Color in the Library – Do they see what I think they see?

I am a relatively new researcher, and I tend to base my research interests on topics with a personal connection to me and my experiences. Two of my three boys and both of my older brothers have color vision deficiencies (aka – colorblindness). They are not alone. In fact, 8-10% of the male population has some form of color vision deficiency (CVD). Statistically speaking, there could be at least one child in every classroom who does not differentiate between colors like someone with normal color vision. To add to the confusion, it is not common for children with CVD to know they see things differently and CVD is not considered a disability for which students would receive accommodations.

Why is this important to school librarians?

Think about how color is used in your library. Color might provide information.

  • Do you use a color-coding system to label the reading levels or genres of your books?  If so, you are using color as a symbol for the reading level, providing information for the library user through the color alone. However, if a number of your students cannot differentiate between the colors, they are missing the information. The simple solution is to provide the information in an additional way, such as writing the reading level number on the label.
  • Do you organize things in your library based on color? As an elementary school librarian, I dismissed students to check out books by colors they were wearing – “If you are wearing green, you may check out books.” I wonder how many students did not know they were wearing green?
  • Do you use color-coded maps in your library instruction? Students with CVD may not be able to determine the color codes on the maps. Add another indicator, such as a pattern, to the map sections. Suddenly, the color does not limit these students from joining in the activity.

Color might be used aesthetically.

  • Do you use color in your library to make the environment more attractive and welcoming? Great! For most of the library users, the color matters and helps to create the environment you intend. Aesthetic use of color does not provide information, and therefore does not serve as a stumbling block for those with CVD.
  • Be sure you use high contrast on your signage. For example, choose a light background with dark letters (or vice-versa). Avoid color combinations that are difficult to differentiate, such as red/green, blue/purple, brown/orange. Here is a great blog post about the use of color in advertising that gives you a good idea of colors that might be difficult or confusing:
  • Allow students to choose colors that look good to them. Does it matter what color the student uses to draw or highlight? If the color does matter, provide markers or crayons that are clearly labeled with the color name. My boys refused to use any crayons that did not say “blue” or “red.” They wanted to be sure they were using the right color. Creative color names on some crayons were lost on my children.

If children are not aware they have CVD, how are educators to prepare?

  • Design your library space and library instruction to be accessible to all learners. Anticipate that there will be some students with CVD or other vision issues and create a your space and instruction to be usable by all. Universal Design for Learning is a way to prepare for all learners:
  • Talk to the school nurse, the classroom teacher, and special educators to find out about the needs of students. Go to them if you suspect a child might be having difficulties and keep the lines of communication open.

To read more about my research related to what elementary school librarians know and believe about color vision deficiencies:

For more information about color vision deficiencies, check out some of these websites: – A foundation in the UK dedicated to raising awareness of color vision deficiencies. The video clip above is from this website. – A short interview with an adult with color vision deficiencies. This is a brilliantly done look into what it is like to see colors differently. – Helpful tips for teachers, parents, and school nurses. – Done by leading researchers into color vision. “The Basics” link has two presentations with great visual examples.

Do you have any experiences with color vision deficiencies? Share them in the comments section.

3 thoughts on “Color in the Library – Do they see what I think they see?

  1. This was such an aha moment for me. It is really making me think about how I use color in my elementary library.
    Thanks for bringing this to our attention!

  2. Thanks for raising awareness of this topic in relation to the physical environment in libraries. Another concern may be contrast on a webpage, blog, or email. I’ve found an extension for Chrome named “High Contrast” that allows the user to customize the font color and background. It’s also easy to switch back to normal with a click of a button.

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