Being a children’s librarian goes beyond serving children. Certainly, that’s a HUGE part of the job, but the reality is that our jobs are more encompassing than that. We are challenged and rewarded by serving the needs of patrons of all ages, and that includes the needs of parents and caregivers. If your library is focusing on outreach to children with special needs, don’t forget that the parents of these children require our services, too. Here’s just a short list of things that public libraries can offer parents of children with disabilities.
Special Needs Collections: If your library already has a parenting collection, think about expanding it or adding a new, targeted collection of items focusing on special needs related topics. Whether this collection is simply made up of adult materials, or if it includes a combination of materials that both adults and children can use, there is a variety of ways you could serve the informational needs of your community. And highlighting those materials in a separate collection makes those items more accessible and noticeable. Make sure to gather input from your patrons first–you might discover that your community is interested in this collection having a specific focus.
Parent Workshops: Libraries are community centers for learning, so it makes sense to offer learning opportunities for parents about a variety of special needs related topics. You could bring in guest experts to speak on topics, such as education, technology, language development, medical issues, or even advocacy. Providing a forum for discussion of topic issues is a great way to get your community informed and involved. At my former library, we hosted a series of Tech Talk parent workshop programs. We knew we wanted to serve this audience of parents specifically, so we partnered with a local assistive technology specialist and offered a parent program called “Is There An App For That? Using iPads with Children with Special Needs.” It was well received and well attended!
Booklists: It’s been my experience that sometimes parents who have a child with special needs are looking for ways to introduce a new concept or topic to their child. Often times, those parents are looking to the library to find a book to help that conversation along. Quick and handy, booklists are perfect for getting book recommendations into the hands of you patrons right away. They act as great passive reader’s advisory tools, as well, for those that are not comfortable asking more personal questions at the desk. Be sure to freshen up your display of booklists often to check for currency and accuracy. For a great example of what you can offer, check out Skokie Public Library’s comprehensive resource guide for parents and educators of children with disabilities.
Social Stories: Did you know that there are now free social story templates available through Microsoft Office? Autism Speaks has partnered with Microsoft Office to offer free and customizable Social Story Templates available for download from their website. As with any social stories, parents can use these tools to help teach various social situations to children with autism. Topics include potty training, taking turns, going to the doctor, and even bullying. Helpful tips like this one could easily be shared on a library’s social media page, as a way to quickly get the information out to those that need it.
Meeting Spaces: More and more libraries are making their meeting spaces available to the public–sometimes even at a reasonably minimal cost to the user. If you already are in touch with local support groups or parenting groups in your area, they may be interested to know that the library is a place they can come together and meet. Once you have made contact with these groups, they may be interested in having a representative from the library come in and speak with them. The more conversations we can have with actual library users (or non-users) to find out what they want their library to be, the more informed we are.
….and these are just a few ideas. What are YOU doing at your library to serve the unique needs of parents of children with disabilities in your communities? Share your ideas below!