provision.
- Training. Even professional librarians and IT staff cannot be expected to become and remain accessibility experts, and many libraries have only one or two professional librarians supplemented by paraprofessionals and volunteers with little or no training in providing accessibility
- Assistive Technology (AT). If expensive AT is not used frequently it is viewed as wasted. This only has to happen once for library administrators to be unwilling to repeat such purchases. And users of one type of AT (e.g., screen-reader) may not be able to use another brand – meaning lower usage of each, or libraries not having one that the person can use.
- E-book readers. 72% of US public libraries offer e-books (Library Journal, 2010). These are both an opportunity and a challenge. Their form factor and basic usability settings can make them more accessible to some patrons, but the lack of advanced accessibility features, content usage restrictions, and interfaces (compared to print) can exclude some users (Petri, 2012). The pace of change in this market and the profusion of competing platforms make accessibility-based decisions more difficult.
- Outreach. Librarians reported that they are unsure of the best way to reach “the disability community,” especially in areas where there are special libraries aimed at people with disabilities. Also, once contact is made with disabled patrons there is a good chance that what they need, the library will not have. Couple this with a perception that some patrons insist on solutions they are used to and are not willing to consider alternatives, negotiate, or compromise. This fosters a concern about “inviting trouble” that blocks outreach. The pattern of “drive-by lawsuits” (opportunistic legal actions taken largely to secure court-ordered payment) does not help here.
- Scarcity of information about accessibility. How can libraries inform themselves about accessibility solutions that will work in their environments, especially given how fast technology moves, without needing to dedicate much staff time to the subject? Some librarians indicated that they would prefer to use library-based and vetted information resources rather than vendor sites or generic accessibility resources.
- Installation and setup issues. In addition to the restrictions on libraries’ ability to buy and operate hardware and software, libraries must often limit users’ abilities to install and operate their own AT or save their set-up (the options and settings they need) for the AT. They may have to reconfigure computers and AT each time they visit — or if they have to leave one computer (to allow another to use it) and then later log-in to the same computer or another. Staff are usually not available, familiar with the settings on the AT, or able to follow a person around setting up each computer for the patron when they need to use it.
As noted above, the LGS will be the first real-world implementation of the GPII. The results from this project will provide us with valuable lessons for other implementations of the GPII in terms of costs, scaling requirements, and perceived benefits. It is expected that the LGS will make it easier for library patrons to use ICT and increase their confidence that they will get the resources and services that they need when they arrive at the library, thereby increasing their use of the library.
We are currently developing the LGS in an iterative development process with our library partners. Each cycle of development will include both formal and informal testing. Feedback from each version will then be used to drive the development of the next version. As newer versions of the LGS are developed, these will be made available to our library partners and further feedback will be collected. With the release of each version, a list of activities will be provided, such as “creating a profile” and “searching for a resource via the library catalogue” that can give the library staff a way to check out the system and to identify issues and ways to improve it. Later, as it moves into regular use, we will be collecting LGS analytics such as times used, duration of use, features accessed etc. These will be completely anonymous and no user information will be collected.
Utilizing the results of the Prosperity4all project, LGS is expected to allow libraries to offer a range of assistive services and either pay a small set cost or pay only for the services that the patrons actually use. This represents a radical departure from the traditional approach of buying individual software licenses for select software programs (that may or may not be the best match or even used by patrons) and then only offering those programs to patrons.
Library patrons will also be able to take their “auto-personalization from preferences” (APfP) capability home with them and apply it on their home computers as well, taking the benefits of accessibility wherever they are.
We want as many libraries as possible to participate in the development of the LGS. Libraries can sign-up in an advisor role and will be able to demonstrate LGS features on their own computers, and will have access to GPII rich media for meetings and presentations. This is an exciting opportunity for libraries to work together exchanging information on library technology and accessibility trends with a global community and developing better tools and mechanisms for meeting the full range of patron needs in and affordable way, and one that recognizes library and staff constraints.
If you are interested in joining the effort or if you would like to know more about the project , please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL): http://www.ala.org/acrl/aboutacrl/directoryofleadership/interestgroups/acr-igua
- The Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA). “Think Accessible Before You Buy” Questions to Ask to Ensure that the Electronic Resources Your Library Plans to Purchase are Accessible. n.d.; Available from: http://www.ala.org/ascla/sites/ala.org.ascla/files/content/asclaprotools/thinkaccessible/thinkaccessible.pdf.
- The Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA). Library Services for People with Disabilities Policy. 2001; Available from: http://www.ala.org/ascla/asclaissues/libraryservices
- Libraries for Universal Access (LUA): http://uniaccessig.org/lua/
- Polanka, S. (Ed.). (2012). No shelf required 2: use and management of electronic books (Vol. 2). American Library Association.
Feature Image: Our Globe by Frederick Alpstedt