No. 96, August 2020
Abstract: As the biggest library in China, the National Library of China (NLC) is devoted to ensuring its vast resources and service are equally accessible for its readers regardless of their disabilities. To achieve this purpose, the NLC makes great effort in its reading service, reading promotion activities, digital libraries, and its research on library service for disabled persons. Besides, the paper also describes some challenges the NLC is faced with in its service for disabled persons and then proposes some suggestions.
Keywords: Library Service; Persons with Disabilities; the National Library of China
According to the statistics of the Chinese Sixth National Census and the Chinese Second National Sample Survey of Disabled People, the total number of persons with disabilities is calculated at 85.02 million, including 12.63 million people with visual disability, 20.54 million people with hearing disability, 1.3 million people with speech disability, 24.72 million people with physical disability and 5.68 million people with intellectual disability.i In spite of their various disabilities, this disadvantaged group of people enjoys equal access to knowledge and information the same as others. To ensure this right of disabled people, several laws and regulations have come into force in succession, such as the Law of the People's Republic of China on the Protection of Disabled Persons, Barrier-Free Environment Construction Regulation, Public Library Service Specification, Library Cultural Service Specification for Visually Impaired Persons and so on. As the most important information center, libraries should provide an inclusive service for persons with disabilities.
As the biggest library in China, the National Library of China (NLC) is devoted to ensuring its vast resources and service are equally accessible for its readers regardless of their disabilities. To achieve this purpose, the NLC tries its best to satisfy the special demands of the disabled readers through barrier-free space design, special resource construction, and special reading promotion activities, etc.. In the following, the paper will demonstrate some efforts the NLC makes in its reading service, reading promotion activities, digital libraries and its research on library service for disabled persons.
2. The Reading Service for Persons with Disabilities
The reading service for persons with disabilities takes up an important part in the NLC's daily reader service. To make the library more accessible for the disabled, various barrier-free facilities including barrier-free passages and toilets for the disabled are put into use. Apart from those special facilities, a special reading area for persons with visual disability has come into service since 2008 when NLC's North Area (its second phase) was open to the public. This specially-designed area is located on the first floor of NLC's Chinese Books Reading Areas. It provides braille books (1331 volumes in total) and special digital resources for the visually impaired readers. The collections and resources cover nearly every aspect of their life, such as medical science, literature, culture, science, and education. Additionally, the library provides two special computers with special screen reading software, one handy electronic visual aid, one desktop electronic visual aid, and one set of book reading machine to enrich the reading methods suitable for visually impaired readers. During the process of using the relevant equipment, readers can have a librarian as their assistant. In addition to the Chinese Books Reading Areas, NLC's Audio-Visual Space offers a closed-stack reading service of physical audio-visual disks and vinyl records. Here, massive online audio-visual resources are available for all readers, including those with visual impairment.
< Photos of the Audio-Visual Space in the NLC >
However, some barriers still exist in space design and in the communication between librarians and readers with disabilities. In spite of some barrier-free facilities, the design of book-shelves fails to consider the needs of the disabled person (especially those visually impaired and those on wheelchairs). As stated in Zhao's paper, for those readers on wheelchairs, it is too difficult to reach the books on the top level as well as the first two levels of the book-shelf.ii Hence, the reading area of the library needs to be further upgraded to meet the needs of the disabled. Besides, the service efficiency and the reader experience are affected due to the lack of librarians who can talk in sign language. Moreover, for some persons with disabilities, they might suffer from a bit of mental stress or anxiety when reading in public. Thus, librarians should take the psychological needs of disabled readers into account. Hence, some professional training is needed for librarians, including sign language, medical knowledge, and psychological knowledge. Additionally, the service for disabled children needs to be improved. In the construction of NLC's Children's Library, few barrier-free designs such as barrier-free toilets and special-designed shelves have been put into use. Despite a certain number of audiobooks, no special collection has been built up to satisfy the demands of disabled children (especially the visually impaired ones). It makes sure that the improvement of these two factors will create a better reader experience for children with disabilities.
3. Digital Libraries for Persons with Disabilities
To enrich the resources for readers with disabilities, the China Digital Library for Visual Impairment (CDLVI) and the China Digital Library for People with Disabilities (CDLPD) have been created. The CDLVI project has been online since its pilot testing phase in October 2008. It is jointly launched by the National Library of China, the China Disabled Persons' Federation and the China Braille Publishing House. As thoroughly demonstrated in Hao's paper, "the CDLVI follows the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG2.0) and XHTML1.0 in terms of barrier-free web design and technical rules, which are applicable to screen readers especially for the visually impaired."iii The website is featured with 10 columns, where the visually impaired will get easy access to e-book collection, online lectures, music appreciation, new books recommendation, and so on. For the convenience of its users, the multimedia information goes along with the alternative or equivalent texts. As for its content, the CDLVI covers nearly every aspect of life for its users, among which the collection and information about physical rehabilitation (e.g. Chinese medicine and massage) are most popular and practical. Within the first two years of its launch, the total number of clicks reached 19,529,709, and the number of visitors was total at 425,609.iv Till the end of November 2015, the web site had been uploaded with 5,797 volumes of e-books (15.7884 million pages), 9,264 pieces of classical music, 588 pieces of popular music, 902 lectures, and 320 volumes of audio books.v As far, CDLVI's collection and resources are being continually updated to fulfill the needs of its users.
< The website of the CDLVI >
Based on CDLVI's success, the China Digital Library for People with Disabilities (CDLPD) was launched in October 2010 and was officially put online in April 2011. It was jointly undertaken by the National Library, the Information Center of the China Disabled Persons' Federation, and the China Braille Publishing House. The first collection of CDLPD amounted to 1,000 volumes, covering many fields such as medical treatment, physical, rehabilitation, law popularization, and career planning for the disabled. Also, the users gain access to some selected Chinese book databases including "Reading China", Founder eBooks, and other Chinese and foreign language periodical databases. All the resources of CDLPD are free-accessible for the disabled whenever and wherever they log in to the website with the number of their disability certificate. "Chinese Disabled Persons Digital Library" project successfully got through the assessment of the Ministry of Culture's "2010 National Cultural Innovation Project" in its launching year. Through this project, the National Library of China has worked with the nationwide library community to build a more comprehensive reading service system for persons with disabilities.
< The website of the CDLPD >
In spite of the gradual progress in digital resource construction, the digital divide still exists among persons with disabilities. As stated, until May 2009, only more than 10,000 visually impaired people in China had received computer training.vi This digital divide is much more pervasive in rural areas, where the vast majority of blind people cannot get access to the Internet properly. Hence, disabled readers are in urgent need of basic digital skills training. As the national library in China, the NLC would be responsible to set up a national platform to cultivate digital literacy for persons with disabilities. More importantly, it needs to be noted that the elimination of the digital divide cannot be realized without the cooperation and alliance between different parts of society, including libraries, disabled persons' associations, and IT vendors.
4. Reading Promotion Activities for Persons with Disabilities
In addition to resource construction, the NLC has carried out several reading promotion activities to enrich the cultural life of persons with disabilities. The project "Shuxiang China—Let the Sunshine of Knowledge Enlighten the Soul of Everyone" is one of them. Jointly undertaken by the National Library of China and the China Disabled Persons' Federation, this project is aimed at creating a harmonious environment for the disabled to acquire information. As an important part of the project, the "Wenjin-Sunshine Forum" was set up, with a focus on different topics generally concerned by people with disabilities. The other reading promotion activities include lectures, seminars, children's story-time, children's art-and-craft activities, etc.
As reported, among the 2.46 million school-aged children with disabilities, 63.19% of them received compulsory education in general or special education schools. This percentage is much lower than that of school-aged children without disabilities, that is more than 97%.vii To eliminate this gap, the NLC's Children's Library initiated "Knowledge Aid Program for Disadvantaged Children" in 2012. This program is targeted at the disabled and left-behind children. The targeted children could receive books, textbooks, stationery materials, and reading guidance from the library and librarians.
Although this group of readers shares a lot in common, some distinct individual differences appear among them. These differences may result from their types of disability, degree of disability, and their ages. As a result, it is necessary to provide personalized reading activities for them. Here, disabled children deserve a special concern, for they are in a special phase of physical and mental development. The Library should create more opportunities for children with disabilities to get access to the library and its vast resources and service.
5. Research on Library Service for disabled persons
The NLC is also active in its researches on the library service for the disabled. "Research on Library Service Models and Norms for Disabled Persons", supported by the National Social Science Fund of China, serves as a good example. It is aimed at refining the library service for the disabled. This project has analyzed the current status of nationwide library service for persons with disabilities, especially the public libraries at all levels. On the basis of this analysis, it has come up with the methods and models to classify the different information needs of the disabled related to their types of disability and their degree of disability. Its research result Models and Standards for Library Service for Disabled Persons has already been published in September 2019.
< Models and Standards for Library Service for Disabled Persons published in 2019 >
To conclude, the NLC has always given priority to people with disabilities to ensure their access to information and knowledge. It has continuously promoted the library service through creating a disabled-person-friendly environment with barrier-free facilities and equipment; it has persisted in developing library collection and digital resources for the disabled readers to meet their special needs of information; it has actively adopted barrier-free technology to the website design and database construction to eliminate the digital divide for persons with disabilities. In addition to its research on updating the service for disabled persons, the NLC will push forward its librarian training to improve their ability to serve this special group of readers; meanwhile, it would be involved in creating a national platform to cultivate digital literacy for disabled persons.
ii Zhao Wenge. The Status of Reading Services for Library Readers with Disabilities and Some Suggestions— Taking the Reading Area for Disabled Readers in the National Library of China as an Example [J]. Library and Information Service. 2017(S1): 89.
iv Li Chunming, Chen Li and Zhang Wei. Outlook of the Development of China Digital Library for the Disabled [J]. Library Development. 2010 (11): 17.
v Gao Enze, Mao Yajun and Li Jian. Hand in Hand to Build Information Barrier-Free Platform to Promote the Library Culture of Helping the Disabled: Service Situation and Prospects of China Digital Library for Visual Impairment [J]. New Century Library. 2016 (6): 58.
vi Jiang Fengwei and Miao Zhuang. An Analysis on the Status of Digital Libraries for Visually Impaired Persons and Their Obstacles [J]. Library Research. 2013 (6): 11.
vii Li Chunming, Chen Li and Zhang Wei. Outlook of the Development of China Digital Library for the Disabled [J]. Library Development. 2010 (11): 17.
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