Special Access Browsing is an after-hours program designed for kids on the Autism spectrum and their families. Our library opens up its Children and Teen Services Department when the library is normally closed just for this patron population. We also try to offer a craft or program at the same time. Our Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) community has responded well to these events. When surveyed during one Special Access Browsing event, we found that 80 percent of attendees had not been in a library for five years or not at all since their child was diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Special Access Browsing allows libraries to welcome ASD families and show them the resources we have available to them.
Inclusion and acceptance are key themes for our ASD community. Often ASD families simply feel unwelcome, judged, or on display in public venues, due to some atypical behaviors and sometimes the appearance of their kids. Often both patrons and staff judge kids and families on the spectrum because their disabilities are less obvious than a wheelchair. Libraries especially can be difficult to navigate for spectrum families due to its quiet or perceived quiet atmosphere.
The Longmont Public Library in Colorado serves over 86,000 residents and is the only public library in the city. Longmont has a rich tradition of cultural and social-economic diversity. Our Children and Teen’s Services department reflects this wide range of patrons. Fostering opportunities for inclusivity is a tradition and priority for the City of Longmont government which supports our library.
David Kling shows kids our Lego display
Safe and Accepting
The Children and Teen’s Services Department wrote a grant through the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) through the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). This allows us to offer materials beyond books, movies, and music. Some of our materials include noise cancelling headphones, developmental toys, and iPads with special ASD Apps. We also have programs in Spanish available. While these special materials and programs are wonderful to offer, most of our ASD families are just thrilled to be in the library with our plain books, movies, and computers. Trained volunteers such as Special Education Teachers are usually willing to help. The feedback from our ASD families has been that they just want to use library materials—like our other patrons—in a safe and accepting atmosphere. Special Access Browsing allows this population to do that.
We’ve offered Special Access Browsing for a couple of years now. Our ASD patrons and their families are starting to come into the library and use our services at non-Special Access Browsing times. We’ve earned their trust. Our entire staff is eager and interested in providing the best service and materials possible to every patron population, including people and families affected by ASD. Inclusivity must be championed in direct and meaningful ways for all our patrons. Begin to serve your ASD families by hosting a Special Access Browsing time. It all starts at the library.