Commitment to Client Group

Bringing elements of sensory programming into all programs

In 2009-2010, I oversaw a regularly well-attended sensory storytime program in Matthews, NC and since have trained many library staff on this specialized library service.  One theme that repeats for those who have initiated the program: a well-attended program is hit or miss.  

Since returning to Ohio, I continued to lead these programs over the last 8 years.  Despite interest from families in the communities served at more than one library system, numbers have been consistently low—usually 1-2 families attending the monthly program. Recently our system made the decision to discontinue offering this programming as a result.

When sensory programming may not be feasible for any reason—whether low attendance as in this case or inadequate staffing or lack of administrative support–we may take steps in all library programming to create a welcoming environment for individuals with different abilities.  By doing so we assure that we are practicing inclusion despite a lack of a dedicated program for these families.

Having staff simply be aware of and welcoming to those individuals is the first step.  That may look like not insisting that everyone sit down during story reading or stand up during dancing, but instead, allowing individuals to enjoy the library event as they choose.  It may also be accepting that some participants do not return eye contact or give verbal responses or cues as a peer may in the same situation. We must respect these differences and understand that individuals absorb information in a variety of ways.  Going the extra mile—being flexible, patient, accepting and kind—to all of our programming visitors goes a long way. All staff must know how to serve those with different abilities and be non-judgmentally welcoming to each individual who enters the library doors.

We can also take concrete steps to assure that our programming meets all needs.  Using a visual schedule/schedule board in our programs and making efforts to reduce distractions in the programming room are two examples.  By reading a book while sharing the flannel simultaneously or back to back as a repeat of the story, it allows for an enriched literacy experience.   We may offer adaptive seating like sitting wedges or Educubes—or at minimum be sure to have a seating area defined by storytime rug or carpet squares.  Relaxing the age restrictions to “family” or “all ages” programming allows for individuals who are developmentally outside their physical age to attend and enjoy a library event.  Having smaller, more manageable program sizes welcomes those for whom a large, noisy, active number of participants would be overwhelming.

We may already be using opportunities to exercise motor skills in programs by including hands-on activities with objects–beanbags, flannel pieces, scarves, and stick props.  Additionally, using sensory integration equipment in our programming–a sensory balance beam, sensory stepping-stones or sensory beanbags, TheraBands, textured balls–could be beneficial.  By having sensory-friendly items available for families to use (weighted snakes/blankets, fidgets, noise-dampening headphones), we offer accommodation. We could have adaptive technology on hand, like a Big Mack switch, to allow a non-verbal individual to participate in the story. Adding a social/playtime after the program has value for all involved—and need not be limited to babytime or toddler programs.  It allows parents to connect, children to practice their social skills and library staff to be a resource for the families and a positive face for the library.

Marketing and networking is an important part of assuring that those families we are trying to attract are aware of the welcoming atmosphere of the library.  Libraries, historically viewed as quiet places, have changed and that stigma is not representative of today’s libraries. The responsibility falls on us to be sure that the community knows individuals of all abilities are welcome and served in the library–and that we are proactively adding elements to make their experience easier and more pleasant.

Head shot of Tricia Bohanon
Photo courtesy of guest blogger

Today’s guest blogger is Tricia Bohanon. Tricia is currently a librarian at Akron-Summit County Public Library. In developing programs for the Matthews Branch Library of Charlotte Mecklenburg Library (NC) in 2008, Tricia Bohanon, realized there was a lack of programming to meet the needs of young children with autism and other disabilities. She worked with the Autism Society of North Carolina to develop appropriate activities for this audience. Because of this collaboration, Rhythm and Rhyme Story Time was created using visuals, songs, movement, and tactile objects. She assisted numerous library systems in developing similar programs in VA, NC, OH, NJ, NY & PA.  She continues to present at conferences, workshops and staff trainings.  She welcomes questions about programming by email at

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at

This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: Programming Skills and Commitment to Client Group.


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