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Posted by on Jan 16, 2019 in Student Paper, Student Submission |

Literature Review on Universal Design and Academic Libraries

Linda Yau

DSSV 617

Dr. Sheryl Burgstahler


Fall 2017

Revised January 2019


Within the academic library, there are standards in higher education to support learning and scholarship. The library has ongoing influences from a changing patron base and significant advancement in technology. How do the Universal Design (UD) principles and their various frameworks merge with existing library practices? Universal design is a concept and framework from the twentieth to twenty first century targeted toward aiding a countless number of diverse people. There is literature that speaks about the potential of UD examined with library driven products of information literacy, website design, online tutorials and electronic books. There is room for growth as time progresses, and the potential of adopting a universal design framework with current library practices is a step toward inclusion and improving standards.


In higher education, the academic library exists as a location for supporting learning and scholarship for the community. The library is a physical and virtual environment where in person, users of all backgrounds can seek librarians or information service professionals for help with research and other scholarly reasons. Librarians are tasked with multiple responsibilities of assessing library user needs, creating research aids, maintaining academic standards and teaching scholarly integrity. Librarians also adapt and use principles from professional associations to maintain standards, in addition to ensuring that what they can do is be inclusive to the best of their abilities. Technology is a very big part of contemporary libraries, so the functions that librarians have to create online web pages, tutorials and also be an area for sharing electronic books is also an area where principles of universal design can be applied.

Methodology and Guiding Question

In searching for relevant materials for this small, but growing area of the scholarly field, databases ie: Academic Search Complete, JSTOR, CUNY One Search, and Google Scholar were searched with keyword terms. The keywords included this and variants at different intervals of the research phase, such as “universal design (UD),” “library instruction,” “technology,” “inclusion,” “best and current practices.” This paper is also going to be structured in thematic order, not in chronological order, with the understanding that many disability studies areas are not elaborated on ie: Americans with Disabilities Act and ADA Amendment Act, or the social model and medical model of disability studies. The selected articles paint a picture of how current practices in the library with information literacy and the advancing technological environment in ebooks, website design, and online tutorials have been fluid with selected articles that expanded how librarians have maintained that the library is able to meet the needs of its diverse user base.

The articles reviewed in this paper are from the perspective of how the principles of universal design and other frameworks have resulted ie: universal design for learning (UDL) can be integrated into various facets of the library. This literature review is guided by these questions:

  • What does the current literature say about universal design in relation to how a librarian can adapt UD to an academic library?
  • What areas are there in an academic library that can be improved with adapting universal design principles?
  • What is the difference between assistive technology and universal design for learning? Can they be merged?
  • How is UDL possible in library instruction or ensuring that information literacy be possible?

Universal Design and Frameworks

Universal design is a concept and recent framework that has its origins in architecture, product design, and information technology. Universal design is “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.” (Connell, Jones, Mace, Mueller, Mullick, Ostroff, Stanford, Steinfeld, Story & Vanderheiden, 1997). There are seven principles that let researchers know that there are areas in the environment that can be improved to include spaces designed for people of all backgrounds and abilities. The concept expanded in the 1990’s to 2010’s to include other area for education to ensure that other fields can use UD principles in frameworks like Universal Design for Learning (UDL) or Universal Design of Instruction (UDI). The UD, UDL, UDI, principles, and frameworks is listed by Burghstahler’s (2001, 2009), DO-IT handout and this is a succinct document for administrators and professionals to use.

Time progresses; legislations enacted that also roll into higher education and technology improve, and it seems timely to sum what is happening to Universal design as it goes into a second decade. Edyburn’s (2010) article states that there is little research on UDL, but there is still a great deal of research written for assessing UD principles (Edyburn, 2010; Pisha & Coyne, 2001; Chodock & Dolinger, 2009; Zhong, 2012). “The reality is that once we understand the principles of UDL, we move from advocacy to accommodations…we are left to our own devices to try to apply the UDL principles to create more accessible accommodations,” (Edyburn, 2010).  Librarians can use principles in Universal Design and Universal Design for learning interchangeably insuring that the library is inclusive to all users, and times have changed, and the user body diversifies. It is also easier for library professionals to confer and see the best practices that is reported and meet together to adapt and consider how it would fit institutions that can include their own.

Changing Patronage or Users

Historically, higher education was only available to Caucasian able bodied men, and with the occurrence of the world wars, the civil rights era, the women’s right to vote, and recently the disability rights movement. The users in the libraries are changing since the United States passed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, and the ADA Amendment Act in 2008 (, 2017). This led the way for people with disabilities to enroll in increasing numbers across the United States, but it also did not change the reality that libraries are available to be used by people who are traditional college-aged students, nontraditional students, faculty or staff, aging or English language learners. In comparison to many departments, libraries are physical spaces that have been made available to students beyond normal business hours.

Information Literacy

To infuse library instruction, development, and collaboration and to update to the emerging technology and respond to the library user’s needs, there have to be updated principles for the librarian professionals to relate to. A professional association, the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) released an update for establishing the standards of information literacy (ACRL, 2000, 2016). Information literacy is defined as “a set of abilities requiring individuals to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.” In the updated standards of information literacy, there are six concepts that are centered on developing an information literate learner. These principles are: Authority Is Constructed and Contextual, Information Creation as a Process, Information Has Value, Research as Inquiry, Scholarship as Conversation, Searching as Strategic Exploration. A mission of the academic library is to ensure that students have the knowledge to develop a tool base for becoming critical thinking and independent learners.

The responsibilities an academic library supports, is an issue that Owusu-Ansah (2004) writes, colleges has to prepare students for society, and with the issue of how “prevailing practices that left some students out and repetitively engaged others, the deficiency of existing systems of library instruction” can be seen as an effect of the advancements in high tech technology. For many colleges there has been a lessening of library instructions (Dewald, 1999), and to not have librarians be able to teach students how to research or become independent learners is a disservice to the strengths and resources of a library for the inclusion of library users.

Chodock & Dolinger (2009) has a particularly influential article as it speaks about the necessity for library services to use UD principles, but it brings up an issue, “there is very little published, however on applying UD to library instruction or library instructions for students with learning disabilities.” This article actually suggested guidelines and a term, Universal Design for Information Literacy (UDIL), and suggests for application with the application of other research tools ie: citation tools, scaffold building through smaller assignments to build into a larger project, or the action of asking for feedback which is a UDI techniques.

Zhong’s (2012) article refers to Chodock & Dolinger (2009), and while Zhong (2012) states that there is not as much change in the three years since the earlier article was written, the latter article writes that the library is concern with ensuring that assistive technology and universal design for learning principles are more utilized in the library setting. Zhong’s (2012) article suggests for establishing a syllabus template, and conducted a survey with an English class to ensure what students wanted to have during information literacy courses. Results from this survey were that students wanted more hands on exercises despite this is not a traditional instructional method of lecture and copying notes. Students also relied on PowerPoint slides, so this has to be accessible, and students benefited from group activities as well as study groups. This is a practical way of seeking what students need and the strengths of these articles is it being a professional text for suggesting guidelines for instructors and other librarians to consider working on adapting UD principles in teaching (Chodock & Dolinger, 2009; Zhong, 2012).

Website Design

As the concept of Universal design was developed from the 1990’s, around the same time, libraries have also been changing, from paper to digital. More library resources and databases became only digitally available and printed on user’s demands. Libraries gained a digital presence, competing with other web services or pages for repeated visits from the user base. McGilis and Toms (2001) write that library users will be accessing the library’s website to equate it with service that they can get at the physical library space. The library’s homepage “is a complex application, integrating access to and interacting with a diverse set of information products and services and with people.” McGillis and Toms (2001) surveys and considers the parameters a website has to have to be relevant or easy to use, repeated visitation from a user base and guarantees a library users’ satisfaction in library service.

In Bowlby, Franklin & Lin (2011), a study that was done about a decade after McGillis and Toms (2001), on what criteria a library websites have to have in emphasizing ease. There is also mention of a webpage’s visual layout (color, space, and layout), information architecture (how many clicks to get from query and solution, labels, heading functionality), content (clarity or readability, consistency). With the advancement of technology and internet accessibility, this is a consideration of Universal Design. The library has to evolve with time and for the user to consider any space digital or physical as an information problem solver. It is important to look at the layout of the library’s digital presence to also be able to apply principles of universal design.

Online Tutorials

Another area where libraries can be applied with universal design principles is with online tutorials. Dewald (1999) article is a dated read, but with information literacy involving classroom instruction or reference service and that can be limited. Instructional librarians can work on creating online tutorials as a way to produce materials. “Library instruction on the web can supplement and complement classroom instruction by expanding the library’s teaching option and by expanding the student’s option of time and place for instructions,” (1999).

Dewald’s article is a primer for Kavanagh Webb and Hoover’s (2015) article. Their article is the most recent literature reviewed in this paper, and is a good case study at how library produced tutorials or guides can be applied to UDL’s multiple means of representation principle, where there is a consideration for ensuring that teaching materials that include online library tutorial and guides have text, images and audio materials that can meet students whose learning preferences are visual, kinesthetic, and/or auditory. “Students bring their own learning preferences and abilities to the library when seeking help. It is important to meet their information needs,” (2015).

Electronic Books

A traditional representation of a library is in the printed collection or availability of books. In the world of now, with technology being upgraded. There is the existence of electronic books also known as eBooks, and this is changing how libraries function as more books are also available in electronic book formats. The eBook has many functions that can be applied to universal principles. In the article of Pisha and Coyne (2001), there is the mention of designing a flexible and digital textbook as a support for a strategic reader. In a digital textbook, there would be built in support, and develop learning in a digital learning environment. A digital textbook is readily available and can be accessed with an internet connection. If there is enough time before publishing the eBook, then it can be as the article (Pisha and Coyne, 2001) states, “ongoing efforts to design educational materials that contain supports for a wide range of diverse learners will result in better materials for all learners, materials that are smart from the start.”

In another article written by Rose, Hsselbring, Stahl, and Zabala (2005), this idea is considered, that with digital books, there should be a consideration for the publisher’s policy and the college’s technology capabilities. In disability rights, there has already been the existence of assistive technology, and in addition to universal design principles they are not the same but would complement one another. Yet assistive technology works with the idea of supporting an individual, fitting the idea of solving a problem when it arises, contrary to universal design for supporting as many people and designing solutions from the beginning. So when there are policy and technology, a policy is akin to considering one student who has a legitimate right to an eBook, which is recognized as an alternate format. Technology is also different among colleges because what is feasible in one college can be not feasible in another college, constraint by budget. This is aptly summed by by the article, that with creating alternate formats, it is “a custom project. There is no economy of scale, no consistent quality control, no guarantee of efficient or timely delivery, and no guarantee of a consistent or harmonious interface with changing assistive technologies.”

Discussion and Future Research

In service units of higher education outside of the classroom, such as the academic library there are existing guidelines or standards to practice, and for the frameworks of UD, to be applied there is a continual challenge as more people are learning how to apply universal design to their own working practice and then writing for publication. There are many areas within the library that continually need to be researched and studied, and this is what makes learning about how universal design can be adapted to the library a progressive area of research for working professionals in improving inclusion and moving away from the accommodations model. Edyburn (2010) makes an excellent suggestion for continued dialogue with ten suggested principles, that can lead scholarly questioning or more practices to consider as the existence of UD progresses into more decades.

This was suggested in several of the articles to continue to research and see how universal design can continually fit in with library instruction, basing on more field experiences, more research and assessments that is to be published (Chodock & Dolinger, 2009; Zhong, 2012). The profession and responsibilities of higher education professionals like librarians or disability services professionals will continue to change with the advancement of technologies, and perhaps frameworks like universal design into higher education (Owusu-Ansah, 2004; Rose et al., 2005; Edyburn, 2010; Pisah and Coyne, 2001). More responses or usage of the various mentioned guidelines and standards is supported by a few articles, so that is an issue to consider (Dewald, 1999; McGillis & Toms, 2001; Bowlby et al., 2011; Kavanagh Webb & Hoover, 2015).


Universal design and how it can be applied in libraries still has room to continue to grow, because there is the continued research of universal design implemented into library services being written. There are different aspects of the library that can all be used to be adapted or improved with universal design and its various frameworks (UDL, UDI etc.) There is literature that has been written from the librarian perspective, from a teaching perspective, from a technology perspective and suggesting guidelines or standards. Though there is not as much written in the literature that outright connects universal design principles with some of the literature, but for learning and piecing together, there is a clear focus on what librarians can continue to do, as the field progresses for making innovations in library services, whether it is in person or it is on a digital platform.

References (2017). “The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and Revised ADA Regulations Implementing Title II and Title III.” Retrieved from


American Library Association. (2000). “Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education.” Retrieved from


ACRL. (2016). “Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education.” Retrieved from


Bowlby, R., Franklin, B. & C. A. Lin. (2011). “Utilizing LibQUAL+® to Identify Best Practices in Academic Research Library Website Design” OpenCommons@UConn Published Works. 40. Retrieved from


Burgshaler, S. (2001). “Universal Design of Instruction.” DO-IT. Retrieved from


Burgshaler, S. (2009). “Universal Design of Instruction (UDI): Principles, Guidelines, and Examples.” DO-IT. Retrieved from


Chodock, T., & Dolinger, E. (2009). “Applying universal design to information literacy: Teaching students who learn differently at Landmark College.” Reference and User Services Quarterly49(1), 24-32.


Connell, B.R., Jones, M., Mace, R., Mueller, J., Mullick, A., Ostroff, E., Stanford, J., Steinfeld, E., Story, M., & G. Vanderheiden, (1997). “The Principles of Universal Design.” The Center for Universal Design at NC State University. Retrieved from


Dewald, N. H. (1999). “Transporting Good Library Instruction Practices into the Web Environment: An Analysis of Online Tutorials.” Journal of Academic Librarianship. 25(1) 26-23.


Edyburn, D. L. (2010). “Would you recognize universal design for learning if you saw it? Ten propositions for new directions for the second decade of UDL.” Learning Disability Quarterly33, 33–41.


Kavanagh Webb, K., & Hoover, J. (2015). “Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in the Academic Library: A Methodology for Mapping Multiple Means of Representation in Library Tutorials.” College & Research Libraries, 76(4), 537-553. Retrieved from


McGillis, L., & Toms, E. G. (2001). “Usability of the academic library Web site: implications for design.” College & Research Libraries, 62(4), 355-367.


Owusu-Ansah, E. K. (2004). “Information Literacy and Higher Education: Placing the Academic Library in the Center of a Comprehensive Solution.” Journal of Academic Librarianship, 30(1), 3-16.


Pisha, B., & Coyne, P. (2001). “Smart From the Start: The Promise of Universal Design for Learning.” Remedial & Special Education, 22(4), 197.


Rose, D.H., Hasselbring, T.S., Stahl, S., & J. Zabala. (2005). “Assistive Technology and Universal Design for Learning: Two Sides of the Same Coin.” In. D. Edyburn, K. Higgins, & R. Boone (EDs). Handbook of Special education technology research and practice (pp. 507-518). Whitefish Bay, WI: Knowledge by Design.


Zhong, Y. (2012). “Universal design for learning (UDL) in library instruction.” College & Undergraduate Libraries, 19, 33-45.

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