Tours and Accessible Library Spaces
While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires libraries to make their spaces accessible to patrons with disabilities, the reality is not always ideal. Although libraries have made improvements, the quality is inconsistent (Spina & Cohen, 2018). For example, a respondent to The Association of Research Libraries’s SPEC Kit 358 Accessibility and Universal Design (Spina & Cohen, 2018) reported that the library may have a station that is accessible in one way, such as assistive technology, but it is behind a door that is inaccessible. Ideally, existing library spaces should be renovated, but that is often not possible because of lack of funding, lack of time, and the physical state of the building prohibiting certain adjustments being made (Ineson & Morris, 2007; Spina & Cohen, 2018).
In addition to making sure that patrons can physically access spaces, libraries should also ensure that their spaces are mentally accessible to patrons. Library Anxiety was first documented and coined by Constance Mellon in 1986. “Mellon’s construct of library anxiety was clearly rooted in a physical library,” as students felt lost in ways such as the size of the library was overwhelming, they did not know where things were located (Gremmels, 2015). The anxiety manifested into the “feeling that one’s research skills are inadequate and that those shortcomings should be hidden. In some students, this manifests as an outright fear of libraries and the librarians who work there” (Nunes, 2016). Libraries designed as inspirational spaces can be problematic because inspirational can also be intimidating. Library Anxiety can occur in anyone. Although I have not found any research connecting library anxiety to anxiety disorders or disabilities whose symptoms include anxiety, I think it is worthwhile to consider how the design of a space, or the unknown space can compound anxieties that are already present in individuals.
Tours are popular way to introduce patrons to the library space, but they are time consuming and cannot reach everyone (Sandy, Krishnamurthy, & Rau, 2009). Online virtual tours can accommodate an unlimited number of people simultaneously as a remote audience (Oling & Mach, 2000). Furthermore, these tours may be used to help reduce the anxiety of visiting a new space. Virtual reality is used as a form of exposure therapy to treat anxiety disorders (Carl et al., 2019; Meyerbröker & Emmelkamp, 2010), and one study found that viewing an online interactive virtual tour of an examination environment significantly reduced in anxiety in young optometry patients with autism spectrum disorder (Carey, et al, 2016). By providing interactive multimedia within the tour, such as videos, image overlays, narration, and text, the library space can be explained and contextualized so that participants get the same information they would in an on-site tour. A detailed virtual tour can provide an opportunity for individuals with disabilities to scope out the space and identify potential obstacles and plan for accommodations (German et al., 2003; Orton, 2014). Virtual tours can even be proactive by addressing areas they know are problematic as well as ways to adjust.
The following is a small selection of virtual tour examples.
Niles-Main Library has a self-guided 360-degree virtual tour that is powered by Google and is a smooth “walkable” Google Map. The Library’s webpage has a list of spaces organized by floor of the library, and those spaces are links to the space within the virtual tour. Visitors can start from any space in the library, then explore from there. Patrons can also access the tour through Google Street View. The images are bright, clear, and have a very high level of detail. However, the tour does not include additional contextual information such as text or narration, and it is possible to “walk through walls”, which can make the tour difficult to navigate.
UC Riverside has a self-guided 360-degree virtual tour of their campus built through the VPix software. The tour begins at Campus Center, and there are several ways to navigate. Categories of places are located at the top, and clicking one will take the viewer to a new part of campus. Viewers can also navigate by clicking arrows towards new locations, but there is also a drop down menu that lists all of the locations in each category so that viewers will not miss any locations. The tour utilizes text and image overlays for points of interest, and it labels new locations. Because each location takes the viewer to a new part of campus, the “walkthrough” is not thorough, meaning that the viewer will only see one image of each location.
Harvard’s campus tour was created by YouVisit, a professional virtual reality production company. The tour is a linear and uses two-dimensional images to gradually “walk” to each destination. Each destination offers further 360-degree photos, videos, and other images to explore. The tour is also narrated by a student who appears in the bottom lefthand corner.
Considerations Before Beginning
Unless you hire an individual or company to create your tour, you will need software, a computer to run the software, and a camera that can take panoramas. A quick Google search will bring up articles comparing pros and cons of cameras and their prices. Pay attention to what cameras and apps will stitch images together for you. If the camera takes several images, it can be difficult and time consuming to stitch them together yourself. The next section in this guide features some software options, however, they have not been evaluated on how accessible they are. Further research should be done to ensure the tour will be accessible to as many individuals as possible.
Creating a storyboard or map of your space before you begin to take the pictures to help you plan your tour. If you are creating a guided linear tour, what sequence of images will make the most sense? How detailed can you get? For a “tour-on-your-own” experience where viewers can choose directions,
Consider using multimedia such as audio narration, and video, and image overlays to introduce and contextualize the space. These can also be used to point out points of interest, resources, and obstacles. You can mark these on your storyboard.
Get input from a variety of stakeholders from the during the planning and testing stages. It is especially important get input from individuals with disabilities. When libraries conduct surveys on accessibility, often they speak to the librarians and staff, but not including individuals with disabilities (Pionke 2017).