Universal Design for Learning in Academic Libraries: Theory into Practice

ACRL announces the publication of Universal Design for Learning in Academic Libraries: Theory into Practice, edited by Danielle Skaggs and Rachel M. McMullin. It includes lesson plans and strategies for the wide range of instructional activities that occur in academic libraries, including in-person, online, synchronous, asynchronous, and research help, as well as different types of academic library work such as access services and leadership.

Learn more about Universal Design for Learning in Academic Libraries in this excerpt from the Preface by the editors, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.


Even though we are colleagues, we grew interested in Universal Design for Learning (UDL) quite independently. Danielle, as a distance librarian who works a lot with tutorials and websites, eventually found UDL after working on improving the accessibility of her web-based products. She loves the focus of UDL on intentionally designing for many types of learners, which helps put accessibility into the planning stages instead of as an accommodation after the fact. Rachel, a humanities subject specialist librarian who does a lot of teaching, stumbled across UDL while researching how to better support students with autism (our university has a thriving autism support program). She loved the idea that UDL strategies implemented to help one group of students would also benefit many others. Plus, she was excited to find quite a few techniques that could be easily incorporated into her teaching with a minimal time commitment. We both wanted to learn more about UDL and do more with it in our jobs.

While each of us saw UDL as something that could greatly benefit our students and other library users, we also each felt a bit stymied when we dug deeper into how to implement UDL into our work. When we reached out to the literature on UDL to look for ideas, finding what we needed took a lot of work. At the time, the body of scholarship applying UDL to academic librarianship was very small. Rachel, looking to add UDL to her instruction, was able to find many articles and book chapters about applying UDL to college-level classes, but the vast majority of them were focused on semester-length courses. Large parts of these articles focused on discussing strategies that only applied when a teacher met with their students repeatedly over time—like developing syllabi or creating relationships with students—and didn’t apply to Rachel’s situation as a librarian who teaches one-shot instruction sessions. She found herself reading through dozens of articles, often finding only a strategy or two from each that she could use. Meanwhile, Danielle found lots of strategies for increasing the accessibility of websites and learning objects and a growing body of literature on accessibility audits but not much on broader UDL strategies that could be incorporated into library tutorials and research guides.

This book was born from those experiences. We realized that the lack of scholarship specific to UDL and academic librarians was serving as a barrier to implementation, as many academic librarians would simply not have the time to take a deep dive into the broader body of scholarship on the topic. Plus, we saw potential for UDL to be incorporated into academic libraries much more broadly than just in the classroom and on the website. We had questions, like, How does UDL relate to other frameworks or theories that guide library practices? What would applying UDL look like at a reference desk or other service point? Can UDL be applied to other areas of academic librarianship, such as cataloging, electronic resources, or even library administration?

About the Book

Part I of the book is focused on providing background for understanding UDL and thinking about how to apply it to academic librarianship. If you are new(er) to UDL, you may want to begin by reading our introductory chapter (chapter 1). It starts with a brief introduction to the history of UDL (and other UD frameworks) and then provides an overview of the scholarship to date on UDL in higher education more generally and in academic libraries specifically. In chapter 2, Stafanie Havelka introduces readers to the federal laws, regulations, and policies that either cite or are relevant to UDL. This knowledge can not only inform our own practice but also better equip us to discuss UDL with campus faculty and administrators. In chapter 3, Hannah Loewen, Gwendolyn B. Peart, Bethany Radcliffe, and Garrett B. Trott explore how UDL theory can be applied to the reference interview. They highlight the interplay between UDL and another well-known framework, the Reference and User Services Association guidelines for reference providers, and provide a model for how to assess if you are successfully incorporating UDL into your reference interactions.

Part II of the book explores how librarians can apply UDL to the wide range of instructional activities that occur in academic libraries, including in-person, synchronous, and asynchronous instruction and research help. It begins where Part I left off, with reference and research support. In chapter 4, Mary Margaret Cornwell provides a case study of how her library partnered with their university’s student disability services office to update their research consultation process, illustrating how UDL can inspire simple changes that can make consultations more accessible and welcoming for students.

In chapter 5, Sandy Hervieux sets the stage for a series of chapters focused on instruction. She sees UDL as an essential partner for the ACRL Framework for Information Library for Higher Education, arguing that while the Framework covers what to teach, UDL can provide the strategies for how to teach. She used UDL and the Frameworkin tandem, along with backward design, to create workshops that began in person, then were later also adapted for online delivery. Erica Defrain also focuses on adapting UDL-infused course materials in chapter 6. But in her case, the starting point was the creation of synchronous online workshops that used UDL principles to incorporate maximum flexibility. This then allowed for reuse of many course materials asynchronously to provide even more support for students. In chapter 7, Jenny Dale and Samantha Harlow address how they implemented UDL when forced to move from in-person to online instruction. In this two-part chapter, they describe how they incorporated UDL strategies in the training they offered to support their fellow librarians in this transition as well as providing the UDL strategies they encouraged everyone to adopt in their own synchronous and asynchronous instruction.

Next, we have several chapters that take a deeper dive into the application of UDL in the online library environment. In chapter 8, Kimberly Shotick explores how incorporating UDL into online instruction can support inclusion and equity, aligning it with antiracist and culturally sustaining pedagogies. She then illustrates ways of incorporating each of the three main UDL principles and provides a worksheet to guide readers in incorporating engagement, diverse representation, and accessibility. In chapter 9, Elisabeth B. White illustrates the extremely close connections between UDL and the WCAG guidelines and provides ten concrete and doable tips for incorporating UDL when developing online learning. These two chapters then set the stage for two case studies of librarians incorporating UDL into Springshare products. In chapter 10, Madeline Ruggiero discusses how she first created a LibWizard tutorial imbued with UDL elements. This tutorial then allowed her to move from traditional lecture to a flipped class model and led to the incorporation of even more UDL elements into the class sessions. And in chapter 11, Lauren Kehoe and Iris Bierlein describe how they led their library through a process of revising all their LibGuides to include accessibility and UDL features. Readers may be interested in both the process they followed and the specific list of changes that they asked the librarians to make.

Part III of the book transitions us to academic library work that happens more behind the scenes. For instance, libraries can play a leading role in the creation and adoption of open educational resources (OER) across academia, and this book offers three very different chapters on how to support that work using UDL. Samantha Peter and Hilary Baribeau set the stage with chapter 12, where they align OER not only with UDL theory but also open pedagogy and critical open pedagogy while highlighting the ways that librarians can encourage and support faculty in creating OER. In chapter 13, Michael Chee and Kari D. Weaver introduce a systematic design process that incorporates documentation of all steps of OER creation as a means of both ensuring that librarians incorporate UDL principles into the OER’s first life and encouraging their retention during adoption and adaptation. Of course, OER are not impactful unless adopted, and in chapter 14, Sabrina Davies describes how she incorporated UDL into the marketing of OER, customizing her approach to win over each group across campus (provost, deans, chairs, faculty, and students). Although her work was focused on OER, we think it is widely applicable to anyone with an interest in applying UDL to the marketing of library resources and services.

Part III then continues with three chapters that each take on applying UDL to very different aspects of academic library work. In chapter 15, Arden Kirkland and Minor Gordon illustrate how UDL can be applied to technical services. Although their chapter focuses on applying UDL to the cataloging process, their work resonates extremely well with the chapters in part II on how UDL can support learners—in this case, the learners are the catalogers themselves who could use extra support in learning and applying a very complicated process. Next, in chapter 16, Victoria Eastes, Lisa Kallman Hopkins, Bridgit McCafferty, and Johnnie Porter show how their library supports Universal Design and UDL by actively incorporating accessibility in every aspect of the library. They have extended their efforts beyond the classroom and website by actively pursuing accessibility of all electronic resources and all documents produced for their e-reserves and archives. This section ends with chapter 17 from Garrett B. Trott on UDL and leadership. Trott argues that UDL resonates with many existing leadership theories and can be applied to leadership just as easily as it can be to instruction. This is another chapter with great potential for wider application—in this case, well beyond academic libraries.

Finally, Part IV of the book focuses on librarians who have not only adopted UDL themselves but have also found ways to become advocates for it beyond their own library. In chapter 18, Urszula Lechtenberg discusses how librarians can incorporate UDL into research assignments to benefit all students and encourages librarians to work with faculty members to do this, including providing concrete tips for librarians who are interested in starting these discussions. Finally, like many authors in part II, Breanne A. Kirsch and Katelyn Sabelko began by infusing UDL strategies into their own work, including both credit-bearing information literacy courses and student worker training. But they didn’t stop there—chapter 19 describes how they became leading voices on their campus encouraging the implementation of UDL, including providing university-wide training. Their work led to UDL becoming part of both their university’s general education curriculum and strategic plan.