‘But what to change?’: An exploratory mixed methods study on developing public libraries as inclusive information and social services for people with hidden disabilities

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Abstract

People with a disability are one of the largest minority groups in Australia, and people with an invisible disability are a significant subgroup of this population. Invisible (or hidden) disabilities are disabilities which are not immediately evident to another person and include autism, mental health disabilities, hearing disabilities, and brain injuries. Literature on the information and social inclusion contexts for people with invisible disability is limited, and seldom focused on Australia. This existing research base has called for more research in this area.
Australian public libraries claim to serve the educative, social, and information needs of their community and have been described as ‘open to all’ (Carroll & Reynolds, 2014b; Naccarella & Horwood, 2021). However, the veracity of this claim is challenged by a limited literature on if Australian public libraries provide information and social services for people with invisible disabilities. Existing research also seldom features the voices of people with invisible disabilities as a unique subgroup of people with disabilities.
This thesis responds to these gaps in the existing literature by exploring the role of public libraries as an information and social service for people with invisible disability in the state of Victoria, Australia. This study seeks to contribute to a richer understanding of the role of Australian public libraries as an information and social service for people with invisible disability, and to inform Australian Library and Information Science (LIS) education. This thesis seeks to develop broader scholarship on the experiences of people with invisible disabilities as a unique population subgroup in Australia.
This study employs a constructivist, sequential, exploratory mixed methods design to explore the experiences and understandings of people with invisible or hidden disability and library staff. The study findings indicate that libraries are prepared around a ‘normality spectrum’: prepared for, and inclusive of, some forms of hidden disability while excluding others. An inclusively stretched and largely untrained workforce took on a breadth of roles to address mismatches between the scope of the library’s preparedness for disability and the needs of patrons with invisible disabilities. This thesis finds that staff capacity to operate in a consistently inclusive manner was inhibited by an organisational focus on enquiry volume over quality; misalignment between strategic and library policies on disability and the disabilities disclosed to library staff; and limitations in the scope, availability, and accessibility of initial and reinforcement training.
This study finds that the development of an invisible disability inclusive Victorian LIS sector requires significant organisational cultural change. These changes include the redesign of existing practices and approaches to inclusive services, revision of approaches to training, and the embedding of inclusive principles into operational and strategic priorities.
This thesis concludes with recommendations which can be used by Australian libraries to inform the design of an inclusive information and social service which is ‘open to all’.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Thompson, Kim, Co-Supervisor
  • Carroll, Mary, Principal Supervisor
  • Qayyum, Asim, Co-Supervisor
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publisher
Publication statusPublished - 2024

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