At the 2009 ALA Annual Conference the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) presented the terrific program Serving Students on the Spectrum. The program was hosted by Alison Ernst, Director — Northfield Mount Hermon School (MA) Library and Academic Resources and Ernie Cox, Media Specialist — St. Timothy’s School (NC) with the following panelists: Patty Saidenberg, Consultant — Trent Learning Corp. (NY); Georgia Winson, Director — Autism Program of Illinois; Bernadette Nowakowski, Director — Chicago Public Library Children & Young Adult Services; Lally Daley, Clinician — Autism Program of Illinois; Christopher Flint, Lead Trainer – Autism Program of Illinois; Joanne Hughes, Chicago Public Library Board Member and Parent.
Each panelist discussed their unique experiences and approaches to working with children and families dealing with Autism/Asperger’s Syndrome. Particularly of interest to me was the discussion by Bernie Nowakowski of Chicago Public Library (CPL) and the work that this organization is doing to create awareness and knowledge among staff as well as providing ability-appropriate programs and services to the public.
Some of the ways in which CPL has begun to serve families with Autism are: providing collections and programs that reflect the needs of the community, strong community outreach, partnerships that strengthen and enhance opportunities for all, creating a safe physical space and presence in the community, and staff training. The CPL website also includes a list of resources and bibliographies of interest to those dealing with Autism.
Providing programs to the public is certainly a very important aspect of serving this user group, but even more effective is coupling programming with staff training. Staff members who have received training to increase their awareness and understanding of how to most effectively communicate with individuals with Autism will fully round out the overall experience for families using the library.
There have been several postings on this blog in the past year about creating programming for patrons with special needs. It is very encouraging to know that there are many librarians out there who view the Autism community as an underserved population and are seeking to remedy this. I am currently working to improve programs and services at my own Library to address these needs.
Attending this program confirmed for me that I am on the right path to creating well-trained staff and quality programs for the Autism community in my area. Several resources were shared throughout the program including the following websites:
Attendees were encouraged to seek out partnerships with organizations in their home areas to aid in the education of staff members and to promote the services being provided at the library. Parents are a wonderful asset to partner with as well. Parents know their children best and can provide insight into the types of programs and services that will be most beneficial to their children. Panelist Joanne Hughes, a parent of a child with Autism, provided a unique perspective on how libraries can best serve children on the spectrum.
The other panelists shared ideas and tips for working with Autistic children in library programming. Patty Saidenberg shared examples on how to utilize different approaches to teaching library skills to students, while Lally Daley and Christopher Flint shared information on providing training to professionals and information on creating tools to utilize in programs.
There has been an increasing amount of literature being published specifically for libraries serving individuals on the Autism Spectrum which will help all of us to begin integrating support and awareness into everyday services and programs.
I hope that the consistent sharing of resources and information regarding this service audience will begin to inspire more and more librarians each day to embrace this wonderfully unique community of library users. After attending the AASL program I know that I have been inspired even further to provide the best programs and services for my service community, whether they are dealing with Autism or not, everyone deserves a safe, accepting, and inclusive environment to grow and learn.
Assistant Branch Manager/Youth Services Department Head
Green Valley Library