Tag Archives: print disability

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.