19 Association of Research Libraries Research Library Issues 302 2021 Planning for Digital Accessibility in Research Libraries Jonathan Lazar, College of Information Studies (iSchool) and Trace Research & Development Center, Human-Computer Interaction Lab (HCIL), University of Maryland 1. Introduction In a recent NBC News story, Carey Jaros, CEO of GOJO Industries (better known as the maker of Purell), stated that while they were caught off guard by the increased customer demand during the COVID-19 pandemic, “we are [now] committed to being surge- ready.”1 How many research libraries are surge-ready when it comes to planning for increased demand for digital accessibility? This is not just a philosophical or a theoretical question. Planning for digital accessibility in a research library takes time. It’s not something that can occur on the fly. Many organizations, including libraries, were caught off guard by the switch to strictly virtual services during the pandemic. In-house accessibility operations couldn’t be scaled up, and external professional accessibility services experienced a mismatch between greatly increased demand and an insufficient supply during the pandemic. Unfortunately, this made live captioners in high demand and they were rarely available, just as hard to find and acquire as hand sanitizers like Purell. Even though the COVID-19 pandemic may (hopefully) be waning due to vaccines, booster shots, and new treatments such as pills, we can expect future dramatic changes due to climate change, political instability, disease, or other events. It is therefore expected that there may again be unplanned surges in demand for accessible and remote library services. This paper will describe some of the challenges and lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic related to digital accessibility. In addition to strengthening the infrastructure and surge capability related to digital accessibility, it is equally important for research libraries to look ahead to future developments in the area of digital accessibility.
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