Universal Access is a term that seems very straightforward at first but upon closer examination reveals it’s true complexity. Every good librarian wants their library to be universally accessible. We all want all individuals to have the ability to utilize our resources and our facilities in a seamless manner. But sometimes this proves to be incredibly challenging. Being able to accommodate all users in an equal manner is often challenging for large and well funded libraries. But for smaller library systems including rural locations, this can be nearly impossible.
Erin Krake discusses the attempt to create a universally accessible library system throughout the state of Washington in her article, Universal Access: Statewide Vision or Pipe Dream (Krake, 2008). Some of the goals that the state of Washington created to move towards it’s vision of universal access are:
· Any Washington resident can use the physical assets of any other library.
· Every Washington resident has access to a one-stop shop on the internet that provides access to all resources available through the statewide library card.
· Online databases are available statewide to every library, along with an easy-to0use federated search tool tailored to different age groups.
Krake describes this vision as everyone having access to everything, regardless of where they live or what taxes they pay (Krake, 2008).
Having experience working in several public and one academic library, I immediately thought off statistics. Each library that I worked at keep detailed statistics about circulation, internet usage, and overall headcounts. Under this type of system, it seems that statistics would be much less important. All libraries would essentially be the same, so only total statistics would matter.
Coming from a rather rural area of Michigan, I have visited several urban libraries while traveling. I can say that all libraries are not created equally! The vast amount of funding and resources available at many of the larger library systems makes many rural library systems seem almost archaic in comparison. Therefore, I believe that a statewide system like the one that Krake describes would highly benefit the universal accessibility of many rural locations.
Keeping in mind the complex differences between library systems, one must weigh both the costs and the benefits of universal access to determine it’s true complexity. Although we all strive for universal access, sometimes it comes at a large cost.
Krake, E. (2008). Universal Access: Statewide Vision or Pipe Dream?. Alki, 24(1), 8-30.