Working toward access and affordability in higher education

By Amber Lautigar Reichert | March 16, 2023

Library resources have the capacity to enlighten and empower, but only for those who have the time, know-how, and ability to use them — making equitable access a complex concept. Financial challenges are another pressing issue for college students and can interfere with their education in myriad ways, such as through food insecurity or concerns over the cost of textbook materials.

In recent years the Library has implemented staff-wide practices to improve access, including the adoption of design principles that place accessibility at the center of user decision-making; taking care to emphasize that Library resources are available fully free of change — something not all incoming students are aware of; and providing broad accessibility training for staff. Other focus areas include:



The Mellon-funded Federated Repositories of Accessible Materials for Higher Education project continues working to ensure that material remediated for accessibility is preserved, organized, and made discoverable for reuse, thus reducing the duplication of staff effort to improve service to people with disabilities. Recent work by UVA Library Software Engineer Ray Lubinsky has focused on improving the delivery of search results within an accessible interface, allowing users to easily find the right texts, while project partner Benetech, a software company, has concentrated on math and science materials, using artificial intelligence to automate the process of making complex symbols accessible for low- vision or blind readers.

Implementation of and advocacy for electronic course reserves has meant significantly increased ease of access for students who may face mobility or health challenges. Contrasted with print reserves, electronic reserves enable students to log in and access course materials from anywhere in the world.

Accessible and inclusive spaces

Inclusive design is built from the ground up in the new main library, which is undergoing a major renovation until 2024. New entrances, inclusive restrooms, and better elevators will make for more pleasant and safe experiences for all visitors. Plus, the new public connection linking to Clemons Library will ensure easy, weather-protected access between major Library locations.

After a renovation completed in 2021, the Fine Arts Library now includes spacious, private, gender-inclusive, wheelchair-accessible restrooms on the first and second floors.

The Special Collections Accessibility Working Group has undertaken a number of projects, such as improving exterior signage, staff accessibility training, and the procurement of new height-adjustable tables for the reading room thanks to support from the UVA Parents Fund.

Tools for education

Close partnerships with University accessibility services, such as the Student Disability Access Center, the Office for Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights, and the University Captioning Coordinator, seek to make accessibility information easy to find through the Library website. This includes extensive guidance about captioning, assistive technology, and ways to get assistance for yourself or for others.

Additionally, all documents available on the Library website, including assessment reports, annual reports, and more, are now fully accessible PDFs.

The Library’s Access Services team works closely with the Student Disability Access Center to provide a consistent level of access to content for students requesting an accessibility accommodation. Both Access Services and SDAC scan print materials for students who use a screen reader or other assistive technology, and services are coordinated such that students receive accessible content in a consistent format and level of processing. Access Services also acquires or borrows physical copies of requested materials for students whose accommodation is best served by accessing content in a physical format. By coordinating these services, the Library and SDAC ensure a consistently high service level that remains flexible enough to meet the needs of an individual student.

Finally, the Library received funding from the Provost’s Office in spring 2022 to cover more than 30 hours of proactive captioning of audiovisual materials, including the entire William Elwood Civil Rights Lawyers Project Collection, as well as open educational resources, teaching and learning materials, and items from the Robertson Media Center.


Open educational resources are high-quality learning materials that can be used, edited, and shared free of charge. The Library offers extensive information about finding and creating OER; as well as regularly recurring information sessions; all with the goal of lessening expenses for students while maintaining high-quality educational materials. Additionally, the Library recently launched OER affordability and equity grants to offer assistance and incentives to instructors wishing to use or create OER materials.

Open educational resources programs are guided by Judith Thomas, Director of Faculty Programs, with a team that includes Teaching and Learning librarians Bethany Mickel and Haley Gillilan, as well as Open Access Librarian Winston Barham.

The open access movement is another way education is made more affordable, by encouraging the creation of published academic articles without paywall restrictions.

The School of Data Science has worked closely with the Library through subject liaison and Associate Director of Research Data Services + Social, Natural, and Engineering Sciences Jenn Huck to make open access practices part of the departmental culture. Additionally, the UVA Faculty Senate endorsed repository-based open access in their open access guidelines, underscoring the importance of Library work to help faculty understand options for open access publishers and licensing.

Finally, UVA is proud to have been accepted into Virginia’s Academic Library Consortium’s “Curriculum Driven Acquisitions” Program beginning in fall 2022. Through the program, the consortium receives a list of assigned course texts and uses central funds to acquire unlimited-use e-books for the Library’s collection. Through this mechanism, the program relieves financial pressures on students, and serves to build the Library’s collection in an organic manner. UVA Library’s acceptance into the program is a result of collaboration between the UVA Bookstore and Scholarly Resources and Content Strategy staff, particularly members of the Library’s Acquisitions team.

This story originally appeared in the Library’s Annual Report for FY 2022-23. Download the full PDF to read more.