Teneka Williams

Distribution Manager

Georgia Libraries for Accessible Statewide Services (GLASS)

10 years


Read her recent essay for June’s issue of American Libraries, “Inclusivity in Any Library.”


Already an ALA member, Teneka is looking forward to membership in ASCLA. “It will be inspiring,” she writes, “to be part of a group that shares my passion for building and creating inclusive learning communities. Of course, I will want to dive right in and get my hands dirty…” We look forward to her enthusiastic involvement!


Was your academic and/or work background in accessibility or disability services (in libraries or otherwise)? If not, what led you to your current position?


I had no previous academic or work background in accessibility services before GLASS. I started as a PT machine clerk and after a year I was accepted into a graduate program for Information Science at the University of North Texas, under the Laura Bush Scholarship. After graduation, I was promoted to Manager and became responsible for overseeing the physical move of our Talking Book collection to the Georgia Archives on the campus of Clayton State University in Morrow, Georgia.


This past year I worked on a project creating Assistive Technology kits that we distribute [to libraries] throughout the state. The kits are filled with assistive devices and give public librarians a chance to try new equipment as well as demonstrate for their communities. I hope my position continues to evolve in a way where I can continue to assist in making Georgia’s public libraries a paragon of inclusiveness.


What are your primary job responsibilities? What does an “average” day look like?


I supervise a staff of ten, three full-time and seven part-time student assistants, so my day typically starts with administrative tasks. Our facility is not open to the public, so the patrons that do call and come in are given the most attention, as they may be having issues with their mail service or have a specific request for their book profile.


My days are never the same; although the core routine never changes, there are variations that make it strangely unpredictable: some days I have to attend meetings off-site, and I am currently participating in a statewide leadership cohort that meets every other month, concluding in October.


Tell us about GLASS’s new partnership with Benetech, formed to provide materials from their Bookshare service to people who are unable to read standard print.


There is a popular graphic that captures the difference between Equality and Equity by showing three males of varying heights trying to see over a fence to watch a baseball game. Each figure is standing on a box to give them more access to the game. In the Equality picture each figure has one box, so although they are each given equal tools, the shortest figure still cannot see the game because he is not tall enough. The other side demonstrates Equity, where the boxes are divided proportionally among the figures to give them all equal abilities to access and view the game.


The GLASS partnership with Benetech is the type of collaboration that is needed to create an equitable and accessible community. There is a difference between Equality and Equity, and for years the library community has made great strides in making services and access to services equal, but we are now finding that the greatest challenges are in equity of access to service; assuring that all students have equal access to learning resources is a giant leap for Georgia’s libraries. It is also a necessary step to create the environment in which equitable communities become the standard and not the anomaly.


Is there a trend in library accessibility that is currently most of interest to you?


The current trend of developing a nurturing a skill set that will enable the 21st century librarian to masterfully engage their community. Last year I read an article, Emerging Librarian Competencies: Accessibility as a Core Competency, by Katya Pereyaslavska, in which she talks about the skill set that a librarian should have in order to fully engage the community in which they serve. The trend of accessing our communities and finding ways to serve provide services are welcoming to all. We desperately need librarians that want to holistically serve their communities; librarians who create and seek out resources that benefit underserved groups. Librarians who not only advocate for access but for equity of service among under-served and under-represented groups as lifelong learners.


What do you think is the largest barrier to libraries being able to provide substantial accessible services? Cost, training, policies, knowledge, or something else?


I think the largest barrier is in mindset. Librarianship, in practice, is very compartmentalized. We are a profession that promotes access for and to all but we sometimes designate services to the under-served and under-represented to a specific type of librarian and/or program. We need to change that.


Soon, accessible services will be needed by many types of people with a myriad of issues that are best served with the use of assistive technology. Just being able to teach someone how to turn on the accessibility features on a Smartphone is a skill needed by any librarian in a public library as our population ages.


What one thing do you wish all librarians would know about library services for people with disabilities? How about the general public?


That the general public includes folks with disabilities. Some you can see and some you cannot. So wouldn’t it be better to have a facility, staff, policies and programming that reflected the diversity that exists in our communities? Often times, when we think of disability, we think of a permanent condition, but disabilities can be temporary, too. The world is becoming very small very fast, and libraries can be the change we all need to see. We can truly create welcoming and inclusive learning environments in our local communities all over the world.


Do you have a favorite success story or anecdote from your time as a librarian?
My favorite successes usually happen once or twice a week, when I get a call from a patron who just finished reading a book I recommended, or when I am inspecting books and come across a note complimenting the work of my staff. I like the feeling that I get when I can provide service that meets the requests of those I serve.
Who is your biggest role model?


My roles models have changed over the years, but right now it is my 18-year-old daughter who is entering her freshman year in college this fall. She is fearless, full of energy, and believes she can change the world.


What one piece of professional advice do you wish you’d gotten back in the day?
I have people around me that give me great professional advice every day. I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by professionals that have a sincere passion for service; improving the lives of people in communities really means something to them. They come with great ideas, and the energy and imagination to bring them to fruition. An environment like that lends to making what I do ever-changing.

Any additional activities, hobbies, or professional areas you engage in?


I love to read and write. My newest favorite thing to do is cook with fresh herbs and vegetables that I grow in my garden. Just last week I made an amazing cucumber salad with homegrown cucumbers and fresh dill—sometimes I even surprise myself!

Feature Image: Dew by Lensnmatter