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Equitable Access to Print

Editor's Note: Beryl Williams is an AEBC member who lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. When she retired from teaching to raise her children, she became active in the disability consumer movement.

I have been unable to read conventional print throughout my adult life and have relied entirely on audio books, produced and provided through a number of not-for-profit, voluntary, charitable sources. Over the years, I have enjoyed a wide variety of classic and contemporary fiction and non-fiction. There has been a significant interest throughout the past two decades in increasing parity between print and alternate format collections in Canadian public libraries. There has also been a noticeable increase in audio books produced by commercial publishers; however, the largest proportion of alternate format titles is still produced through the benevolent auspices of that same voluntary, charitable, non-profit sector.

In compliance with Canada's Copyright Act, these non-profit producers are granted exempt status from copyright royalty payments. This requires that such alternate format publications must only be made available to registered, eligible non-print reading Canadians. This has effectively created special/segregated library services for those unable to read conventional print formats. This, in turn, has effectively restricted accessibility and availability of preferred reading choices for one specific segment of Canadian society.

In contrast, commercially produced titles, usually audio, not having the copyright exempt status, are available to anyone wishing to listen to, rather than read, a book. The market for commercially produced audio has exploded over the past five years, along with another growing trend towards provision of electronic digital texts online for purchase or loan. As a result of technical advances in production and publishing, individuals requiring audio formats also now have greater preferred reading options.

Public libraries have risen to the challenge of Inclusion and equitable access for print handicapped Canadians, and are prepared to put their collective support fully behind the concept of making a publicly funded and operated public library system a reality for everyone across Canada. As a public library patron for over 40 years, I have witnessed significant changes in the variety of services provided to enhance the library experience for those unable to access conventional print information. These include: personal assistance with locating specific titles; technologies to enable access to newspapers and personal print reading material; online availability of community, provincial and national information; and a genuine willingness to accommodate the needs of library patrons, regardless of differences or limitations.

It is important to recognize and acclaim the proactive involvement of both stake- and Rights-holder organizations in pursuing equitable access to Canadian public libraries for patrons who historically have been compelled to accept limited access to the services and benefits provided to other Canadians, through Canada’s National Public Library System. I believe that this is a very complex issue for all parties concerned, and will require serious cooperation and collaboration from every quarter--all three levels of government, commercial publishers and authors, alternate format producers, libraries and all end users--if Canadians unable to use conventional print information are to be afforded the Right and Responsibility to participate and benefit fully from equitable access to public libraries across the country.