Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa
Te Rau Herenga O Aotearoa

Barriers to access in libraries

Last year Philip Calvert posted to the NZ-Libs email list asking librarians for examples of barriers in libraries that blocked or hindered access for people with physical impairments. He received a number of messages with examples and has condensed them a blog post. If you would like to discuss the results, feel free to get in touch with Philip. 


  • Many of the barriers involved height. Often, because of space constraints, shelves are too high or too low. In some cases the height of the shelves appears to have been decided for aesthetic reasons. This was accentuated when the shelves in question were used for 'Holds' and the customer is expected to retrieve his/her own items.


  • Journals on shelves that are on a raised step. Full (overfull) serials boxes on high shelves; most people need two hands to get them down without spilling the contents


  • Shelves that are too narrow for wheelchair access, or there is no clear space to turn, e.g. if shelves go up to the wall. There is a temporary obstruction that might be added accidentally, such as bean bags, which blocks a turning point


  • Mobility scooters: very wide and harder to fit between shelves than conventional wheelchairs. In addition, drivers sometimes cannot see children on the floor in front of them


  • Walk in computer catalogues (OPACs) on high desks. The desk height cannot be adjusted


  • Self-check terminals that are too high. At the same time, other circulation counters (also high) have fewer staff to deal with those customers who can't use the self-check machines


  • A book return slot that was at a reasonable height for the old system, but with conversion to RFID, the need to pull down a drawer and return the items over it, makes it a challenge for some people


  • Heavy doors, both external and internal, that are hard to open, especially if the door has to be pushed open


  • Mechanically-sprung push buttons for lighting (common in what were backroom areas) that require strength to operate, and the buttons are often too high for some people


  • Uneven floors, perhaps where a 'join' has been made. The difference in height need not be much to cause an obstacle for customers in wheelchairs - and staff pushing loaded trolleys


  • Loose carpets that curl at the edge


  • Poor lighting in areas used by the elderly (not all of whom have reduced vision, of course)


  • A spiral staircase, and no other means for people with impairments to exit the building in case of an emergency


  • Stairs with a child-proof gate at the top, hard for people with reduced hand control to use


  • A long distance between the disabled car parks and the main entrance


  • Disabled car parks on a severe slope


  • An external ramp on a slope, which also gets wet and slippery in the rain


  • Glass doors that have no visible markers (e.g. an opaque band) so people with visual impairments can't see them


  • Lifts in largely unused parts of the building


  • Lifts too small to accommodate wheelchairs


  • No disabled toilets in the building


  • Toilet roll holders placed inside the grab rail


  • Hand dryers that are not intuitive to use for blind people


  • Locks that are without a projection, so hard to turn for some people with reduced hand strength


  • Signs in blue print which makes them hard to read 


  • Fire alarms that have no visible signal

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