By Philip Walzer

When Evan Dorman enrolled in Old Dominion University’s master’s program in library and information studies in the fall of 2022, he didn’t know he’d grow passionate about accessibility for people with disabilities – so passionate that he co-wrote two papers on the subject and presented the results at conferences in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and London last October.

“Accessibility means making things more usable across the board, even if there are certain features that someone who does not have a disability will ever use,” said Dorman, who will receive his degree this month. “When a website is more usable, that’s good for everybody.”

Dorman, 32, grew up outside Lynchburg and graduated from the University of Virginia in 2013 with a history degree. He worked first at Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson’s plantation in Forest, Virginia, and later as a tour guide at the U.S. Capitol.

“It was a really good gig for a long time,” he said of his job in Washington. “I got to work with some incredibly funny, passionate, intelligent and creative people there.” But Dorman decided to leave after the Jan. 6 riot in 2021.

He wasn’t at the Capitol that day. During COVID, he was assigned to the archives department in the office of the Architect of the Capitol, helping check database entries against the original documents. “It was fairly basic stuff,” Dorman said, “but it was my first real opportunity to work in a library setting, and it motivated me to start looking for ways to take my career in that direction.”

Dorman, who lives in Northern Virginia, chose Old Dominion’s program because of its accreditation, in-state tuition and remote option. “I was a little apprehensive about being entirely remote,” Dorman said, “but I made some real connections with my instructors. Overall, the ODUGlobal program has been a fantastic fit.”

Kevin Mallary’s Research Methods course strengthened Dorman’s interest in accessibility issues, which had been awakened by his previous work. “With my history background, I feel special collections is part of the field that’s lagged behind,” he said. “If you have a diary, there’s probably no way to get a Braille copy, but a lot more can be done in terms of digitization and audio descriptions.”

The two papers – cowritten with Mallary and Rea Simons, both assistant professors of STEM education and professional studies; Jackie Nikiema, a graduate student at ODU; Clayton Copeland, an instructor at the University of South Carolina; and Brandy Fox, a graduate assistant at South Carolina – focus on how curricula in library studies programs cover issues of accessibility. Previous studies, Dorman said, showed that graduates report low confidence in serving patrons with disabilities.

Too often, Dorman and the others found, accessibility was covered in electives, instead of required courses. They also examined whether course objectives were backed up by assignments.

Overall, of the 39 syllabi they examined, only two met their standards for sufficient coverage of disability issues.

Dorman presented with his co-authors in Milwaukee at the conference of the Association for Library Information and Science Education and at the Association for Information Science and Technology conference in London.

At both sessions, “the reaction was ‘What’s next?’” Dorman said. “A lot of people saw the need for improvement and the need to advance that conversation.”

He thinks faculty members and students should be interviewed for their impressions.

“I don’t know if I will be personally involved in that next step,” Dorman said. “It would certainly be wonderful to have that opportunity.”

“We try to impress on our students the importance of lifelong learning,” Mallary said. “He is truly an exemplar of that mission. He’s always challenging himself and asking questions. Master’s students don’t normally get to engage in the extent of research that Evan has been involved in.

“Every time I meet with him, I’m learning as much as if not more than what he can learn from me.”

Dorman is finishing an internship at George Mason University’s Special Collections Research Center. He’s hoping to find a full-time job at an archive or another special collections library.

“If possible, I want to look at digital offerings and accessibility and finding ways to improve the reach of those resources,” he said.