One-Question Survey
Ensuring the Library Program Is Inclusive for ALL Students

According to the first of the Common Beliefs in the National School Library Standards, the school library is an essential part of the learning community where the school librarian leads the effort to create an environment that "provides all members of the school community access to information and technology, connecting learning to real-world events" (AASL, 2017).

This led us to wonder exactly how school librarians are ensuring that library programs are inclusive for all students, including those who are differently-abled, and we decided to reuse a question that Gail Dickinson asked back in October 2010: "How do you ensure the library program is inclusive for all students, including those who are differently-abled?"

As with the original survey, respondents had the option of choosing multiple options; hence, the percentages reported in the table below exceed 100% when summed.

How do you ensure the library program is inclusive for all students, including those who are differently-abled?


Provide access to materials on a variety of levels so that all students can find resources to meet their needs and interests 93% 95%
Modify and/or personalize instruction to meet all students' needs 83% 76%
Provide access to non-book resources for those unable to read standard print 65% 55%
Facilitate access to resources from sources like the state library for the blind and other special source libraries 31% 23%
Provide special technology tools that can be checked out to specific students 26% 29%
Other 12% Not an option
No accommodations are made in the library for specific students, including those with special needs 1% 1%
Neither students who are differently-abled nor those with special needs use the library 0 1%

It's interesting to see how school librarians' practice has and has not changed in the eight years since the initial survey. As was the case in 2010, nearly all school librarians provide materials on a variety of reading levels. Collection development and resource curation have long been key components in the school librarian wheelhouse, so this result is not surprising. As the focus of librarianship has continued to shift from resource provider to instructional partner and teaching specialist, the increased percentage of school librarians who modify instruction to support all learners is encouraging, though obviously this is an area for development for approximately one-sixth of our colleagues.

As Gail suggested in 2010, budget issues may affect some librarians' ability to provide non-book resources and assistive technology, and this may continue to be the case as only 65% of librarians provide access to non-book resources and only about one-fourth provide special technology tools. Because state libraries for the blind have specific borrowing criteria, it is possible that only the 31% of the survey respondents who facilitate access to those resources have students who qualify for these materials.

Not surprisingly, and thank goodness, no respondents reported that, "Neither students who are differently-abled nor those with special needs use the library," though in 2010, 1% of the participating school librarians did select that response. It is quite disappointing, however, that we continue to have some librarians who choose to make no accommodations.

Some of the "Other" practices and modifications reported include:

  • Wheelchair accessible self-checkout stations;
  • Alternate activities and a sensory center;
  • Wide aisles; adaptive seating; flexible furniture, and lower shelves to accommodate students with wheelchairs and other assistive devices;
  • Providing a welcoming environment for all;
  • Collaboratively planning instruction with classroom, special education, and resource teachers;
  • Providing professional development to inclusion teachers for using additional resources;
  • Working with special education teachers to train students with special needs to serve as student library assistants;
  • Including special education teachers and/or students on the library advisory committee;
  • Connecting students to resources available through the public library and other community organizations and agencies.

We hope the results of this survey will encourage school librarians to identify and adopt additional practices to ensure that the library program is inclusive for all students.

Works Cited:

AASL. National School Library Standards. ALA Editions, 2017.

Dickinson, Gail K. "How Do You Accommodate Special Needs Students in the Library Program?" Library Media Connection 29, no. 2 (October 2010): 43.

About the Author

Maria Cahill, MLIS, PhD, is an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky in both the School of Information Science and the Department of Education. She received her master's degree from the University of South Carolina and her doctorate in education from the University of Tennessee. She is author of numerous papers in such journals as Knowledge Quest, School Libraries Worldwide, and School Library Research and has served in numerous professional leadership positions, including on the Educators of School Librarians Section of the American Association of School Librarians and the American Library Association's Literacy and Outreach Services Committee.

MLA Citation Cahill, Maria. "Ensuring the Library Program Is Inclusive for ALL Students." School Library Connection, May 2018,

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Entry ID: 2147978

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