Volume 25, Number 1, 2003

Recruiting, Educating, and Hiring for Accessible Services

by: Mary Jo Venetis
Interim Manager of Acquisitions and Serials, Dallas Public Library

Why is it so important to be a mentor? At some point in your career, it becomes your responsibility to become a mentor. Eventually, you will become involved in the recruitment process. You are here today because you are interested in some aspects of providing accessible services. And I am here today to tell you that it can be done! Somewhere down the road in civilization, we created labels to describe a person by race, ethnicity, profession, disability, and gender. Even our personality types are classified into specific categories. However, we are much more than that, as we wear many different hats in our daily lives. For example, I am a librarian and now an Interim Manager of Acquisitions at Dallas Public Library. I am also a clotheshorse, a daughter, a niece, and a friend, among many other roles. If you passed me on the street, you would not know that I have a disability. There are no visible signs of hearing impairment, unless that person is wearing a hearing aid or cochlear implant device. You will not know until you attempt to speak to me from the back, and I do not respond. At first, you may think I am ignoring you or just being rude. Or when I begin to speak; my speech is a giveaway. They often call hearing impairment the invisible disability. Yet, according to society, this disability is supposed to be the sole essence of my reality. It is not. My reality is that who and what I am is made up of a variety of components, one of which happens to be my hearing impairment, and one which I deal with on a daily basis. I can do anything I want to do in life; however, in my case, there is only one thing that I cannot do: hear. My lack of hearing does not stop me from achieving my goals. Like everyone else, I deal with what life throws at me from day to day. Just remember this important key—we all have something that makes us unique. Some of us may have disabilities or ”differabilities” like Ellen Perlow likes to say, but it does not change who we are. We are all people, and we need you to promote cultural diversity into our profession; in fact, we depend on you to make it a success, and mentoring is the first step in that direction to providing accessible services. By mentoring people with “differabilities,” you can make a difference and open up the profession to all groups. Believe me, the people with disabilities can be the most dependable and reliable employees, because they highly value the opportunity to work and be independent.

Let me tell you about my mentors. My first mentor was my mother. She taught me to appreciate books and supported me in whatever I wanted to achieve. Then there was my aunt and uncle who were also a big influence in my life by helping me to appreciate other people’s opinions in understanding their philosophies, even if I do not necessarily agree with them. They are extremely helpful in many other ways, such as reminding me to pronounce my words more carefully! When I first started working at Dallas Public Library (DPL) as a page, I realized that I wanted to work in the library, making it my career. I joined the Catalog Division as a clerk, where I met my first ”work related” mentor. He taught me the inner workings of the library, not just technical services, the area I was interested in, but also other areas such as how the public service units were our customers, since we provide the patrons what they need, whether it is a reference book, a popular video, or an online service. When my mentor retired, I already had another excellent mentor to rely on and who continues as my mentor to this day. She is a wonderful role model, inspiring and teaching me how to relate to other staff members as I climb the career ladder, from a professional librarian to supervisor to management level. As I have already discovered, you can learn so much from your mentors; their guidance enhances your schooling.

During my career at DPL, I never shied away from hard work, never saying “no” if I was asked to serve on any committee. Gradually, my enthusiasm for my work spoke for itself. Staff and management alike saw past my hearing impairment, and on many occasions, I would have to remind my staff to speak directly to me. They tended to forget that I was not able to lip-read if their backs were to me. By providing me the necessary support, staff and management in turn expected me to contribute both to the library and to the profession as well. My suggestions and ideas would be considered.

In the meantime, I wanted to branch out but lacked networking contacts. I started by becoming a member of the Texas Library Association. It was a huge obstacle, but one I would overcome over a span of eight years by working on cultivating contacts and volunteering for committees. What helped me was the Texas Accelerated Library Leadership Institute program, nicknamed TALL Texans, within the Texas Library Conference. TALL Texans opened the doors, in that it gave me five mentors and 23 classmates within the state of Texas, and two out-of-state mentors. When I became a TALL Texan in 1999, I began to form my network, and it continues to expand every year including in the national arena. I now have contacts within the ALA offices as well as librarians in other states. I am now asked to speak at both Texas Library Association and ALA conferences and to be on various committees.

I have come a long way from ”Ivy Halls!” It all started with my mentors within my family and at the library. I am fortunate that I continue to have wonderful mentors, including the ones who retired! It is very crucial to be mentors for those people with ”differabilities.” They need an extra boost since they may not know where to begin! Believe me, a library can be like a maze similar to our floor at DPL! You start by becoming a role model. Lead by example! You can impact someone’s life by being yourself, without realizing it during the course of your career. You will be asked for advice and pointers. Just be sure to take the time to assist people who may need extra attention and guidance. This is what mentoring and recruiting is about.

Now, how do we go about recruiting people with ”differabilities” to the profession? From my personal experience during my college days, I relied on the Texas Rehabilitation Commission and its counselors to provide me interpreters and note-taking services. So this is a starting point. Go to the college/university’s counselors and ask them if they have students with special needs. The counseling offices will have a list of these students and what their needs are, such as Braille materials, audio-visual equipment, or others. Provide a ”Career Day” for these students. Talk to them, telling them about the library and information science graduate programs, and discuss the profession of a librarian. Hire them to work in the libraries so that they can have hands-on experience. Make them aware of the opportunity to receive scholarships, i.e., the Century Scholarship, if they decide to further explore the librarianship program. It is also a good idea to visit high school students and get them thinking about what they want to do with the rest of their lives. The majority of schools have a group of mainstreamed disabled students, although there are specific schools for the disabled, such as the Texas School for the Deaf, located in Austin. After all, these high school students become employees with ”differabilities.” It would benefit us to reach them early before they just settle for any menial job, because they feel there is no other alternative; and instead provide them an opportunity to be active and fulfilled members of society.

Finally, libraries should provide basic services to meet the special needs of their community. For example, are the elevator buttons within reach for wheel chair users? Are the elevator numbers in Braille for the blind? It is that basic, yet not that obvious to the rest of ”normal” society. This is where library professionals who are knowledgeable about these needs become vital. By becoming libraries and librarians that provide accessible services to all people, we can bring them into our profession. Remember that people with disabilities or ”differabilities” are simply us!

Contact Mary Jo Venetis, Interim Manager of Acquisitions/Serials, Dallas Public Library, at mjvenetis@dallaslibrary.org.