Tag Archives: accessibility

Meet the Librarians: Jessamyn West, Accessibility

To celebrate National Library Week 2022, we are taking readers behind the scenes to Meet the Librarians who work at the Internet Archive and in associated programs.

In her work, Jessamyn West is driven by a desire to help people and remove barriers to access.

“When I went to library school, I realized a lot of the things that were important to me lined up with library values,” West said. “Anti-censorship, intellectual freedom, and serving all the people — not just the people who can afford it, not just the people who can make it up two flights of stairs, not just people who can read small print. All the people.”

Jessamyn West

West is living out her values, processing requests from individuals to participate in the Internet Archive’s program for users with print disabilities. She receives emails from people around the world with blindness, low-vision, dyslexia, brain injuries and other cognition problems who need accessible content. In her role, West has helped qualify thousands of patrons to receive materials in alternative digital formats. 

Her qualifying work for the Internet Archive is among a variety of activities that keeps West busy with the Vermont Mutual Aid Society. West works part-time at the Kimball Library in Randolph, Vermont, where she helps adults in her community learn to use technology. She also does public speaking on the digital divide and other technology access issues, as well as writes a monthly column for Computers in Libraries Magazine.

“All I want to do is to get as much knowledge, to the most people, in as easy a way as possible.”

Jessamyn West, Vermont Mutual Aid Society

West grew up in Boxborough, Massachusetts, where she learned about computers from her dad and her mother introduced her to the importance of civic engagement and volunteerism. At Hampshire College, she earned a bachelor’s degree in linguistics and then moved to Seattle.

In 1994, West enrolled in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) at the University of Washington. The shift to online information and the emergence of the web was presenting an opportunity and a challenge for libraries, which West said was exciting to be a part of at the time.

Jessamyn West

Her first job after graduation in 1996 was with AmeriCorps at the Seattle Public Library helping adults learn to use computers. She later pivoted working for an internet service provider before moving back East. In Vermont, she continued working with libraries and set up her own tech consultancy. West has worked as a tech liaison for Open Library and has been a qualifying authority for the Internet Archive since 2018

“All I want to do is to get as much knowledge, to the most people, in as easy a way as possible,” West said. “I think it’s important that we have all kinds of libraries. I wouldn’t want a world that was only digital libraries and I certainly wouldn’t want a world that was only physical libraries. It’s really nice that many people, depending where you are, can have access to either or both in the way that makes the most sense for them.”

West maintains a professional website (jessamyn.info), a personal website (jessamyn.com) and blogs at librarian.net. When she’s not working, she enjoys editing articles about  librarians and library topics on Wikipedia, playing pub trivia, creating moss terrariums, and writing postcards.

Among West’s favorite items at the Internet Archive: The Middlebury College collection of Vermont Life Magazine and The Great 78 Project.

Scanning periodicals for patrons with print disabilities


The Internet Archive has increased periodical digitization of purchased and donated print and microfilm resources to enhance our services for our patrons with print disabilities. Those patrons can receive priority access to the collections, bypassing waitlists and borrowing materials for longer circulation periods. These periodicals will also be made available to the EMMA and ACE projects to support student success. Some of these materials are also available to researchers via interlibrary loan, digital humanities research, and other ways. 

The Internet Archive has a longstanding program serving patrons with print disabilities. The modern library materials that we digitize are first made available to qualified patrons, including affiliated users from the National Library Service, Bookshare, and ACE Portal. For more than ten years, thousands of patrons have signed up through our qualifying program to receive special access to the digital books available in our collection. 

Organizations can sign up for free to be a Qualifying Authority to be able to authorize patrons, and individual patrons can sign up.

Our patrons share inspiring stories with us about the impacts of the service. Pastor Doug Wilson said it’s been a “profound gift” to discover books in our digital theology collections. The breadth of materials is also compelling. “You never know what you will come across. You can search for something specific, but also just wander the virtual shelves,” said musician and graduate student Matthew Shifrin. In addition to serving our own patrons, we partner with the EMMA and ACE projects, which support students with print disabilities at schools across the US and Canada.

We have resources online to help you learn more about the Internet Archive’s program for patrons with print disabilities, including how to qualify. Please contact our Patron Services team with additional inquiries.

Thank you to the Mellon Foundation, the Institute of Museum & Library Services, the Arcadia Fund, the Kahle/Austin Foundation, and donors for their support of these services.

Pastor: “Profound Gift” to Discover Books Through Internet Archive’s Program for Users with Print Disabilities

Authorized readers have special access to millions of digitized books through the Internet Archive’s program, connecting patrons with print disabilities to a vast digital library.

Doug Wilson says he’s a bit of a “bookaholic.” As senior pastor of a nondenominational church in West Covina, California, he surrounds himself with books at his office and study at home.

Pastor Doug Wilson is an avid reader who benefits from Internet Archive’s program for people with print disabilities.

“I’m a voracious reader and love learning,” said Wilson, who recalls taking a wagon to the library every week as a kid and bringing back a stack of books. “I find life intriguing.”

The 64-year-old said his vision has never been great, but within the last year noticed it was worsening. Wilson was struggling to read print with small font sizes or in low light.  An avid user of the Internet Archive, he learned about the Archive’s program for users with print disabilities, which allows authorized users to skip waitlists for the ebook collection and download protected EPUBs and PDFs. Wilson applied for the program and was granted access, with great results.

“It’s so helpful to be able to have multiple resources open at once on my computer,” said Wilson, who looks up material online from ancient thought to contemporary theology for his sermons. “It’s been wonderful to find something on just about anything.”  

Jessamyn West of the Vermont Mutual Aid Society, who helps qualified users with print disabilities gain access to Internet Archive’s lending library.

Signing up for the program was easy and fast, said Wilson. Students and researchers associated with a university can obtain access through their university library or student success center. For those outside higher ed, the process is run by Jessamyn West at the Vermont Mutual Aid Society, who receives requests through an online form from patrons around the world. People who qualify for the program include those with blindness, low-vision, dyslexia, brain injuries and other cognition problems who need extra time to interact with materials. Since October 2018, West has welcomed more than 5,600 users into the program.

“It makes a real difference to people’s lives,” said West. “Especially nowadays when many people are stuck at home and working with limited resources, having a world of accessible books available to them opens doors and expands horizons. I’ve seen people checking out books on drawing and painting, books about art history and comparative religions, and just a lot of fiction. The collection is truly extensive.”

With expanded access to digitized books, Wilson said he has been reconnecting with works written by many of his mentors through the digital theological collections. “It’s been a profound gift to discover those books that have been influential in my life. Getting access has been another way to be encouraged and mentored even from a distance,” said Wilson, adding he is in a season of life when many of those people are passing away. “The service has been so generous and a supplement to my own library.”

Doug Wilson reading to one of his youngest parishioners, his grandson Luca.

Being able to find the exact resource he needs from home and late at night is a convenience that Wilson said he values. Wilson has enjoyed books from Marygrove Library, a collection full of religious and social justice materials that was recently donated and made available online.

In an era with competing forms of information and disinformation, Wilson said the Internet Archive is important. “Wisdom is hard to come by,” said Wilson. “We are barraged with data in our culture. It can be hard to ferret out what’s real. To have access to actual information and works that have stood the test of time is a godsend.”

To learn more about the Internet Archive’s program for users with print disabilities, and to verify eligibility, please visit the program web page.