As a Community Rep for Vermont, I introduced Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) to employees of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) in White River Junction, Vermont, during its Disability Employment Awareness event on October 16, 2014. Drawing upon my law degree (Vermont Law School) and Masters in Library and Information Science (Simmons College), I have been volunteering at VAMC this year in order to contribute toward programs that benefit current and retired members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families. Bringing DPLA to veterans and civilians with disabilities was my first effort as the Community Rep to bridge digital divides among under-represented populations. The event’s motto “Expect. Employ. Empower.” was about creating a society of inclusion, thus it seemed to be a perfect fit for DPLA. Ten other participants were local entities that provide adaptive technologies to people with disabilities. The community programs cover healthy eating; vision, hearing, and mobility assistance; as well as outdoor and sports activities.
The DPLA Info Table was equipped with a laptop for a hands-on presentation, which attracted around thirty or so VA veterans and civilian employees, including Deborah Amdur, VAMC Director. Most attendees had never heard of DPLA before, while others were quite informed: “We are nurses, and we learn a lot at our workshops.” Still, another group, albeit the smallest, was not only aware of DPLA as a portal but also as a platform; those were IT employees.
Despite the various degrees of DPLA awareness, the attendees’ responses may be grouped in the following common threads:
- Attendees recognize DPLA as a “library” (asking if the Info Table got managed by the VAMC in-house library)
- Attendees with visual and/or audio impairments need visual/audio features to enhance DPLA content for them (asking if I could make the font large, or if a video had subtitles, etc.)
- Attendees with limited mobility enjoy DPLA all together (commenting that discovering DPLA is akin to “a travel-free, and thus, trouble-free, visit to a neighborhood library or a museum”)
- Attendees take DPLA swag to share (not only with their family and friends, but also with volunteer organizations they belong to: libraries, peer-to-peer veterans help groups, etc.)
- Attendees are particular fond of the DPLA’s Timeline feature (that directly answers their needs in authentic sources on history: “This may be another way to enhance our exhibit at a historical society I belong to,” genealogy: “I bet I can find out something for my family’s genealogical tree, as I am an ancestry-buff among my siblings,” and warfare: “to match time of deployment with the country’s events”).
Introducing DPLA to disabled veterans made me realize two things. First, there is a real desire among VA populations to learn more about DPLA and other online resources. The Info Table format allowed only a short introductory presentation, while attendees were curious to spend more time searching beyond the major DPLA tabs, such as Bookshelf (“to search public records”) and Partners. The veterans are likely to benefit from a more formal sit-down instruction with individual computer access. Second, veterans are extremely fond of volunteers, as most of them are volunteers themselves; without exception, they were full of gratitude for the fact that I had brought DPLA into their lives.