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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Library Design and Accessibility, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 50
1. Tween Spaces – Wants or Needs?

A library’s space, and how it relates to children of all ages, is the theme of this year’s ALSC Charlemae Rollins President’s Program: Libraries: The Space to Be . If you are attending ALA Annual in Orlando, join President Andrew Medlar to learn more about space design during a panel discussion that will focus on best practices for small, medium and large libraries, and how libraries are creating spaces that are vital to children and the communities that support them. Speaking of space design – does your library have a space created specifically for the tween user?

Yes, tweens. Previously best known as “school age patrons”, the 9-12 year old set has graduated into their own sub-community of library users, with many libraries paying attention to this demographic by creating specialized spaces within their children’s departments that cater directly to the pre-teenage.  Today, libraries are defined as much by their spaces as they are by their communities.

So what makes tweens so unique?  For one thing, it is the age where many children are becoming aware of their own likes and dislikes, reading preferences, and identity. Tweens have opinions, and they voice them – through book selections, social media posts, and yes, their library usage or non-usage.  By creating a space that is unique to this narrow range of patrons, children’s librarians are sending an important message: Welcome. We want you here. Get comfortable. Stay for awhile and hang out.

Hard tables and straight backed chairs are being replaced with free-form tables on wheels, ones that can fit together like puzzle pieces, or be pulled apart to create separate spaces on those days when pre-teen patrons want their own personal space.  Wooden chairs are making way for softer counterparts, ones that beckon a child to sit and charge their phone while dangling their legs over the side. Tall bookshelves are being swapped out for lower, browsing units that mimic those seen in retail – with face out book covers and shelf talkers.

Gone too are the bulletin boards created solely by the library staff. Tweens today want interactive spaces that they can personalize and change as they please, often as rapidly as their tastes and trends fluctuate. Think art galleries, creative writing boards, and other collaborations.

Did I mention making? Tweens are at that fantastical, mystical age where you can plop play dough on the table in front of them, and they will squeal with delight as they roll out snakes and coils, reminiscing about their long ago childhood years. The very next day, those same tweens will be wielding tweezers and 3-D printed model hand parts as they build a working hand prosthetic, in the library. So many tween spaces now include mobile carts and other creative “creating stations” that focus on incorporating STEM and STEAM activities into drop in activities in the library that inspire curiosity on a whim – no signing up for a program weeks in advance here. In tween spaces, programs are often the spontaneous, drop in variety.

So take a look around – does your library have a space dedicated to tween users, one that they can call their own? Are you on the fence, trying to determine if this type of space is a want or a need in your community? If you are headed to ALA Annual in Orlando, please come by at 8:30 am on Saturday, June 26, as I discuss this very topic in the program: InBeTween – Programs and Services for Tweens in Public Libraries. You will also see a wide variety of tween spaces from around the country, in libraries small and large. If you have a tween space that you want to share, please reach out to me at [email protected]. I’d love some more examples of tweens using – and loving- their library spaces!

Lisa G. Kropp is the Assistant Director at the Lindenhurst Memorial Library in NY. She is the co-chair of ALSC’s Liaisons to National Organizations committee and the outgoing chair of the Managing Children’s Services Committee. Tweet hello to her @lisagkropp!




The post Tween Spaces – Wants or Needs? appeared first on ALSC Blog.

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2. Preparing for the 2016 ALSC President’s Program

Environments are imbued with ideals and beliefs about the core values of their institutions.  As public libraries move to a more patron-centered approach, library settings become less formal and more available for collaborative and creative practices.  This year, ALSC President Andrew Medlar will share his vision for active and child-centered learning spaces throughout American Libraries at his Charlemae Rollins President’s Program:  Libraries: The Space to Be. 

Chicago Public Library is the home of Charlemae Rollins, and here at CPL, we see it as our role to enliven the spaces in our children’s rooms in order to encourage and promote what Fred Rogers called “the work of childhood” play-based learning. By creating meaningful and child-friendly spaces, we serve children and their families more deeply.  It is our goal to create active learning spaces that are a meaningful educator for our children and our communities.  Our libraries are considered pioneers in incorporating STEAM opportunities for child and parent engagement, and we are designing space across our system to meet the needs of 21st Century children and families.  This means age designated ‘neighborhoods’ areas for creativity, collaboration and lots of ways to encourage moments of sharing.  We believe sharing is learning and we want to encourage that in both formal and informal settings.  As our new flagship main children’s library opens later this year, we will roll out even more ways upon which STEAM, early learning and school-aged families can read, discover and create.

In San Francisco, our libraries are family destinations for discovery and community engagement. As part of the library’s early literacy initiative, we partner with the Burgeon Group to design and embed Play to Learn areas in each location.  These site-specific transformations are beacons of play incorporating colorful interactive panels, multilingual features, developmentally appropriate experiences, fine gross activities, texture and tracing elements all to spark spontaneous conversations and build key literacy skills.  (Stoltz, Conner, & Bradbury, 2014) From nook to cubes and the flagship installation at the Main Library, parents, caregivers and most importantly children know play is welcome at the library.

Successful play spaces are those that engage children’s interest; inspire creativity; allow physical movement; and encourage interaction with both materials in the space and with other children.  Many early childhood spaces are modeled on the Reggio Emilia approach, starting with a welcoming space that is arranged to provide opportunities for children to make choices and discover on their own.  Once children have explored, adults facilitate play around subjects or objects in which the child shows interest. This child-driven model is a natural fit for an active learning setting in a library, where children have free access to a variety of resources from books to toys to art materials.  Research shows that having quality books placed at children’s eye level supports literacy-related activities like those that occur when children play in library spaces. (Neuman, 1999)

The Reggio Emilia approach has also been shown to be equally effective for young children who do not speak English, a situation common in Chicago and San Francisco (Zhang, Fallon & Kim, 2009).  Leslie William and Yvonne DeGaetano note the importance of creating culturally relevant spaces based on children’s own communities in Alerta:  A MultiCultural, Bilingual Approach to Teaching Young Children.

Play is a necessary building block for children’s brain development, along with culture and the creative mindset. (Gauntlett & Thomsen, 2013) It is so essential for life that the United Nations recognizes play as a human right for every child.  Play allows children to explore and experiment with their environments, building synaptic connections in the brain and helping children establish problem solving skills as early as 6 months of age.  The American Library Association-Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) recommends that play be incorporated into library programming, recognizing the direct correlation between play and early literacy.

There are five general types of play that children engage in.  These can all be supported in our libraries, and each type of play supports both children’s general development and literacy in a variety of ways.  These include:

  • sensory play
  • constructive play with objects
  •  symbolic play
  • pretend play
  • rule-based play such as games.

Some of the elements that are shared by both Chicago Public Library and San Francisco Public Library include:

  • Creation of connections and sense of belonging
  • Flexible and open-ended materials
  • Materials that support the ECRR2 practices ( TALK, SING, READ, WRITE, PLAY)
  • Stimulation of wonder, curiosity and intellectual engagement for children and their caregivers
  • Symbolic representations, literacy and visual arts
  • Flexible furniture and arrangements
  • Different levels and heights of displays or tools
  • Nooks to read and/or work
  • Open-ended activities and tools that can be transformed by the child’s interest
  • Places for individuals as well as groups
  • Creation Station and maker areas for encouraging design, exploration and creation
  • Parent and caregiver incubator space
  • Areas and resources for constructive, dramatic and creative play
  • Appealing signage and parent tips to support family learning

As co-chairs, we are eager to have you join us at President Medlar’s Charlemae Rollins President’s Program to learn more about successful elements of library design for 21st Century Kids and hope to see you there!

— Liz McChesney, Director of Children’s Services, Chicago Public Library
— Christy Estrovitz, Manager of Youth Services, San Francisco Public Library


  • Stoltz, Dorthy, Marisa Conner, James Bradbury. (2014). The Power of Play: Designing Early Learning Spaces. ALA Editions.
  • Gauntlett, David & Thomsen, Bo Stjerne. (2013). Cultures of Creativity: Nurturing Creative Minds Across Cultures. The LEGO Foundation.
  • Nespeca, Sue McCleaf. (2012) The Importance of Play, Particularly Constructive Play, in Public Library Programming.
  • Zhang, Jie, Fallon, Moira & Kim, Eun-Joo. The Reggio Emilia Curricular Approach for Enhancing Play Development of Young Children.

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3. Creating Spaces that Celebrate Every Child Ready to Read 2

How we serve the youngest of children and their families is, of course, a major priority for children’s librarians.  Besides our services, our spaces can also accommodate each of the major practices of Every Child Ready to Read 2 for our smallest of learners and their grownups.  At this year’s ALSC Charlemae Rollins President’s Program:  Libraries: the Space to Be, we will be discussing President Medlar’s vision of how to bring both big and small ways into our libraries  to enliven spaces to maximize learning outcomes.

Whether you have a grant for space redesign or are just adding a little nook space, there are practical and easy ways to plan for, and then create space for the five practices. In Orlando, we can see and learn from best practices across the nation so that we all can find ways to activate your space for talk, sing, read, write and play practices:  all so essential to young children and their grownups.

First, creating a play space in your library allows for a new type of learning in our spaces:  active, engaged learning that allows children to problem solve and take on the role of learning by doing and being the ‘expert’ in any situation.  Play spaces help families learn together and celebrate their successes as important roles in children’s learning.  It has been documented at the Chicago Public Library that where we have put in play spaces we see families staying up to 40% longer, returning more often, attending more programs and coming together across communities to learn together as families and build friendships.  These all benefit 21st Century’s library goals, and are important for us as we promote our services to stakeholders.

The benefits of play are numerous and the LEGO Foundation spells them out in their Power of Play white paper which cites play as critical to the ‘balanced development of children’.  Play allows children to use their imagination and creativity, and is, at base, a form of communication.  It has been called essential to human development, and the UN calls it a fundamental right of children.  And libraries are proudly joining in as places for play as we embrace learning in its many environments.  Of the five types of play:  Physical Play, Play with Objects, Symbolic Play, Pretend and Socio-Emotional play and Games with Rules,   can you find some easy ways to incorporate play into your spaces and programming?

And what about the other four skills?  Think about ways you can encourage talking in your library.  A library pet goldfish in a bowl with a simple question or prompt about the fish each week, a comparison chart of your height to various animals, bean sprouts growing in baggies on the windows or a whisper tube such as the one Amanda Roberson at Hartford County Public Library, St. Mary’s County Library has installed are all inexpensive, fun and whimsical ways to encourage families to talk with one another.  Close your own eyes and visualize the moment a whispered “I love you” between a parent and child travels all along the talk tube and into the ear, the brain and the heart of the receiving child.  Or consider the thrill families will have upon finding and discovering their bean sprouts have grown since their last visit to you.

Singing happens in story hours all the time: we sing songs, action rhymes, play music and dance, but why leave it for just program time?  What if you had a nursery rhyme or children’s song station and a small, play microphone?  Encourage children and their adults to take turns singing the song of the week.  What a goofy and fun station that can encourage breaking language down into its basic parts.

Reading we know has its foundations in various aspects of ECCR2 such as letter recognition and print awareness.  Add letter toys such as Lakeshore Learning’s Alphabet Apples or their Magnetic alphabet maze into your play areas to help encourage letter recognition.  These toys encourage play with letters and phonemic awareness.  Integrate such toys into your books for a fun, literacy play experience.

Writing:  Dr. Nell Duke talks about the significance of writing in early literacy development, but how can we add this into a physical space?  Think about an easel white board that can be put in your space with accessible markers,  write and wipe lapboards for writing letters in story hours, or a letter writing or post box station.  Sentence start strips are also great ways for children and families to feel ownership in the library and can be an easy way to decorate:  Start a bulletin board with the letters “On my way to the library, I saw….” And then leave sentence strips out for families to complete.  Young children can dictate their sentence or story which can lead to a great bonding experience and fun narrative skills.  Then, add these to your board as a fun and easy way to create a fresh display that is child centered.

Please join President Andrew Medlar at this year’s ALSC Charlemae Rollins President’s Program: Libraries: The Space to Be to learn more from the experts around the country:  folks like you!  National experts in space design and children’s creativity will be side by side for a fascinating panel discussion on creative children’s space.  Best practices for small, medium and large libraries will be showcased in this important look into how space and our programs in libraries transform.

We hope you can join us!

Liz McChesney, Chicago Public Library
Co-chair Charlemae Rollins President Program 2016

Christy Estrovitz, San Francisco Public Library
Co-chair Charlemae Rollins President Program 2016

The post Creating Spaces that Celebrate Every Child Ready to Read 2 appeared first on ALSC Blog.

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4. Professional Resources for Learning About Inclusive Play

So much learning happens through play. Play can help children practice language, motor skills, problem-solving skills and social skills. Many of our libraries may already include free play as part of our storytime programs for young children to support this growth. We may not realize it, though, but there are many barriers to play that exist for children with special needs.  Some of the kids in our communities may not be equipped with the skills to play without accommodations or support. So it’s important that we develop strategies to be inclusive and enable access to play for all.

Coming up with accessible and inclusive play-based activities and games for storytime programs can be a challenge if you do not have a background in occupational therapy or special education. Thankfully, there are a variety of up to date and valuable resources at our disposal to help us learn about inclusive play-based programs.  Check out this professional literature–or interlibrary loan it from your nearest library–to learn more!

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/514xCQvodNL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgEarly Intervention Games: Fun, Joyful Ways to Develop Social and Motor Skills in Children with Autism Spectrum or Sensory Processing Disorders by Barbara Sher




Including Families of Children with Special Needs by Carrie Banks




http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51osu68LY4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgSocial Skills Activities for Special Children by Darlene Mannix




http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51Y6UmRVPTL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThe Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun, Revised Edition: Activities for Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder by Carol Kranowitz




http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41vNc1frGYL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgPlaying, Laughing, and Learning with Children on the Autism Spectrum: A Practical Resource of Play Ideas for Parents and Carers by Julia Moor





Inclusive Play: Practical Strategies for Children from Birth to Eight by Theresa Casey



http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51oqchZwxnL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg101 Games and Activities for Children with Autism, Asperger’s and Sensory Processing Disorders by Tara Delaney




Renee Grassi, LSSPCC Committee Member

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5. Announcing New Grant! Autism Welcome Here: Library Programs, Services, and More

Autism Welcome Here Grant

The Picture Communication Symbols ©1981-2015 by DynaVox Mayer-Johnson LLC. Used with permission.

Is your library looking to expand services to patrons with autism, but you are in need of funding to get your project started? Look no further than this new grant opportunityAutism Welcome Here: Library Programs, Services and More.”

This grant honors the groundbreaking work of Libraries and Autism co-founder Meg Kolaya for her contributions in promoting inclusion, connecting libraries and the autism community, and bringing awareness of the needs of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their families to the library community.  This opportunity is funded by Barbara Klipper, librarian and author of Programming for Children and Teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ALA Editions, 2014) and The Secret Rules of Social Networking (AAPC Publishing, 2015), a one-of-a-kind resource for teens and young adults with ASD or other social skills deficits that outlines the unstated rules that guide relationships in the real world and online as well.

Any type of library can apply and the proposal can fund projects and services for any age group. Applicants may propose to initiate a new, creative program or service, bring an already-existing, successful program or service to their library for the first time, or enhance a program or service they already offer.  Each year, a total of $5,000.00 will be awarded. Depending on the applications received, one grant for the full amount or multiple grants for smaller amounts totaling $5,000.00 may be awarded. All programs or services proposed must benefit people with autism or their families, directly or indirectly. Funds may be used to hire a trainer to present a workshop, to buy program materials, to pay for staff, etc.

What to make sure that your grant has what it takes to be selected? Here are things to keep in mind when drafting your application:

  • Make sure the project is clearly described and well thought out.
  • Don’t forget to garner institutional support for the program or service.
  • Include people with autism, family members or other community stakeholders as involved members in the development and/or implementation of the project.
  • Develop your project or program so that it would be replicable in other communities.
  • Base your program or service on an understanding of the needs of people with autism and/or best practices in working with this population.
  • Your service or program should be sustainable after the end of the grant period.

The grant period is now open, so please apply online here! Completed applications must be submitted by December 1, 2015. The winner(s) will be notified by March 1, 2016. The grant funding period is April 1, 2016 to March 31, 2017.


http://www.slj.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Candlewick-Press-logo.jpgLooking for other grant opportunities to serve other special populations? Don’t forget about ALSC/Candlewick Press “Light the Way” Grant. Stay tuned–2016 applications will open later in the fall of 2015!

The post Announcing New Grant! Autism Welcome Here: Library Programs, Services, and More appeared first on ALSC Blog.

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6. Considering Access and Library Spaces

A person’s right to use a library should not be denied to or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views. — Article V of the Library Bill of Rights

Photo courtesy of the author

Photo courtesy of the author

First, let me introduce myself demographically. I’m chronologically gifted. In other words, I’m older than rock and roll, and I began working as a public librarian in the 1970s. At that time, the cutting wave of censorship for the protection of innocent children from the degrading influence of the contents of the public library was to paint underpants on Mickey In the Night Kitchen with Wite-out®.

But that was then, and this is now. Now we have the Internet. Now kids can play games on the computer. And, as many in my demographic cohort express themselves, “THIS IS A LIBRARY, not a fun house for kids! Others are here to do important things on a computer!” (Remember if anyone is having fun it means they cannot be learning. If it’s educational it must be tedious and boring.)

To avoid this generational turmoil many libraries have installed a game room, complete with videogames. It’s as big a draw as afterschool snacks. Which brings me to the main topic of this post. Do age-segregated areas in the library violate Article V of the Library Bill of Rights?

Some libraries set aside computers for children, complete with child-size furniture to ensure that children have access to computers and don’t just get shunted aside by larger people. To me, this not a case of access being restricted that conflicts with Access to Library Resources and Services to Minors, because it’s designed to ensure that access. For its Children’s area, The Seattle Public Library has a laudable statement of this practice on its website:

Children’s areas within Library facilities are special parts of the Library housing special collections, programs and services designed especially for children. The purpose of the Children’s areas in Seattle Public Libraries is therefore to provide children and their caregivers with access to these special children’s materials, programs and services.

Children’s departments are available for use by those patrons who are accessing the special materials contained in the children’s collection and for use by children and their caregivers, to attend children’s programs, and to utilize other services provided by children’s departments. Patrons not included in these categories may be required to leave the children’s department and instead use other areas of the Library.

However, over the years at various libraries, I’ve encountered adult customers who don’t agree. Often, as mentioned above, they have important things to do on the computers and they aren’t any free in the adult area, or the ones in the children’s area are more convenient for them for other reasons.

  • What do you think about this line of reasoning, and how do you handle this in your library?

The next questions may be even stickier, or more problematic. The following was designed to remediate the problem of overcrowding in the game room with only a limited number of screens and game controllers.

Photo courtesy of the author.

Photo courtesy of the author.

  • How does it fit with the Access to Library Resources and Services to Minors? Especially the part that reads, “Children and young adults unquestionably possess First Amendment rights, including the right to receive information through the library in print, sound, images, data, games, software, and other formats.”
  •  Would you adopt a policy like this? If not, what do you, or would you, have as a policy?

And for extra credit consider these questions:

  •  What do you say to the eleven-year-old that wants to play Grand Theft Auto V?
  •  Would you, or have you, selected Grand Theft Auto V for your collection?

Your comments are invited.

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7. The LSSPCC Toolkit: Making All Families Feel Welcome at the Library

Who Are We?

We are ALSC’s Library Service to Special Population Children and Their Caregivers (LSSPCC) Committee.  We are accessibility and inclusion advocates who care deeply about the needs of our entire library community, especially special population children and their caregivers.

What Do We Do?

We discover and disseminate information about what libraries have to offer these special populations.  We develop and maintain guidelines for selection of useful and relevant materials.  We also help prepare the next generation of librarians and library workers by creating and providing resources to serve their communities more inclusively.

What Is The LSSPCC Toolkit?

The LSSPCC Committee has worked hard to develop a brand new resource for librarians and library works to develop or enhance your knowledge about serving special populations.  Launched earlier this year, this easy-to-use Toolkit for Librarians and Library Workers is available FREE online and can be downloaded or saved as a PDF file.  Whether you are just getting started learning about serving special populations of children and their families or want to brush up on the latest resources, this toolkit is for you!

What Special Populations Does the Toolkit Cover?

This toolkit offers a wide variety of information about serving many different types of groups in your library community, including homeschoolers, spanish-speaking families, LGBTQ families, children with autism, children with incarcerated parents, children with print disabilities, and more.  While this is by no means an exhaustive list of special populations that are served in all of our library communities, it’s a great place to start.

Why Is This Toolkit Useful?

In this toolkit, you will find a brief introduction in each section, which will provide librarians and library workers with context and background information needed before beginning to serve these groups in your community.  In addition, each section has a list of subject headings and keywords that will help make catalog and online searching on this topic a lot easier.  We have included short lists of subject area experts, if you are interested in connecting with people in our field and finding out more about that particular area of outreach.  We have even included information about existing partnerships, which are examples of the successes some libraries have found connecting with local organizations to serve these special populations. There are numerous lists of additional print and digital resources for further learning beyond the toolkit itself.


We hope you will share this resource with your library staff.  Through advocacy and awareness of various special populations, we can work together to help all children and all families feel welcome at our libraries!


This post was written by Renee Grassi. Renee is the Youth Department Director at the Glen Ellyn Public Library in Glen Ellyn, Illinois.  She is also a member of ALSC’s LSSPCC Committee.  In 2012, she was recognized by Library Journal as a Mover & Shaker for her work serving children with autism and other special needs.  She is also one of the co-founding members of SNAILS, a state-wide networking group in Illinois for librarians and library staff who discuss and learn about expanding library services to those with special needs.  As a proud ALSC member and a former ALSC Blogger, she has written on the blog about a variety of topics related to inclusive library services. 

The post The LSSPCC Toolkit: Making All Families Feel Welcome at the Library appeared first on ALSC Blog.

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8. Disneyland for Librarians

There’s a new library in Nova Scotia. Central Library in Halifax opened mid-December with great fanfare. Thousands of people turned out for opening day. Thousands! Now, Halifax is about a 2-hour drive from our small, rural community, but it is still exciting to me that we have this library. It is simply amazing.

photo by A. Reynolds

photo by A. Reynolds

I get pretty excited about a new library anywhere. We have a couple in the works in our region, and we plan to take a page from the Central Library book and create spaces that draw people in. The thing that I love about the new library in Halifax is that though it is not near us, we are still benefiting from the buzz. Libraries are on people’s minds.

Photo by A. Reynolds

Photo by A. Reynolds

The building is just amazing. Honestly I feel like I am in Disneyland for Librarians when I go there. And I am not alone—I’ve had parents tell me that they’ve taken their kids to the city for a museum trip, and the kids kept asking “When are we going to the library?” It is that cool. With a giant Lite-Brite wall, a play area that is downright fabulous, a LEGO table, iPads galore, and a space that makes you feel right at home, why wouldn’t they want to go there? There’s even a gaming area and a lovely built-in puppet theatre.

The Teen area is a big WOW as well. There’s a recording studio, a craft/maker room, tons of great programs, another gaming area, really comfy seating, and staircases that remind me of Hogwarts (though these don’t actually move). And the colors! So bright and happy. Go there on a weekend and you won’t find a spot to sit. After school the place just buzzes.

Photo by A. Reynolds

Photo by A. Reynolds


Photo by A. Reynolds

Photo by A. Reynolds

Photo by A. Reynolds

Photo by A. Reynolds

So what can a rural library take from this? Central Library is a million miles away from anything we will ever have in our region as far as size goes. But we can listen to our patrons, and if they ask for something, we should try to do it. We can make our library comfortable, with ample plugs for devices and spaces where people can work on whatever they need to work on. We can allow covered drinks and food. We can make the space bright, modern, clean, and welcoming. We can add local art. We can make play spaces and quiet spaces.

I want our libraries to be the place that kids and teens choose to visit. I think we need to figure out how that happens, without building a 5-story gem. The building is part of it, but the feeling is the real draw. We can all learn from other libraries, and continually ask our communities how we can better serve them.

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9. Targeting Autism: Serving Library Patrons on the Spectrum


Did you know that April is National Autism Awareness Month? According to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 1 in 68 children have been identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) nationwide.  This dramatic increase is no doubt affecting how libraries provide programs and services that are inclusive and welcoming to those with ASD.  Because of that, the state of Illinois has kickstarted the conversation with Targeting Autism: A National Forum on Serving Library Patrons on the Spectrum.

In 2014, the Illinois State Library was awarded an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) National Leadership Forum Grant to help libraries better serve patrons and family members impacted by Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). This project explores how libraries can work with diverse community organizations and programs to address the topic of ASD, through training, education and support services. The primary goals of the Targeting Autism Forum include:

    • Build a shared appreciation of the challenges and opportunities associated with acquiring information on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
    • Identify leadership roles for community libraries in improving community supports and services for individuals with ASD
    • Begin fostering stakeholder alignment around a community library ASD initiative
    • Begin developing a shared vision of success for a state library initiative on ASD
    • Identify next steps

The majority of the participation and conversation will take place at two Autism Stakeholder Forums, which were scheduled for March and September of 2015.  This past March, nearly 80 individuals came together representing various stakeholder groups including libraries, schools, institutions of higher education, health services professionals, government agencies, ASD service organizations, and parent advocates.  The idea behind the Forums is to inform the creation of an implementation plan.  With this plan, the state of Illinois hopes to achieve the following:

  1. Increase ASD awareness, education, and support services
  2. Improve adn streamline online access to the wealth of information intended to provide support for families and indiviuals with ASD
  3. Ensure sustainable, inter-organizational partnerships committed to enhancing ASD support, state-wide

The March Forum offered a wealth of information and inspiration provided by variety of experts and advocates.  Among the presenters included self-advocate Adria Nassim from Adria’s Village, who discussed her experience as a reader, a library user, and a person with autism.  Participants also heard from former librarian Barbara Klipper about her book Programming for Children and Teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder, as well as Nancy Farmer, who highlighted content from her book Library Services for Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders.  Dan Weiss discussed his experience partnering with libraries across the state of New Jersey in collaboration on a project called Libraries and Autism: We’re Connected.  In addition, forum participants heard from a panel entitled “Training Librarians: What’s Being Done (or Not).”  This included a panel of professors from Syracuse University School of Information, Florida State University College of Communication and Information, Dominican University Graduate School of Library and Information Science, and UIUC Graduate School of Library and Information Science.  All of the presentations from the March Forum are available on Youtube, so you don’t have to be an Illinois librarian to learn from what the Forum has to offer.

What can you do to help contribute to this effort?  Targeting Autism has launched a nationwide effort to collect personal stories that describe an individual’s connection to autism and a statement as to why this initiative is important.  Positive, negative, constructive–all experiences are welcome to help inform this process. Simply click here and submit your personal story to Suzanne Schriar, Targeting Autism Project Director.  We would love to have your input!

In the meantime, follow the Targeting Autism blog, join the conversation, and think about what you and your library can do today and every day to be a more welcoming place to people with autism.


Renee Grassi is the Youth Department Director at the Glen Ellyn Public Library in Glen Ellyn, Illinois.  She is also a “Targeting Autism” Board member.  In 2012, she was recognized by Library Journal as a Mover & Shaker for her work serving children with autism and other special needs.  She is also one of the co-founding members of SNAILS, a state-wide networking group in Illinois for librarians and library staff who discuss and learn about expanding library services to those with special needs.  As a proud ALSC member and a former ALSC Blogger, she has written on the blog about a variety of topics related to inclusive library services. 

The post Targeting Autism: Serving Library Patrons on the Spectrum appeared first on ALSC Blog.

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10. Diversity: Special Needs at #alamw15

Lately, I’ve been investigating and thinking about ways we serve young people with special needs, and how it ties in with the heightened focus on diversity.

At yesterday’s “Diversity Matters: Stepping It Up With Action!,” publishers and librarians engaged in a fascinating dialogue about practical ways we can include all voices. We should: hire more diverse staff; reach out to authors from underrepresented backgrounds; do targeted outreach; and develop partnerships with community organizations. But, as many audience members pointed out, our efforts should not only address race, culture, and sexual orientation, but should also include people with special needs.

Here are a few highlights of special needs resources found/represented at #alamw15:

*Remarkable Books about Young People with Special Needs: Stories to Foster Understanding by Alison M. G. Follos (Huron Street Press, 2013)

*Children with Disabilities in the Library – an ALSC online professional development course.

*Schneider Family Book Award, which “honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.”

*The Association for Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA), a division of ALA which provides support and services for libraries and librarians serving special needs communities.

*AccessAbility Academy training module (ASCLA): “Positive Interactions: Making the Library a Welcoming and Empowering Place for People with Disabilities”

* @DisabilityInLit (Twitter feed) – Disability in KidLit, which focuses on the portrayal of disabled characters in MG/YA novels.

*Brooklyn Public Library offers the Child’s Room for Children (and Teens) with Special Needs, which features a universal design space and inclusive programming: a universal Makerspace, gaming, garden club, Legos, and story hours.

*Weplay – #alamw15 was the first time this vendor came to an ALA conference. Their focus is “physical movement and cognitive development equipment.” They offer a free 94-page Sensory Storytime handbook, developed especially for libraries.

Do you have more resources to share? Please post in the comments field.

The post Diversity: Special Needs at #alamw15 appeared first on ALSC Blog.

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11. Resources for Serving Special Populations

One of the things that I love about librarianship is that it’s a dynamic profession. It is an evolving field that challenges us to continuously learn and grow in our professional development to better serve our communities.  As a member of ALSC’s Library Service to Special Population Children and Their Caregivers Committee, we have a specific goal to advocate for special populations children and their caregivers.  We strive to discover, develop, and disseminate information about materials, programs and facilities that are available at the library for these groups of patrons.  One of the things that we suggest is that library staff at all levels participate in continuing educational programs and classes about serving these special populations.  Here is a current list of online resources available through ALSC, ASCLA, YASLA, and Webjunction for you to help you grow in awareness and competency in this area.

Be sure to also check out ALSC’s list of Professional Tools for Librarians Serving Youth.  You’ll find a lot of great information about access, advocacy, diversity, public awareness, and more.


Renee Grassi, LSSPCC Committee Member

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12. No one came to your Sensory Storytime. Now what?

This is not an uncommon situation.  I’ve had many conversations with librarians who share similar stories.  “I did all this research and developed this awesome new Sensory Storytime program…but no one came.  I want to draw new families to the library, but I don’t know how to reach them.  What should I do?”  My response if often much longer than the inquiring librarians ever intended, but that’s because it’s a multifaceted issue.  There are many different things to consider when hosting a program for children with special needs.  So, if no one is coming to your Sensory Storytime at your library, here are a few things you can do:

  • Cultivate Partnerships: Partner with local organizations to help spread the word.  There are many places in your community that serve families with children with special needs, including hospitals, health centers, therapy centers, doctor’s offices, park districts, and museums.  Contact your local chapter of state-wide and national disability related organizational groups.  Consider hosting a special needs resource fair at your library, like Evanston Public Library did just this month, and invite these organizations to present at your library.  Otherwise, ask if you can attend one at a local school or community event.  Many organizations are looking for free recreational opportunities to share with families, and Sensory Storytime would be just the kind of program they might be willing to help promote.
  • Rebrand: To keep a program fresh and appealing to our communities, sometimes we need to repackage and rebrand it. Maybe the name “Sensory Storytime” is not a draw to families.   Consider changing the name to “Special Needs Storytime,” or use more inclusive language like “Storytime for Children of All Abilities.”  Maybe your program is being offered on a day of the week or a time of day that doesn’t work for families in your community.  Switch it up and change the day and time, but don’t forgot to ask families first what works best for them.  Here are also 10 Quick Tips for Marketing to this audience.
  • Focus on Inclusion: The reason your library is receiving low attendance–or none at all–could be because a storytime program specifically for children with special needs doesn’t work for your families.  It can be hard to attend a program for one child, when there are two or three other younger or older children that don’t fit in the correct age bracket for that program.  Consider a more inclusive approach and develop programming that is open to the entire family, including siblings.  There are many benefits to having the family attend as a unit, including the fact that it is a lot easier for families to attend together.
  • Try a Different Program: You could switch gears and focus on developing a completely different program all together.  Perhaps you might want to target a different age group, offering Sensory School-age Programming for older children or Sensory-Friendly Films for the whole family.  You might even want to host a Board Game and Pizza Night for Tweens of All Abilities, like Deerfield Public Library did.  For whatever reason, a storytime program may not be a draw in your community, but there are many other things you at your library can do to offer programming for this audience.

If you have already tried these tips and still aren’t reaching families, perhaps library programming is not what your community wants.  And that’s okay.  Many families with children with special needs are over-scheduled with doctor visits, therapies, parent/teacher conferences about IEPs, and play dates.  Instead, here are some other things your library might want to consider to expand services to families with children with special needs:

  • Focus on Outreach: Instead of trying to invite kids to the library, make trips to the local schools and make visit their classrooms.  Bring Sensory Storytime on the road, or even consider asking if their class would be able to do a community outing to visit the library.  There is a lot you can do to make these visits meaningful.  Here are just a few ideas, including curriculum on life skills teaching manners, as well as some general tips about visiting classrooms.
  • Develop Your Collections: Don’t forget about your library materials!  You can serve the needs of families with children with special needs by developing your existing collections, or creating new ones.  You may want to consider Early Literacy or Sensory Kits, connecting with your local Braille and Talking Book Libraries or ordering more books in braille, offering more hi-lo reading material, or developing your parent/teacher collection to include more books on special needs related topics.  Don’t forget about the Schneider Family Book Award, which recognizes books that highlight the disability experience.  Just as we work to make our programs and services more inclusive and diverse, we shouldn’t forget that our collections should represent and reflect the diversity in our communities as well. 
  • Train Staff:  Even if your library has the best new program or service, it won’t matter if other library staff members in other departments are not committed to serving families inclusively.  This could be a huge deterrent for some families.  Disability Awareness Training is necessary for us in libraries to make our libraries more accessible and friendly for everyone. No matter what your library does to welcome children with special needs–whether it is programming, outreach, services, or collections–it’s important that your entire organization is on board with inclusive customer service.


What are your ideas for welcoming families to your Sensory Storytime programs?  Feel free to share below!

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13. Changing Spaces

In October, I had the pleasure of taking a continuing education class on youth services management that got me thinking about small (and not-so-small) changes I’ve made to our Children’s Room to make the space more effective. I wanted to share a few things I’ve done over the past few years to make our collection easier to use.

Photo by Abby Johnson

Photo by Abby Johnson

1. I made board books accessible to their target audience. Previously, our board books were shelved spine-out on low shelves near the entrance to the department. I purchased bins, which we placed in our picture book area. Don’t have funds to order bins? Try a child’s plastic sandbox!

Photo by Abby Johnson

Photo by Abby Johnson

2. I expanded shelving for our overfull holiday section by taking the doors off these cabinets. About half our holiday books were in storage for most of the year and it was a giant pain to switch them in and out when holidays came and went. Plus, we all know some kids will check out a Christmas or Halloween book any time of year. Now these books are out and available year-round.

Photo by Abby Johnson

Photo by Abby Johnson

3. I put graphic novels front and center. We have had graphic novels pulled out into their own section for a long time, but previously they were shelved in the middle of the fiction section, under the G’s (for “Graphic”). We were constantly getting questions about them because they were practically hidden.

I weeded our print reference section, moved the Parent/Teacher shelves across the aisle, and then put the graphic novels at the front of the fiction section. Bonus: it makes more sense for the Reference books to be adjacent to the Parent/Teacher shelves and that area has a table, which gets lots of use from homeschoolers, tutors, and teachers.

Photo by Abby Johnson

Photo by Abby Johnson

4. This is our most recent (and most expensive!) change. I was lucky to have some money from a library trust and I ordered two mobile display units. Previously, our “display” spaces were shelving bays in the stacks that were designated by us as “display” space, but most probably looked to our patrons just like any other shelf. By ordering these display units, we can make displays that really stand out and highlight our collection.

What changes (small or large) have you made to your space to make your collection work better for your patrons?

— Abby Johnson, Children’s Services Manager
New Albany-Floyd County Public Library
New Albany, IN

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14. Mind Your Manners: Teaching Life Skills in the Library

A few weeks ago, a special education teacher approached our Youth Department, asking if a librarian might be able to plan a visit for her life skills class of high school students. Her class made regular visits to our library once a month to read and check out books. They were already comfortable visiting the Youth Department, since the materials that they were most interested in were housed in our part of the library. As much as she and her class enjoyed these visits, she wanted to explore the possibility of making the visit richer with learning and interaction, involving a librarian to lead 30 minutes of stories activities. Her goals for the visit were relatively simple: read books which demonstrate using manners in social situations, incorporate sensory and movement activities into the visit, and provide opportunities for her students to practice using manners in real life situations. Her students had been practicing using their manners in the classroom, in the lunchroom, and had plans to make a few field trips outside the school to extend the learning. We, of course, just had to say yes!

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51mudiN6ZZL.jpgA great tip for collaborating on a school visit is to ask questions and plan ahead. Ask if there is a particular reading level that works best for readalouds. As the teacher and I discussed the visit, I learned that picture books and easy non-fiction materials would work best for her class as readalouds. So, I selected several books to read—both fiction and non-fiction—that would be both informative and entertaining for the audience.

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-bY_zPzSWXIo/TiN3vAyilHI/AAAAAAAAAYA/nUK76JhyEAo/s1600/symbol4.jpgAnother helpful tip is to ask what type of accommodations would work best for her students. For example, would creating a visual schedule of the visit’s activities help alleviate anxiety for her students? I also learned that her students would benefit greatly from the use of visual supports, as a way for them to see what was coming next. So, I put together a large group schedule, using Boardmaker images to coincide with the various activities. Each 8 1/2″  x 11” piece of paper included a large graphic as well as simple, easy to decode text. For example, I put together one sign that included the text “Play a Game” and displayed an image of a large, multicolored parachute.

You may also want to ask the teacher if her students have any specific triggers that might be helpful for you to know about in advance. For example, does music cause discomfort or distress in some of her students? If so, you may want to reconsider using a music CD and decide just to sign a song aloud using your own voice. The teacher did happen to mention that one of her students has the tendency to run when that student gets frustrated or upset. This was useful information for me to know, as I wouldn’t be caught off-guard in case this happened during the visit.

Here is an outline of the program that we implemented with her students:

  • Review Visual Schedule: As a way to let the students know what we would be doing, I reviewed the visual schedule by going over each activity individually using clear and specific “First… Then…” language.
  • Hello Activity: I began the storytime by introducing myself as “Miss Renee.” I then invited each students and teachers to introduce themselves to the classroom by saying “Hi, my name is…” Then, the group replied “Hello, [student’s name]” as a way to practice good manners by greeting others.
  • Read a Book: How do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food by Jane Yolen
  • Read a Book: Suppose You Meet a Dinosaur: A First Book of Manners by Judy Sierra
  • Play a Game with a Ball: I pulled out four different sized sensory balls and invited the group to move into a circle. The object of this activity was to have each student to ask another student or teacher if they could pass them the ball using their most polite manners. For example, “Daniel, would you please roll me that purple, spiky ball?” We passed, rolled, bounced, and threw the balls twice around the circle, allowing each student the chance to participate a few times.
  • Read a Book: Manners in the Lunch Room (Way to Be: Manners! Series) by Amanda Tourville
  • Play a Game with a Parachute: I brought out the parachute, and asked if everyone would stand up. This time, we went around the circle and each student was encouraged to dictate to the group (using their manners) what they wanted to do with the parachute. For instance, Jean would say “Could we please wave the wave the parachute up and down really fast?” Each student was allowed a chance to have the group play with the parachute in their own way.
  • Read a Book: Manners in the Library (Way to Be: Manners! Series) by Carrie Finn
  • Sing a Song “If You’re Happy and You Know It” (with ASL): We sung the first verse of this traditional song, but then incorporated ASL signs that aligned with our theme in the additional verses. For example “If you’re polite and you know it, just say “please.” (ASL sign for please) and “If you’re grateful and you know it, just say “thank you.” (ASL sign for thank you). Check out Jbrary’s great post about Using American Sign Language in Storytime for more ideas about how to utilize ASL in programs.
  • Library Activity: The teacher instructed the students to write note cards in advance with questions they wanted to ask librarians. The students took turns going to the desk and asking their questions, and the librarians took them to the shelves to help them find books that they liked based on their interests. After they practiced asking their questions and using their manners, librarians gave each student a small incentive (a sticker) for visiting to the library.

Overall, it was a fantastic success–so much so that the teacher asked if we could make this a regular part of their monthly visits.  And again, how could we say no?

Partnering with your local special education district is a great way to provide students with disabilities opportunities for learning outside the classroom. By giving students the chance to practice life skills in a library environment, librarians can help prepare them to be successful in their daily lives. It’s important that all library staff at all levels are aware and prepared to provide excellent, inclusive library service. Children’s, Tween, and Teen Librarians can work together to lead this type of programming. So, the next time that you are approached by a local special education teacher, think about getting your tween or teen librarians on board, too.

For more great ideas about lesson planning for tweens and young adults with special needs, check out this fantastic post written by Sarah Okner from the Vernon Area Public Library about her experience Visiting High School Special Education Classrooms.

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15. Learn About Inclusive Library Services at #alaac14

If you’re going to the 2014 ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas, you’re in luck!  You have many opportunities for learning and inspiration, including a wide variety of programs about inclusive services to youth in libraries.  Here’s a snapshot of some of the highlights you won’t want to miss.

  • *Accessible eBooks: Ensuring that Your Library’s eContent is Universally Accessible to All (Saturday, June 28 at 8:30 am): As library’s purchase an ever increasing amount of electronic content, questions about universal accessibility become ever more important. In this session, attendees will learn timely options for making their collections accessible to patrons with print disabilities and will walk away with concrete steps and strategies that libraries can implement to ensure their ongoing accessibility.
  • *Creating Fun, Accessible Programming for Youth with Disabilities (Saturday, June 28 at 10:30am): Youth patrons with disabilities are members of every public library’s population. This presentation will review best practices on accessible, engaging and entertaining programs for children of all ages and abilities. Throughout the presentation there will be examples and discussion of accessible technology options for children with varying disabilities and how to apply them to specialized programming that caters to their individual needs.
  • *Creative Collaborations: Successful Partnerships That Serve Children With Autism (Saturday, June 28 at 1 pm): With the incidence of autism now at 1 in 88, children with this disability need our libraries. Librarians want to serve this population, but may not have the expertise or resources to offer appropriate programming. This panel will feature librarians who forged partnerships with outside organizations in order to serve their young patrons with autism in new and exciting ways. Find out how they did it, and be inspired to do it too.
  • *Creating a Safe Library Space for All Youth (Saturday, June 28 at 3 pm): Libraries are in a unique position to be a safe and central location for many youth to turn to. Join us for a discussion of how we can make libraries a safer more welcoming space that meets the needs of all youth.
  • *Stepping Up: Providing Effective Library and Information Services, Programs, and Resources to Students with Disabilities (Sunday, June 29 at 3 pm): Research has demonstrated that school librarians often lack the skills and knowledge to effectively design, implement and evaluate services, resources and programs for students with a range of physical, neuro-developmental and/or learning disabilities in their schools. This session will be led by four distinguished university faculty with different perspectives and areas of expertise: disabilities law, leadership and advocacy, communication disorders, and motivation and instructional design. The presenters will use a variety of interactive knowledge-building exercises and participative activities (e.g., what it is like to have a learning disability, how to create an accessible library facility) that motivate and engage participants.
  • *Free and Affordable Apps for Accessibility (Saturday, June 28 at 1 pm): Library personnel are the greatest resource in providing outreach services to those with special needs or underserved populations. Free and low cost applications for smart phones and tablets have gone beyond simply games and utility functions and can be used to increase accessibility for library patrons of all ages. These apps and how to implement them in the library’s existing outreach resources will be discussed and demonstrated, and a go-to list of further resources will be provided.


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16. Rethinking Summer Reading Programs

What is the ultimate goal of your library’s summer reading program?  Is it to increase statistics of the amount of participants or the number of minutes read?  Or is to make an impact on the lives of children?  This was a question that was discussed at the last SNAILS meeting, a group that meets on a quarterly basis to talk about expanding services to youth with special needs.  We all know that Children’s Departments across the country are buzzing this time of year, gearing up for the summer season–and rightly so!  It’s that time of year when we have the opportunity to encourage and reward reading in all of its forms through our annual summer reading programs.   It’s also that time of year when we have the chance to do a lot of outreach, advocating for the value of the public library to nonusers and new families. What about families with children of special needs?  How are they being included or excluded from our annual summer reading programs?

Your library may be one of the libraries that has decided to move away from the traditional “reading” program.  Maybe you have developed a summer program that is more experiential in nature.  Perhaps your library even encourages participants to set their own goal for completing the program.  It’s true–libraries are buildings that house books, but through our summer reading programs, we have an opportunity to do so much more than that.

With only a few more weeks left before summer reading begins, take some time to rethink your library’s program.  Reflect and ask yourself these questions:

  • What is our ultimate goal for library summer reading programs?
  • What benefits do summer reading clubs provide for families of children with special needs?
  • What barriers (physical? perceived?) exist that prevent children with special needs from participating in summer reading clubs?
  • What are some strategies to make our summer reading clubs accessible from the start (ie. universal design)?
  • What are some examples of accommodations that can we make as we go along?
  • What are some methods for inviting families of children with special needs to participate in our programs? (Remember, it’s all about marketing!)

Do you have the answers?  Share your ideas below!  For further reading, check out this thought-provoking article entitled Summer Reading Club: Inviting Accessibility by Children’s Librarian Tess Prendergast. You can find Tess on Twitter here, where she advocates for early literacy, inclusion, and the role of public libraries in supporting families.

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17. Adapting Books for Children with Disabilities

Accessibility is key to serving an inclusive library audience.  Because of that, it’s important that librarians examine–not only our programming–but the accessibility of our library collections as well.  Unfortunately, the process of reading a typical library book may not be accessible for all abilities.  The simple act of turning the page, for example, may be difficult to accomplish by someone who has a disability.  What can librarians do, then, to make our books accessible to those children in our communities with special needs?

Leap Into Literacy adaptive books for special needs children

Partners with Passion

In the Chicagoland area, librarians are fortunate enough to have the expertise and dedication of Rita Angelini, founder of Leap Into Literacy. The mission of this non-profit organization is to create adapted books for children with special needs and make these books available in public libraries.  Using Boardmaker symbols and a bit of creativity, Rita and her amazing group of volunteers adapt small picture books into large, durable, accessible books that can be manipulated by a child with special needs.

What makes a book accessible?

Each page is laminated with thick laminate plastic sheets, allowing fast and easy cleaning for children with compromised immune systems.  Page fluffers or page turners are added, creating adequate space for children to turn the page on their own.  At the bottom of each page, four Boardmaker picture symbols are included that summarize the actions of the story in the illustration and text above. The symbols, which include both image and text of a particular concepts, offer an opportunity to reinforce vocabulary for children who are nonverbal or learning to read.  When all of the adapted pages are finished, the pages are inserted to a three-ring binder, making it a durable, long-lasting product that can be utilized by children of any reading ability.   Afterwards, the books are donated to public libraries across the Chicagoland area and are added to the libraries’ collections to circulate to each community.


Whether you partner with a local organization like Leap Into Literacy to create a circulating collection of adapted books, or you want to try your hand at creating a collection to be used in-house for  programs, any library can improve the accessibility by offering adapted books.  What has YOUR library done to offer unique and accessible reading formats?  Share your ideas below!  To learn more about page fluffers, laminate, and other adapting techniques, check out the Adapting Creatively Blog for some great tips.

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18. Tis the Season . . . For Spring Cleaning

Spring can mean many things to different people: warmer weather, flowers in bloom, and spring cleaning. While these first two thoughts are a reason for me to anticipate the end of winter, the thought of spring cleaning can fill me with dread. How can we maximize our space by minimizing the hassle?

Photo Courtesy of Thinkstock.com

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

At our community branch library, space is at a premium. We have to regularly sort and review whether we need items because we simply don’t have the space to keep it all. Is there a way we can minimize the huge burden of spring cleaning?  How do we ensure the materials we need stay at our libraries and the clutter stays out?

A Little Goes a Long Way

One tip I have tried is to spend just 15 minutes organizing during each work day. This has worked best for me as one of the last minute tasks I complete at the end of my shift. Of course, other situations could end up taking priority, and organizing may fall to the wayside.  However, when it’s feasible to incorporate a little organization into my daily time at work, it’s an opportunity to clean up these final projects and to focus on a plan for the tasks that need to be accomplished tomorrow. Trying to put this tip into practice can go a long way toward minimizing the overall clutter within the library.

Think Outside the Box

Sometimes storage space is simply what is needed most at our location. Whether it is finding room for craft supplies, programming books, or puppets, it may be that we have de-cluttered as much as we can and simply need to find a space at our work for housing the items we use most frequently. This may cause us to re-envision the function of the spaces we have within the library. At our community branch library, we had a significant need for storage, but our kitchenette was not frequently used. We changed our kitchenette into a staff closet and now use this space for holding programming materials.

Scheduling is Key

While each staff person ensures his or her desk space is organized, we also have staffers responsible for reviewing the storage needs for our shared office space. While this responsibility may alternate between team members, it helps that one employee is responsible for ensuring the staff closet remains organized and stocked with the items staffers need. When we maintain a schedule for organizing these shared spaces, we ensure that major spring cleaning projects are not as overwhelming as staffers work to keep these areas free from clutter on a frequent basis.

Photo Courtesy of Thinkstock.com

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

With a shared, and often small, working space, it’s a necessity that our libraries are as organized as possible.  By keeping up on de-cluttering throughout the year instead of just during this season of spring cleaning, we can take away some of the overwhelmed feeling often associated with these projects. We could all use help when considering how to best maximize the use of our work space. What tips and techniques have been effective for you and your co-workers as you work to organize your libraries? Please share your ideas in the comments below!


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19. Sensory-Friendly Films: Family Programming for Autism Awareness Month

The Gruffalo, released by N Circle Entertainment (2011)

Our Children’s Department is trying something new this April for Autism Awareness Month.  As a way to continue our outreach efforts to children with special needs into the library, we will be hosting our first ever inclusive family film program entitled Sensory-Friendly Family Film.

Our idea of a family film program designed especially for children with special needs is modeled after AMC Theatre’s own series of  Sensory-Friendly Films.  In partnership with the Autism Society, AMC’s Sensory-Friendly Films were first developed in 2007 as recreational opportunities for individuals with autism.  These special movie showings welcome people of all abilities to enjoy their favorite films in a safe and accepting environment.  The theaters themselves offer a different kind of moviegoing experience, with lights that are turned on and sound that is turned down.  Audience members are even invited to move about the room as they please.  As explained by the Autism Society, “Being able to relax and enjoy quality family time without worrying if someone will complain or be disturbed by noise of movement is a wonderful experience. It’s a great opportunity for families to meet, siblings of children with autism to get to know other kids, and anyone to enjoy a movie in a climate of acceptance and understanding.”  Children with autism spectrum disorder often need a different adaption or a slightly altered environment to feel comfortable.  Sensory-Friendly Films offer that supportive environment.

There were many reasons why we decided to host a Sensory-Friendly Film program at the library.  Our Children’s Department has an ongoing series of Sensory Storytime programs for children with special needs, so we already have a core group of families who visit the library to attend these programs.  So, we wanted to build on our first program’s success.  We wanted to provide more opportunities for those families to feel comfortable visiting the library in a program that is still as welcoming and inclusive as Sensory Storytime.  Another goal of ours was to develop more programs that are family-oriented and welcoming for parents, caregivers, and siblings.  That way, families are able to make visits to the library together, with everyone able to enjoy the movie experience regardless of their age or ability.  We also wanted to bring attention to our selection of movies that are based on picture books.  There are many production companies, such as Weston Woods, Dreamscape, and Scholastic Storybook Treasures, that create quality audiovisual adaptations of picture book texts.  By showing one of these movies, we hope to bring more awareness to this mini collection of DVDs, while introducing kids with new characters and connecting them with new stories.

Here is a run down of our program details:

  • Title: Sensory Friendly Family Film–The Gruffalo
  • Date and Time: Saturday, April 5 at 11 am
  • Target Audience: Children of all ages and abilities with parent or caregiver
  • Program Description: Join us for our first sensory-friendly movie showing of “The Gruffalo.” The room will be lighter, the volume will be lower, and audience members will be welcome to move around, talk, and sing.  The intended audience is children with special needs accompanied by siblings and caregivers, although everyone is welcome.  Noise cancelling headphones and fidgets will be available to use.  No registration required–just drop in!
  • Room setup: TV monitor at the front of the room with chairs arranged in auditorium style seating; large aisles and walkways in between rows of chairs and along the edge of the room for accessibility; table arranged at the back of the room displaying copies of The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and collection of fidgets and other manipulatives for children to use during the program
  • Fidgets and manipulatives made available: 4 pairs of noise cancelling headphones; 6 tangle toys4 giant sensory tubes; sensory balls; stress balls; puzzles

Here’s another quick tip.  If your library wants to host a family movie program, be sure to first acquire the rights to show the movie in your library.  Check out Movie Licensing USA or the Motion Picture Licensing Corporation for more information.

To find out more about the history of Sensory Friendly Films and to learn about the one family who made it all happen, click here.  For a list of participating theaters in your area, check out AMC Theatre’s website.  And to learn about more autism-friendly library programming strategies that work, check out the Libraries and Autism website.  Does your library offer Sensory-Friendly Film programming? If so, share your tips and ideas below!

0 Comments on Sensory-Friendly Films: Family Programming for Autism Awareness Month as of 3/27/2014 1:05:00 AM
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20. Universally Accessible E-Content and Gadgets #pla2014

I dream of the day when every public library is my public library.

-Brian Charlson

This Public Library Association 2014 Conference offers a particularly impressive selection of programs about various aspects of serving traditionally underserved users.  And boy–is there a lot to learn.  Before this afternoon, I hadn’t heard about Refreshable Braille Displays.  According to Brian Charlson, Director of Technology at the Carroll Center for the Blind, they are actually the most popular devices for K-12 students who are blind or have low vision.  Refreshable Braille Displays are electronic devices that allow users to read text that is typically displayed visually on a computer monitor.  The devices themselves do not have any screens, but are connected to computers by a USB cord.  Showing 18 characters at a time, Refreshable Braille Displays convert visual text into tactual text and produces Braille output for the reader.

A question that was asked during this program–how do we as librarians provide access to reading material to patrons who are blind or have low vision?  Brian went on to explain that three things are required:

  1. Your users need to know that the technology exists.
  2. Your users need to be able to afford the technology.
  3. Your users need to know how to use the technology.

This is where our role as librarians is crucial.  Even our youngest patrons who are blind or have low vision rely on libraries to provide information, access, and training.  And while consumer products like Kindles and Nooks are not required to comply with ADA Standards, public libraries are, indeed, required.  So, if you circulates e-reader devices in your Children’s Department or elsewhere in your library, here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Do these devices have text to speech capabilities?
  • Can the user change the font size and the font type?
  • Is there functionality to change contrast settings?
  • Can the user have individual words spelled out?
  • Can users change the background and foreground colors and set transparency to make the interface easier to read?

One last takeaway.  No two people–whether they are blind or sighted–are alike.  Every user has their own set of needs, and we as librarians can/should do what we can to help.

0 Comments on Universally Accessible E-Content and Gadgets #pla2014 as of 3/14/2014 12:27:00 AM
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21. 10 Quick Tips for Marketing to Families of Children with Special Needs

Librarians excel at a great many things, especially when it comes to marketing to people who already use the library.  But what about non-users?  What strategies do we employ to reach those who do not currently utilize the library and its services?  As we strive to reach out to the community and advocate for the value of our public library, it’s important to remember that many families of children with special needs are still uncomfortable with the idea of stepping through our doors.  So, even though we may develop new programs and services specifically targeting children with disabilities and their families, traditional marketing methods may not work.

If your library struggles with getting the word out to families of children with special needs, here is a list of ten quick tips you can apply to your library’s marketing strategies right away.

  1. Visit areas in the community that are frequented by everyone, regardless of their ability.  Share information and flyers at bus stops, train stations, park districts, community centers, and your local coffee shop.
  2. Lead a library focus group or an advisory group made up of stakeholders from your community about expanding accessible library services.
  3. Create a Special Needs Library e-Newsletter and send it out regularly highlighting new programs, materials, and services.  Check out the “Special Child” e-newsletter from Arlington Heights Memorial Library as a great model.
  4. Join the conversation online. Find and contact parent support groups in your area using Meetup.com, Facebook, Twitter, or MySpecialNeedsNetwork.com.  Ask them if they would host you as a guest speaker, so that you could open up a dialogue about libraries.
  5. Establish partnerships with local therapists, doctors’ offices, and other special needs related community organizations.  Many are looking to pass along free recreational opportunities to families in their network, so they may be able to post flyers or send emails about upcoming events at your library.
  6. Attend disability expos, fairs, or forums that are happening in your community.  Represent your library by staffing an information table.
  7. Connect with your local special education district.  Ask if they would be willing to email information, send flyers home in backpacks, or add your library’s programs to their calendar of community events.
  8. Dedicate space on your library’s website to Special Needs or Accessible Library Services.  Check out “The Child’s Place” from the Brooklyn Public Library as an excellent example.
  9. Create a community-wide survey to identify needs and to assess community interests and the perception of your library.
  10. Involve parents of children with special needs in your Strategic Planning process to help inform the direction and scope of future library services.

One last tip.  Empower all levels of staff to be advocates for inclusion and accessibility by offering disability friendly training.  Once children age out of Youth Services, they and their families require accessible service from other areas of the library.  It’s important that all levels of library staff, especially staff on the front lines, are on the same page about making the library a welcoming place for patrons with special needs.  Take a look at “Disability Awareness Training: Essential Tools for Your Toolbox” for more information.

What are some ways your libraries has marketed its programs and services to families of children with special needs?  Share your ideas below!

0 Comments on 10 Quick Tips for Marketing to Families of Children with Special Needs as of 2/28/2014 2:05:00 AM
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22. Being Thankful for Sensory Storytimes

I am thankful for Sensory Storytimes.  I’m also thankful to the ALSC community for giving me the support I needed to start something new.  What’s more, I’m thankful for your Sensory Storytimes.  I’m thankful that library services to families with children with special needs are continuing to expand in communities across the country because of librarians like you.  You are thinking outside of the box, learning, growing, and developing new programs and services to serve an underserved group of our communities.  It’s no wonder that the perception of the public library is starting to change.  Parents and caregivers are now looking to libraries for recreational and educational opportunities where their children with special needs can be included.  Now that’s truly something to be thankful for.

For many parents and caregivers, though, the public library is not a comfortable place to visit.  If we are to continue expanding services to children with disabilities, we must directly confront the perception that the public library is not a place for children with special needs.  In short, we must advocate for our library to non-users. One way to do that is to talk openly about the benefits for children with special needs when they attend inclusive library programs.  Not sure what to say?  Here are a few talking points.

  • Storytimes are open to the public: Programs like Sensory Storytime–just like all other library programs–are free, recreational opportunities that are easily accessible.  Most libraries do not require advanced planning, though some require advanced registration.
  • Storytimes are literacy rich environments: Sensory Storytime programs have many opportunities for talking, reading, singing, writing, and playing.  This can help increase language skills, vocabulary, and syntax development.  Storytimes and other library programs also foster a love of reading and support learning for all children.
  • Storytimes are sensory rich environments: Programs like Sensory Storytime offer many fun and stimulating sensory experiences for children to see, touch, hear, and smell new things in their environment.  Increased sensory input helps stimulate brain development, not just for children with special needs, but for all children. Sensory rich environments also help children develop imagination, think creatively, and experiment.
  • Storytimes provide opportunities for practicing life skills: Life skills help children with special needs function independently. So, it’s important for children to have opportunities to practice these skills, which include listening, attending, following directions, transitioning between activities, taking turns, and sequencing.  Storytime programs offer these and more!
  • Storytimes provide opportunities for socialization: A wise librarian once told me that storytime is, at its heart, about connection between people.  The individual connections we librarians make during storytime with children, parents and caregivers is one of the most valuable aspects of our programs.  In programs like Sensory Storytime, children with special needs not only have the opportunity to connect with other children, but they practice how to work cooperatively and collaboratively with their peer group.
  • Storytimes are inclusive environments: One of the main goals of a program like Sensory Storytime is to welcome families into the library who might not be included in other areas of community life.  It does not matter one’s level of ability, all children are included to participate equally.  Isn’t that the mission of our public libraries, after all?

If you are working at a library who has already began developing new and innovative services and programs for children with disabilities, I just want to take this moment to share my gratitude and say thanks.  If your library has yet to make this as a goal, I hope this post inspires you to be fearless and try new things.  I guarantee your community will be thankful.

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23. What does “inclusion” mean to you?

Inclusion can mean different things to different people.  One definition of inclusion is “an approach to library service that includes patrons with disabilities in an equitable way.”  If library staff do everything that they can do to meet the varied needs of patrons with special needs, they are truly being inclusive.

Carrie Banks, the director of the Brooklyn Public Library’s Child’s Place for Children with Special Needs describes her library’s model for inclusion as “employing universal design and appreciating multiple intelligences so that all are welcomed and engaged.”  In her latest book “Including Families of Children with Special Needs: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians,” Carrie provides a detailed guide for librarians looking to develop inclusive services for children and youth with disabilities.  This book is a must-have resource for any librarian looking to learn more about inclusion in public libraries.

Why is inclusion so important?  According to Child Action, Inc., inclusion has many benefits:

  • Inclusion provides belonging, acceptance, and developmentally appropriate practices
  • Inclusion teaches children with special needs typically developing skills
  • Inclusion provides an opportunity to develop friendships
  • Inclusion provides children with special needs an opportunity to develop positive attitudes toward themselves and others who are different from themselves

What does inclusion mean to you at your library?  For me, inclusive libraries are…










& Welcoming!



0 Comments on What does “inclusion” mean to you? as of 10/24/2013 12:40:00 AM
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What can you do when you find yourself working in a smaller library branch with a population that has outgrown the building? This was our situation at the Hope Mills Branch Library, one of eight branches of our Cumberland County Public Library & Information Center. Our customer base continued to grow (a wonderful problem to have,) but unfortunately, there was simply not any additional space in our building for us to expand. By thinking outside the box, we were able to make some creative changes to help meet the customer demand at our location, and we did it without adding a floor or expanding our building into the parking lot.  

New seating provides room to read and study. (Photo courtesy of the Cumberland County Public Library & Information Center.)

New seating provides room to read and study. (Photo courtesy of the Cumberland County Public Library & Information Center)

The majority of our renovation occurred over a two week period, and we reopened to the public on August 26. The project was funded in part through a Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grant in partnership with Fayetteville State University in Fayetteville, NC. What did our plan include? We tore down a wall to expand the space available to us for computers and shelving, and the adult computer lab, previously held in an enclosed room, was turned into staff space. We brought the computer lab out into the collection. While this plan demolished one of our individual quiet study rooms, we were able to keep one of our enclosed study carrels.   

Adult Computer Lab

Adult Computer Lab
(Photo courtesy of Cumberland County Public Library & Information Center)

 The size of our staff had grown, but our building had not grown with it. The youth services department had moved into the conference room several years ago because there was not enough room in our general workroom for the number of staff working at our location. After these renovations, we were able to add the conference room for both customer and staff use, and the youth services team moved into the old computer lab room. A large archway was formed out of the wall separating the circulation/information services office from the youth services office,and these areas are now connected.

This new archway connects our two offices. (Photo courtesty of Cumberland County Public Library & Information Center)

This new archway connects our two offices.
(Photo courtesty of Cumberland County Public Library & Information Center)

The entire library branch also received fresh paint, smaller seating areas to allow for individual spots to relax and read, and the children’s department received a beautiful, brand new service desk.  What has the public’s response been to our renovated look? 

“Whoa!” “There’s a new desk! And tables!

“I like the computer lab out in the open. It is more comfortable.”

 “I never realized until now how lucky I am to live within walking distance of such a community asset!  I guess I just took you guys for granted!”

“I missed all of you – you’re so nice here. Hope Mills is lucky to have a beautiful ‘new’ library!”

“This looks great and so much roomier!”


The new children's desk  provides shelving for board books. (Photo courtesy of the Cumberland County Public Library & Information Center.)

The new children’s desk offers shelving for board books.
(Photo courtesy of the Cumberland County Public Library & Information Center)

  “This furniture is comfortable.”

“Thank you for getting the conference room back.”

 “The children’s room looks so cheerful now!”   

Children's furniture offers space for new computers.

Children’s furniture provides space for new computers. (Photo courtesy of the Cumberland County Public Library & Information Center)

Without building a brand new facility, we were able to address the concerns we faced while improving our library branch for our children and their families. How have you addressed space restraints in your library?  Please share in the comments below!



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25. Volunteers In Your Library

One of our most dedicated and reliable volunteers we have at our library is young man who is going into 10th Grade.  He comes to the library every Saturday precisely at 9 am.  He has impeccable attention to detail and is able to manage a variety of responsibilities.  He is quick to shelve and is eager to take on new tasks.  As the new Head of Children’s Services at my library, I was so happy to see that we had a resident of the community–someone who had used the library all throughout his life–now volunteering and making a difference at his local library.  I was even more pleased when I found out that this young man is a person with special needs.

If you already have a teen volunteer program at your library to help out in the Children’s Department, consider opening it up to teens with special needs.  It may not be anything you’ve considered before, but I assure you the payoff is well worth it.  Here’s a few things I’ve learned along the way.

One of the first things I do after hearing about a volunteer’s interest in the library is to schedule an orientation meeting.  This is a great opportunity for me to get to know the person who will be helping out at the library and learn about strengths and interests.  You also want to make sure to keep track of the volunteer’s contact information, in case you should need to get in touch with him.  The key here is to be sure to involve family members in this process–there isn’t anyone who knows this volunteer better, after all!  During the meeting, though, I do my best to make sure I’m not having the parent speak for your volunteer.  If your volunteer can interact with me in a dialogue, I prepare myself with clear and concise questions, so as to avoid any misunderstanding.  Depending on the special need, it may work more smoothly to direct comments and questions to the caregiver.  But I’ve noticed if I take the time to speak slowly and clearly and wait for responses, I usually have a positive interaction.

It’s also important to match the task with your volunteer’s ability.  Some volunteers may enjoy for sorting things or organizing materials in numerical or alphabetical order.  Others may prefer to be more active around the library and do things like cleaning, dusting shelves, or watering plants.  Maybe your volunteer is interested in assisting with preparing craft materials.  It’s handy to keep an on-going list of various tasks of things you need done around the department.  Then, as you learn about your volunteer’s strengths and interests, you can assign duties that you think will be a good fit.  This is key.  As you assign a task, you are also setting up an expectation.  So, be aware of the expectations you are creating and if they are within the realm of your volunteer’s abilities.

Most importantly, be friendly and flexible.  Whether it is you or another staff member who is charged with coordinating volunteers, remember that simple things like saying “Hello” and “How are you?” go a long way.  Even if your volunteer does not always respond to you, this shows you acknowledge and value their presence.  If you’ve noticed that your volunteer needs help with sticking to a task, consider offering him a timer to use while he is working.  If you see signs that your volunteer is frustrated or having a bad day, offer him the chance to take a break or assign him a different task.  This is another time when having a communicative relationship with your volunteer’s parent or caregiver is crucial.  That person could provide information about your volunteer’s situation to help you to see the big picture of your volunteer’s needs.  Bumps in the road will inevitably arise, but being understanding and reassuring, especially when working with patrons with special needs, is an absolute must.

Teens with special needs have unique challenges as they grow into adulthood, and ma

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