Access to research

Pauline Vetuna
Melbourne writers have two great resources in the city. The State Library of Victoria has a huge reference collection. The Wheeler Centre is Australia's first centre for books, writing and ideas. Both buildings are accessible to people with a disability. The State Library has technology to assist people with a disability. Library staff can also provide assistance. Interpreters can be provided at library events. Hearing loops are also available. The Wheeler Centre can also help people with a disability access their events.
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Pauline Vetuna on 17/08/2011
An older man wearing glasses is reading a book in a library

The State Library of Victoria has the state's largest reference collection

The Melbourne Writers Festival starts next week. Many new writers will be inspired to start work on new novels, stories and poetry. The first step for many writers will be research. Fortunately, Melbourne-based writers have two great resources to use – The State Library and the Wheeler Centre. They are both very accessible to people with a disability.

The State Library of Victoria has the state's largest reference collection. It has been a Melbourne institution since 1854. It can be found at 328 Swanston Street. It is close to the Melbourne Central train station and other public transport. More information can be found on the library website (opens new window).

The Wheeler Centre is Australia's first centre for books, writing and ideas. It opened in February 2010. The centre is near the library at 176 Little Lonsdale Street. It hosts many talks, forums and debates for writers. The centre is also home to several key literary organisations. These include The Emerging Writers' Festival, The Melbourne Writers Festival and The Victorian Writers' Centre. More information can be found on the centre's website (opens new window).

Accessibility at the library

The accessibility at the State Library of Victoria is good. The library has a ramp leading to the front Swanston Street entrance. There is also a ramp at the LaTrobe Street entrance near the café. Inside the library there are elevators providing access to all public spaces above the ground floor. The library also has wheelchair accessible toilets.

Helpful staff

Jan Brennan is the customer service librarian. She has over 26 years of experience working in the library. She can help visitors with a disability find their way around. You can also ask any other staff member for assistance. Librarians can also be contacted online and via the telephone. Contact details can be found on the library website's ask a librarian page (opens new window).

Assistive technology room

The library has an assistive technology room. You have to register at the front desk to use it. But you do not need a booking. A librarian will first assess your needs and record your details. You should then be able to use the room.

The room has many different assistive technologies. They include:

  • Track balls
  • A Braille Blazer printer
  • A Merlin electronic magnifier
  • a ScanR which can scan and convert printed documents to text and save to BrailleNote devices
  • Alternate keyboards and keyboard stands
  • Document holders and magnifiers
  • Headphones and microphones.

Assistive software

Computers in the assistive technology room have a variety of different assistive software. Tools include:

  • Jaws screen reader
  • ZoomText
  • Duxbury Braille translation software
  • Kurzweil 1000 reading tool for converting print to speech
  • Dragon Naturally Speaking.

The staff in the library can help you use the assistive technology equipment. But they cannot train or instruct you how to use the software. Users should also be aware that voice recognition tool Dragon Naturally Speaking needs to be trained to your voice before you can use it. The training takes time. You need to demonstrate to the library that you will use the software on an ongoing basis. They will then help set up a user profile for you.

Information Centre

The Information Centre on the ground floor contains computers with internet access. People with a disability have priority use of one of the computers. You can use this computer for up to one hour if you ask a librarian. There are also many other public computers to use in the library. All reading rooms also have magnifying sheets and communication boards.

Public events

The library hosts many public events. All event venues are wheelchair accessible. Information on upcoming events can found on the library website's what's on page (opens new window).

Let the library know if you need an Auslan or relay interpreter when booking for an event. You should also let the library know if you need to use a hearing loop. The library's theatrette has a permanent audio induction loop. The library can also provide portable loops on request.

Events at the library are sometimes recorded. If they are recorded you can request transcripts in Braille or large print. You can also request a copy of the recording on CD or DVD.

The Wheeler Centre

The Wheeler Centre is accessible for people with a disability. The building has a wheelchair accessible ramp at the entrance. There are also elevators and accessible toilets.

Two areas of the centre are open to the public. They are the Victorian Writers Centre and the café. The centre says people should advise of any accessibility needs when they book for an event.

Lectures and debates

Most of the events are either free or low-cost. You can book tickets online. But if you need an Auslan interpreter you will need to contact the centre at least two weeks before the event. You can call 9094 7809 or email reception (opens new window).

Events cover a wide array of topics. Guest speakers have included comedians, politicians, philosophers, ethicists, poets, songwriters, novelists and screenwriters. Guests have been from around Australia and the world. Upcoming events can be found on the Wheeler Centre website's calendar (opens new window). Videos of past events are also available to view online. However the videos do not feature captions.

Readers comments (2)

Great article Pauline. There is a lot of really useful information that should encourage people to visit both places, thanks Maureen.

Cheers Maureen. The State Library is magnificent, and FREE. One of my favourite places in the city. The Wheeler Centre have facilitated some terrific discussions. My hope is more people will use these fantastic resources.

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