Five questions: with Michael R. Clark, coordinator, accessibility and information resources

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Once a month the student engagement and communications assistant co-op student interviews library staff to provide library patrons with a peek behind the book stacks at all the work that happens to provide a variety of services and resources that support the learning, research and innovation that happens at Waterloo. This month, co-op student Meray Philobbos interviewed Michael R. Clark, coordinator, accessibility and information resources.

Michael R. Clark1. How does your position benefit the library community?

Michael: As the coordinator for accessibility and information resources, I lead the team that works with students with disabilities to ensure they have access to any materials they need to be successful in their work — whether that’s undergrad, postgrad, or working with faculty and staff to ensure that the materials that they’re using are accessible. And that’s incredibly important, both for the Library but also for campus in general, because ensuring we have accessible versions of our materials means that everybody can use our collection, not just some.   

Meray: That’s so cool, I'm sure it takes a lot of figuring out and a lot of time, but it’s such important work.   

Michael: Yes, it’s an easy thing to say, “assisting people with disabilities”. But disability is a very broad umbrella. It means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Even two people who share the same disability will think of it in entirely different ways. So, it’s not as simple as saying, “we have x to support y”, it’s trying to account for such a diverse ecosystem of abilities and trying to find solutions for all of them.

2. What is one library service or resource that library users should know about?

Michael: This one’s easy for me. It’s the library accessibility services. It’s a service that most people probably don’t know exists. Folks who have disabilities will find out about it, but the current statistic is anywhere between 22-30% of Canadians have a disability. And like I just said, that’s a wide umbrella and that includes permanent and temporary disabilities. It includes visible and invisible disabilities. It includes diagnosed and self-identified disabilities. And the library accessibility services are here for all of those people. Especially since the pandemic, an increasing number of people have discovered that they’re more susceptible to noise and that they prefer to have a quieter environment. So, library accessibility services are terrific services that are here for all university students and staff. We can create accessible versions of research materials, as needed. We even have assistive technologies, both hardware and software to help people with their research.    

3. What other faculties or departments do you work with on campus? 

Michael: The biggest one is AccessAbility Services, which is a campus wide department that helps folks with disabilities. They primarily handle individualized academic accommodations for students to ensure success in their coursework. So, their focus is much more on working with students, one on one, to make sure that the materials in their courses are accessible. We’re here because that doesn’t cover library materials or research materials when encountered outside the classroom. So, we both do similar work, and support one another.  

4. Where do you see the future of the Library? 

Michael: This is where I get on my soapbox. Libraries have been around for 5,000 years; they’re not going anywhere. They were invented the instant information started being written down, and while information stays, its format and content changes. For example, it started off being pounded into clay tablets. If you go back in time to Mesopotamia and walk into a library, you could ask someone for a stone tablet that lists all the sheep that were sold last year. It would be someone’s job to know where that information exists, to know how to collect it, and to give it to you so it’s useful. 

If you fast forward, the future of libraries really is tied up in the fact that there is more information, especially complex information, than there has ever been before. As long as those two things exist, there will always be a need for people to guide others through that information. So, the future of libraries isn’t going to look all that different. We’ll just transition more from physical to digital materials. Having digital material allows for the possibility to change that material from text based to audio based for those with accessibility needs. There are also impacts and assistive devices like glasses that allow you to augment the reality you see. That’s going to change how we interact with information. Libraries are always going to be at the forefront of that because we hold the information.  

5. What is your favourite book?  

Michael: In terms of the number of times that I’ve read it, the impact that it has had on my life, and just the sure enjoyability of reading it, my answer is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.  

Meray: What’s that book about? 

Michael: It’s an absurdist comedy that was written in the 1970s, that is about the world being destroyed and what happens after. A single human has survived this destruction and is catapulted out into the universe. I say it’s an absurdist comedy because it’s a commentary and reflection on the world at the time. It has remained incredibly relevant ever since in its commentary of politics, religion, and the general absurdity of existence, written with some of the best comedic prose that has ever been put to page.  

If you enjoyed reading about Michael’s role at the Library, read our inaugural interview with Circulation’s Amy Lim, and follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to be notified when we post the next interview!  

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