Gail Betz is a Research, Education and Outreach Librarian at the University of Maryland, Baltimore liaising with the School of Social Work. Her current research interest is investigating how to make the profession more accessible to librarians with disabilities. She is currently working on a qualitative study about the hiring process for librarians with disabilities, and hopes to build on the recruitment aspect to include retention as well. If you are a librarian with a disability who might be interested in participating in the recruitment study, please email Gail at email@example.com.
The Educational Nature of a Lit Review
I’m currently working on my first Big Research Project, (hopefully) a qualitative study focusing on the hiring process for disabled academic librarians. When I started formulating my idea and preparing my research proposal for the Institute for Research Design in Librarianship, I naturally focused on finding the most relevant literature. I discovered, first, that this had not been done yet, and that most of the LIS literature discussing people with disabilities was focused on products and activities within libraries serving patrons with disabilities. There is some literature on academic librarians with disabilities (Oud, 2018 and 2019), but not explicitly related to the hiring process. So I decided to expand my literature search outside of librarianship and look at human resources literature and disability studies literature- both new fields for me.
What I discovered was that while LIS literature is typically practical, other fields are not. Disability studies and identity literature are much more theoretical. One thing that I’ve always liked about librarianship is how practice-based it is, even in its research- I want to read about problems and solutions, not musings about why certain things exist or don’t exist. So I was generally unprepared for tackling such theoretical work, as well as unprepared for merging theory with practice in formulating my research proposal.
The more disability studies research I read, though, the more I realized how integral it was to my study. In particular, two theories have really helped me think through my project: the medical model and the social model of disability. Even as someone with a disability, I was unfamiliar with these before starting this project. The medical model primarily focusing on the medical problem that a disabled person is facing- what the clinical deficit is that needs to be cured or treated. This model has been popular for centuries with healthcare providers focused on treating and containing impairments to make an individual patient as “normal” as possible. It’s rooted in the individual- the medical problem exists within the person, and each person is treated differently and at a standalone time.
The social model, on the other hand, treats disability as a social construct- it’s not a medical impairment within an individual, but barriers within society that disable and exclude people from full participation. This theory was really eye-opening to me. The idea that maybe society and social norms don’t accommodate my needs, instead of me not conforming to what society requires, is validating. And I realized that these two theories really get at the crux of one of my biggest issues with the LIS profession and diversity initiatives- we are largely operating on a medical model instead of a social model. In our individual libraries, we have diversity residencies and scholarships and trainings, but we haven’t made structural changes to increase the diversity of the profession at large.
Note: As a direct result of this research, I now use the phrases “person with a disability” and “disabled person” interchangeably, as reflected in this post. Everyone has their own preference, and neither of these is “correct.” There are arguments for person-first language, but also arguments for identity-first language; person-first centers the person instead of the impairment, whereas identity-first stipulates that being disabled is not a negative and is, in fact, integral to someone’s identity. The correct thing to do is to ask someone which they prefer, and then use that whenever possible.
Merging Research Areas to Inform My Study
I set up my study to look at how to increase access for academic librarians with disabilities at the beginning of their careers- getting hired. What barriers do we need to remove for people to successfully interview and get job offers? This project will attempt to merge the above theories, as well as identity theory, with LIS research on disabled librarians’ experiences in academia. One of my hypotheses is that the more salient a person’s disability identity is, the more likely they are to disclose disability status during the hiring process- and I think that has a bearing on how people interview, and how academic institutions react to those candidates. But to formulate my interview questions, I need to understand identity literature and how identity is formed and then utilized, particularly for marginalized groups, so that my questions elicit useful data. It’s no good asking uniformed questions.
To integrate these two bodies of literature, I have been working on digesting and understanding the theory. It’s been helpful to write things out in my own language (like using this blog post as an opportunity to process!) as well as explain this orally to both colleagues and people outside of librarianship. I also highlight things in articles while I read, and then go back later and jot down particularly useful quotes/ideas on index cards with the reference noted on the same card. This helps me tactilely and cognitively process information- I can move around individual pieces of articles and juxtapose them with different authors/articles/research to see how they fit together or don’t. I find it helpful to then read through the index cards as I’ve organized them and see if the thought process flows from one card to the next, or if I need to move things into a different order. Then I sit down to type it out more fully.
So far, this has been a great opportunity to learn more about disciplines that I was otherwise unfamiliar with. It seems logical to me that pulling literature from multiple fields would strengthen my own understanding of a problem within our field- we are not operating in a vacuum. While working with several previously unfamiliar theories was not something I set out to do in this project, it has helped me grow as a researcher, and I think it will strengthen this project and future research in this area.
Great library-specific article that includes an overview of disability studies
Kumbier, A., & Starkey, J. (2016). Access Is Not Problem Solving: Disability Justice and Libraries. Library Trends, 64(3), 468–491. https://doi.org/10.1353/lib.2016.0004
Academic librarians with disabilities
Oud, J. (2018). Academic Librarians with Disabilities: Job Perceptions and Factors Influencing Positive Workplace Experiences. Partnership: The Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research, Vol 13, Iss 1 (2018), (1). https://doi.org/10.21083/partnership.v13i1.4090
Oud, J. (2019). Systemic Workplace Barriers for Academic Librarians with Disabilities | Oud | College & Research Libraries. https://doi.org/10.5860/crl.80.2.169
Moeller, C. M. (2019). Disability, Identity, and Professionalism: Precarity in Librarianship. Library Trends, 67(3), 455–470. https://doi.org/10.1353/lib.2019.0006
O’Neill, A.-M., & Urquhart, C. (2011). Accommodating Employees with Disabilities: Perceptions of Irish Academic Library Managers. New Review of Academic Librarianship, 17(2), 234–258. Retrieved from lxh.
Disability and hiring
Menendez, J. (2018). The Disclosure Dilemma: When and Why Job Applicants Differ in Disclosing Their Disability Status (Ph.D., Colorado State University). Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/2056513777/abstract/1642091A664D4AB5PQ/1
Dadas, C. (2018). Interview Practices as Accessibility: The Academic Job Market. Composition Forum, 39. Retrieved from
Santuzzi, A. M., Keating, R. T., Martinez, J. J., Finkelstein, L. M., Rupp, D. E., & Strah, N. (2019). Identity Management Strategies for Workers with Concealable Disabilities: Antecedents and Consequences. Journal of Social Issues. https://doi.org/10.1111/josi.12320
Disability and identity theory
Dirth, T. P., & Branscombe, N. R. (2018). The social identity approach to disability: Bridging disability studies and psychological science. Psychological Bulletin, 144(12), 1300–1324. https://doi.org/10.1037/bul0000156
Bogart, K. R., Lund, E. M., & Rottenstein, A. (2018). Disability pride protects self-esteem through the rejection-identification model. Rehabilitation Psychology, 63(1), 155–159. https://doi.org/10.1037/rep0000166
Chalk, H. M., Barlett, C. P., & Barlett, N. D. (2018). Disability Self-Identification and Well-Being in Emerging Adults. Emerging Adulthood. https://doi.org/10.1177/2167696818812604
Featured image taken by the author
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The expressions of the writer do not reflect anyone’s views but their own
Thank you for this piece! I enjoyed reading about your approach and process to information gathering to inform your study. It was very inspiring to hear your openness to handling new experiences with a focus on overall growth in your skills. Good luck with your research!