17th August 2022
Kelly Gibbs is the Product Manager for the Spydus integrated library management solution at Civica. Kelly is from Melbourne but is currently residing in Singapore, and has the pleasure of working with a wide range of libraries, schools, and historical societies across Australia, New Zealand, Asia, and the UK.
As a Product Manager, one of the key drivers for Kelly's work is understanding how library management software can be used to best support our communities, and what features and technologies can be leveraged to assist libraries in their community missions.
Maya Angelou (2021)
We should all know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all threads of that tapestry are equal in value no matter what their colour
Every community is different, and as librarians and information professionals, one of our responsibilities is understanding the make-up and the unique needs of the communities we serve, and tailoring our service models accordingly.
My experience working as both a librarian and software product manager (a mashup I never anticipated when I started my career!) has shown me that while this is a concept that is well understood from a service offering or a collection development perspective, sometimes the technology we use falls short of the mark.
Technology is an important partner in diversity and inclusion outcomes, and this is a topic that is close to my heart, both personally and professionally. For this reason, I want to touch on a few important areas of consideration that are of huge benefit to our communities when implemented well through software; data management, language, and accessibility.
Ajaypal Singh Banga (Tropea, 2020)
We have the Internet of Everything but not the inclusion of everyone.
Modern libraries use software suites to manage a big chunk of their services and access to collections. What a lot of people within and outside the library community don’t tend to think about is the massive amount of data these software suites hold, and how much personal data is being collected by libraries daily in the form of patron registrations.
I recently read an article that said that gender is one of the most common pieces of data collected about an individual, and our libraries are included in this, and to this day it remains to be one of the most exclusionary pieces of data collected (Monash University, 2022).
The Australian Government Guidelines on the Recognition of Sex and Gender outlines a minimum requirement for inclusive gender data collection. It states that when collecting gender data, individuals should be given the option to select M (male), F (female) or X (Indeterminate/Intersex/Unspecified) (Attorney-General's Department, 2013).
The X category refers to any person who does not exclusively identify as either male or female, such as a person of a non-binary gender. This guideline places a lot of people’s gender identities into a single category, further distinguishing non-binary gender identities as an ‘other’. We have to do better than this.
If you must capture gender data about your patrons, at a minimum ensure you’re using a web form that can provide a wide range of options. If you are providing fixed options such as a pre-defined list or table, which is arguably the optimal way when wanting to collect a uniform dataset, consider also providing the ability to opt out of answering.
I’ve heard it argued that if you don’t collect many, or any data points about your patrons, then you can’t tailor collections and services accordingly. While there are instances where this is undeniably true, there are, for example, recommendation algorithms used in real world settings right now that don’t rely on demographic data points such as gender at all.
Neil Gaiman (n.d)
I think that is something that I always like in my work - the sense of inclusion rather than the sense of otherness.
Language allows the communication of values and beliefs of a particular culture, and allows participation in family and community life. It is a key marker of identity, and an important element of inclusion.
Presently I live in Singapore where we have four national languages. There’s Malay, Chinese, Tamil, and English. The Chinese alone is broken down into multiple dialects, including Mandarin and Hokkien, and while Malay and English use the latin alphabet, Chinese and Tamil use different scripts.
Tamil as a language is estimated to be over 10,000 years old, and it’s a complex script when compared to the latin alphabet! There are 31 letters in their independent form, and an additional 216 combinant letters, giving us a grand total of 247 possible letters to use.
From a technology standpoint, in order to cater to communities such as the Tamil speaking community in Singapore, the first thing you need is software that supports non-latin scripts, especially in the public facing catalogue. This may be handled through Unicode, and you may choose to catalogue your materials in both the latin and non-latin scripts and display both variations on your catalogue to ensure that English and non-English speaking patrons can access the resources with ease.
As well as cataloguing your materials in multiple languages, having a public facing catalogue that can display in its entirety in multiple community languages is a great way of catering to as broad a population base as possible. This is also a consideration when choosing mobile apps, in-branch signage, and notices and communications.
Most countries in the world are no different from Singapore in their need to cater to multiple languages and scripts. One of the reasons this is such an important topic for me is that in my immediate family alone we have multiple languages spoken (including Tamil!) and it’s one of my hopes that someday everyone in my family will be able to access public services in the language most appropriate for them.
Robert Alan (Vaughan-Lee, 2006)
Cultural differences should not separate us from each other, but rather cultural diversity brings a collective strength that can benefit all of humanity.
Alongside language, accessibility is one of the key considerations when using library services, particularly for patrons with disabilities who are utilising adaptive technologies to access your services. Depending on where in the world your service is located, it may also be a legal requirement. Additionally, as many services are now partially or wholly online, you often do not know whether your users have accessibility needs.
One of key sets of guidelines around accessibility that we have available to us presently is WCAG 2.1. For those who have not encountered it yet, WCAG stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, and it’s a global standard.
WCAG 2.1 lets us support a wide range of users, for example, low vision users through things like contrast ratio requirements, and text and layout guidelines (WC3, 2018). There are requirements to support users with cognitive, language, or learning disabilities, which include really very sensible things like not having unreasonable inactivity timeouts on a page.
Realistically speaking, WCAG 2.1 is beneficial to all of your users, in that it’s designed to provide guidelines for best practice when building up web pages, and no one is going to say no to enhanced usability. Procuring an ‘out of the box’ WCAG 2.1 compliant software solution is only ever going to be as good as the branding, styling, and content that you apply to each page though, and these elements should be assessed for accessibility alongside the technology itself.
George Takei (2013)
We should indeed keep calm in the face of difference, and live our lives in a state of inclusion and wonder at the diversity of humanity.
To close, there are a few important things we can consider to make sure that the technologies, and very specifically the software that we’re deploying in our libraries is as inclusive as possible.
Mindful collection of data that is necessary and useful for the provision of service, catering to multiple language sets, and adhering to web accessibility guidelines, go a long way towards making your library service an inclusive one.
The diversity in my family is not unique. We all live within and serve diverse communities, and we all (including the technology we provide) play a role in welcoming that diversity into our libraries.
Rabindranath Tagore (2017)
The significance which is in unity is an eternal wonder.
1 Angelou, M. (2021, March 25). @DrMayaAngelou. Twitter. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://twitter.com/drmayaangelou/status/1375109790230274059?lang=en
2 Attorney-General's Department. (2013, July 1). Australian Government Guidelines on the Recognition of Sex and Gender. Attorney-General's Department. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://www.ag.gov.au/rights-and-protections/publications/australian-government-guidelines-recognition-sex-and-gender
3 Gaiman, N. (n.d.). I think that is something that I always like in my work - the sense of inclusion rather than the sense of otherness. Neil Gaiman. Quote Master. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://www.quotemaster.org/qd0405594813328949f9952c9e9214368
4 Monash University. (2022). Capturing gender data inclusively. Monash University. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://www.monash.edu/students/support/lgbtiqa/capturing-gender-data
5 Tagore, R. (2017). The English writings of Rabindranath Tagore (Vol. 2). Sahitya Akademi, Delhi.
6 Takei, G. (2013). Lions and Tigers and Bears: The Internet Strikes Back. Oh Myyy! Limited Liability Company.
7 Thornton, S. (2021, March 18). Best Practices for Collecting Gender and Sex Data. Researchgate. Retrieved August 3, 2022, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/350131580_Best_Practices_for_Collecting_Gender_and_Sex_Data
8 Tropea, T. (2020, March 30). Bridging our 'not-so-great' divide - Fox School of Business. Fox School of Business. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://www.fox.temple.edu/posts/2020/03/bridging-our-not-so-great-divide/
9 Vaughan-Lee, C. (2006). Getting to the Heart of Global Education. Global Oneness Project. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://www.globalonenessproject.org/library/essays/getting-heart-global-education
10 WC3. (2018, June 5). Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1. W3C. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG21/
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