Physical and Communication Barriers
Recommended reference behaviors may not be enough.
Overcoming physical and communication barriers in our libraries may require more than model reference behaviors. The reference process begins even before the patron enters the library. People have preconceived ideas of what libraries can and can't do, and of what librarians are like. This may keep some people from coming to the library at all when they have an information need.
In the Library
Once people are in the library, it may be hard for them to tell you what they need. The patron may not speak English well, may be afraid to ask a "dumb" question, may not be familiar with libraries, or may not know how to express clearly a need. Try to show a willingness to help. A caring attitude transcends any language barrier!
Try to be alert to barriers to communication, such as:
Sometimes we put actual physical barriers between our patrons and ourselves. High counters or stacks of books may intimidate some people. Imagine the barrier a high counter creates for a child or for a person in a wheelchair!
In some larger libraries, the reference area may be tucked into a corner or away from the entrance where it cannot be seen easily by a patron walking into the library.
Many patrons prefer to help themselves. They rely on good signs and an orderly arrangement to find what they want. If the arrangement of the building is confusing, your patrons will be confused, too! It helps to look at our libraries from different patrons' points of view.
Section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act gives requirements for equal access to Internet for all. Find out more about the Web Accessibility Initiative from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Examples of recommendations:
Major Point: Cultural, physical, technological, or language barriers; misconceptions about libraries; and confusing library or Web site designs can be barriers to successful reference service.
Cultural, physical, or language differences, misconceptions about libraries, and confusing library arrangement can be barriers to successful reference service.
What are the barriers to library information on the Internet?
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