Library 2.0: The 4 Pillars That Make Your Services Digitally Accessible

People have got so many choices when it comes to looking for information. Google, Wikipedia, YouTube are certainly go-to sources, but libraries are very much still sought-after destinations for people.

In an analysis of libraries in the U.S. by the Pew Research Center, it turns out that a large demographic of millennials use libraries more than other generations. So, even though we have the internet out there, many people are coming to libraries in person and online.

Why? Libraries are not just another provider of information in a sea of information providers. They have a unique identity and fulfill a distinct role. Societies need spaces that everyone can come to, regardless of their background and abilities, to research, learn and discover, including providing the latest computer technology to everyone. 

This is where the conversation turns to making your library services digitally accessible—barrier-free for everyone. We’ve talked about why it matters here, Why Everyone’s Talking About Digital Accessibility, in the first blog of our series on the topic.

Now we want to focus on really understanding what digital accessibility means and how to identify obstacles. This way, you can review your library’s online catalog, website, and app, for example, to see how they measure up. And you can feel confident going forward to make improvements or build new online products and programs.


Example of Chicago Public Library's title record page highlighting where the title ratings.Libraries that subscribe to BiblioCore benefit from continual accessibility updates. The online catalog ensures that patrons who rely on assistive technologies can browse effectively with the help of logically presented information, contrast compliant colors, screen reader capabilities, meaningful roles and labels on elements of the page, and much more. For example, all screen readers can correctly identify and read title ratings, "Title rated 4 out of 5 stars, based on 2,141 ratings."


Techniques and Guidelines Give You the Design Standards to Build On

You’ve likely heard of the KISS principle (Keep It Short and Simple) to avoid complexity whenever possible and guarantee high levels of user acceptance, comprehension, and interaction.

Well, functional accessibility has its own acronym to get familiar with: POUR.

Accessible technology is Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust. These are the four foundational accessibility principles you need to deliver on to boost your digital services and online presence. Read about BiblioCommons' commitment to POUR here.

These principles make up a key part of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) defined by the international standard body, World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), to help guide the development of digital products that work for everyone.

These are the most widely accepted set of voluntary recommendations to measure the success of websites and online applications, and serve as the go-to standard for accessibility compliance. Now W3C has released the first public working draft of WCA3 3.0 which will provide accessibility standards for an even broader range of technologies and components.

It all starts with putting people at the center of the process, understanding the user’s perspectives and needs.

When you think about it, how people see things is a matter of perception. How people experience disabilities and accessibility barriers can vary from person to person. Which is why accessibility barriers are commonly grouped into these four pillars.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these.


POUR: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust

Perceivable: Can the user identify content and interface elements in ways they can perceive? In other words, is everything clearly presented?

Perception might be visual for some people, with simple design layouts, braille, closed captions or sign language, or through sound, as in text to speech.

So, non-text content can be made accessible through the use of a text alternative. As a W3C example outlines, “A person who cannot see a picture can have the text alternative read aloud using synthesized speech. A person who cannot hear an audio file can have the text alternatively displayed so that he or she can read it. In the future, text alternatives will also allow information to be more easily translated into sign language or into a simpler form of the same language.”

Operable: For digital products to be accessible, the user must be fully able to use controls, buttons, navigation, and other interactive elements. The interface keyboard should be accessible, and ways should be provided to help users navigate and find content.

The University of Iowa offers extensive training in accessible design in its online IT programs, including great info and examples of putting POUR into practice. When it comes to the operable principle, consider keyboard users that can’t use a mouse—perhaps they are blind, have their arm in a sling, or have repetitive stress injuries where mouse use is discouraged.

What if a navigation menu is designed to reveal a submenu of links visible when a person hovers over it with a mouse, how can a keyboard user access the nav links?

Also, from the University of Iowa, “An online form permits a user to make multiple selections from a drop-down menu. If the user cannot simultaneously press a Control key and click on the menu, how can she make multiple selections?”

Websites should not require a mouse so that people can move between buttons, links, and forms using the Tab key and other keystrokes.


Accessibility barriers are often grouped into four accessibility principles known as POUR. Perceivable: The user can identify content and interface elements in ways they can perceive. Operable: The user can use controls, buttons, navigation, and other necessary interactive elements. Understandable: Understandable technology is consistent in its presentation format and is also readable and predictable. Robust: Robust digital experiences are designed to be interpreted by a wide variety of users and assistive technologies.


What About Roadblocks Like Acronyms and Browsers?

Understandable: This one seems like a given but needs rigorous review. Technology must be consistent in presentation and format, predictable in design and usage patterns, and appropriate to the audience in voice and tone. All users must be able to comprehend the content, and learn and remember how to use the interface. Keeping it simple here is critical.

Think about websites that use abbreviations, acronyms, and jargon that is not widely used. When these are not defined, users with disabilities and others really can’t understand the content.

Another example would be a PDF registration form that has the required email and phone number fields. If the form doesn’t inform the user when there is an input error, how will the user know why the form can’t be submitted?

Robust: Are your products standards-compliant and designed to function on all appropriate technologies? Robust IT puts users first so that all users can choose the technology they prefer to interact with information formats, including websites, multimedia, and online documents.

When a web application doesn’t include features for alternative inputs like keyboard or voice commands, users who rely on these input methods can’t use the application.

If a website requires a specific version of a web browser to fully use its features, some people don’t or can’t use that browser and can’t access the site's features. How about a document format that can only be viewed by a screen reader on a specific operating system? People that use that operating system won’t be able to access the document.


BiblioCommons Brochure: Providing An Accessible and Inclusive Digital Library Experience


Providing An Accessible and Inclusive Digital Library Experience

It’s up to software vendors and users to create inclusive digital spaces. Find out how we’re doing that in BiblioCommons products.

See How We're Accessible


Web Accessibility Can Revolutionize Lives

Here’s the thing: The guidelines of web accessibility were not established to make life difficult for web developers. The goal is to make life easier for people with disabilities. Because they want and need to access the resources and information offered on the web, just like everyone else.

To that end, the web is part of the solution to revolutionizing the day-to-day lives of millions of people with disabilities by increasing their ability to independently access information—and all the services your library has to offer.

Next in the series, we’ll look at the types of assistive technology that your library visitors are using, and how to tailor your digital products to best meet their needs. Come back for more!




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