Blogger Renee Grassi

Top 10 Ways to Tell if Your Library is Inclusive

A few months ago, I read this great article on how to tell if your child’s school is inclusive.  It got me thinking that there are so many things we can do to promote an inclusive library environment for patrons with special needs, too.  Here’s a list of just ten.

  1. Library Workers – staff at all levels create a friendly and welcoming atmosphere for patrons with special needs
  2. Building Design – all areas of building and library property are compliant with the most recent ADA Design Standards
  3. Library Spaces – bathrooms, furniture, drinking fountains, meeting rooms, and program rooms are accessible to someone with special needs; aisles between bookshelves are wide and info desks are low enough to assist patrons with wheelchairs
  4. Signage – large, readable font or Braille translation are used on signs to indicate different areas and library collections; accessible buttons for doors and elevators are available
  5. Supportive Equipment – access to hand-held magnifiers, screen readers and magnification machines to make print more accessible; adaptive keyboard and mouse for using computer stations; wheelchairs for in-library patron usage
  6. Accessible Devices – ciculating iPads and eReaders allow patrons to have access to e-content that can be resized and adjustable on a screen
  7. Alternative Formats and Collections – large type print,  audio-visual, Braille, closed-caption DVDs, adapted, toys, puzzles, or materials in a special needs specific collection are available for patrons to check out
  8. Programming – programs for all ages are open and welcoming to patrons with special needs; surveys can be made available for parents with children with special needs about accommodations
  9. Outreach – home delivery is available for patrons that have limited mobility; guided in-house and web-based tours for those that need additional assistance exploring the library
  10. Services and Communication – text or IM reference available for patrons who want to utilize the library’s services from home; priority seating given to patrons using wheelchairs; disability awareness training for staff helps provide more information and confidence to those working with patrons with special needs


  1. Inger

    Hi Ms. Grass,

    I really enjoyed reading your blog about how to evaluate libraries’ inclusiveness for all. The special needs population, children and adults, is a population well worth accommodating for. When I walk into most public libraries, I see that many of the things that you have included in your list are also available at these libraries that I visit. I am especially more aware of them now that I have started an MLS program. I am blessed that I do not require any assistive technologies right now, but it’s good that they are out there. I recently read a fairly new book entitled: Keep it Simple: A Guide to Assistive Technologies by Dr. Ravonne Green and Vera Blair, that goes into detail about the different technologies that are becoming available for special needs patrons in libraries, especially with the growing demand for them and the requirements by law to have them available in public places like public libraries. Some tutorials are even available in the book. Many academic libraries are starting to write and receive grants to make accommodations for special needs patrons as well. Not many school libraries have made things more inclusive for special needs patrons as yet (at least not in my local school division), but I imaging that it won’t be long before assistive technologies are included within school budgets. Public libraries not only need to be culturally diverse, but inclusive to special needs patrons as well, as you well expressed in your blog :-).

  2. Renee Grassi

    Thanks for the comments and that great book suggestion, Inger. I’m going to have to take a look at that–it sounds very insightful!

  3. Julie Jurgens

    I’ve been pondering this, so here’s a list of questions:
    Special needs aren’t something you leave behind in childhood. What are we doing for these users as they become teenagers and adults?
    Should children’s librarians remove grade and age descriptors from programs, and just allow anyone with interest to attend? Or should we have programs specifically for delayed adults?
    Should adult services be programming for these patrons?
    Are age and grade restrictions barriers to good service?

  4. Renee Grassi

    You bring up a good point. It’s been my experience that many adults with special needs continue to utilize the Children’s Department…for many reasons, actually. Children’s materials may be more of interest to this audience, in addition to being more developmentally appropriate and being at a lower reading level. Staff in the Children’s Department may also be more accepting of a higher noise level–this might not always be the case in all adult services departments. Because of this, my experience has been that children’s librarians end up serving adults with special needs, too, proving programming or outreach to suit their needs. That’s not always something that I agree with–I think if a library wants to be truly inclusive, all staff should serve patrons with special needs. The responsibility shouldn’t always be on children’s librarians.

    Your point about age/grade restrictions is interesting, too. When I developed Sensory Storytime, I put an age restriction on the program–not because the content of the program wouldn’t be accessible to older children with special needs. In fact, in many cases, it would be. I collaborated with two special education teachers who advised me that it could be a safety concern having 4 year olds in the same program with 10 or 12 year olds. As they explained to me, the unpredictable nature of “melt downs” of someone who is older and might not be in control of their movements may put smaller, younger children at risk. I’ve seen some librarians promote inclusive programming to the whole family, and it’s worked well for them, too. I think it depends on your community and the needs of the patrons with special needs. Are your families asking for programming specially geared towards adults with special needs, or would those adults prefer to be included with other typically developing adults? The most crucial aspect of developing programming and outreach to this community is involving the end users in the conversation. I would ask them directly what they want and include them in your planning. You may have answers to your questions right away!

    Hope this helps! 🙂

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