Awareness and Acceptance: The Library’s role

A library science student came to the library today for help with a project that was quite similar to one I did while pursuing me own degree. In both you have to visit libraries in person and evaluate their services, as well as compare and contrast them. One of her questions was this: What is the mission of your library and who do you serve? My library’s mission statement stresses the need to meet both the entertainment and educational needs of my county’s residents, as well as patrons who come to us from the surrounding areas. As a huge supporter of lifelong learning (it is the source of inspiration for my blog’s name), I love my library’s focus on education. During my conversation with the student, I realized that many have a very narrow understanding of education. Generally, people see education as the structured process by which people earn a piece of paper that certifies that they learned something. This student can be forgiven for her misplaced focus because she is actually a teacher going for her library media specialization, but that’s not how I view lifelong learning at all. Instead, I believe learning is any knowledge acquired through experiences, whether those experiences be reading, watching, listening, or interacting. So when I say the library can support learning, I mean we can support it in more than just providing educational books or movies. Instead, I think the library has a vital role in teaching through example. Although, I think every business has the opportunity to better the world in this way. I was disheartened to see this headline in my own state: “Mother Says Bob Evans Customer Called Police On Her Son With Autism.”

For more information about the connection between libraries and those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, visit

For more information about the connection between libraries and those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, visit

When I was a library student, I did several projects on the role libraries can play in supporting those patrons with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which is actually covers a variety of behavioral disorders that impair speech and ability to interact with others at varying levels. Autism is one, but so is Asperger Syndrome and Rett Syndrome, among others. Through my research I learned that the best way to handle the situation in the link is to offer to help the caretaker, taking care to approach without making eye contact with or touching the ASD individual. Calling the police or trying to restrain or approach the ASD individual are both bad ideas.I developed a website to provide information, resources and readers’ advisory suggestions for librarians seeking to better serve their ASD populations (Be gentle. We were not allowed to use web design techniques not taught in the class, and we had to include several Javascript gimmicks that I hate as well). I also wrote a research paper studying the ways libraries can offer employment opportunities to those on the spectrum and suggesting a pilot partnership program that worked with a school serving autistic children and adults. By serving these patrons we provide acceptance and understanding, as well as an example for those who are unsure how act around those that are different from them.

Those with ASD we can help by accepting and understanding. The American Library Association offers an array of resources focuses on serving those that are different from us in a way that helps our other patrons be more aware and accepting. Here is a list of more resources:

  • Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, and Transexual Roundtable: This subsection of ALA focuses on those whose gender identity differs from the “norm” (I hate that term!), although the norm is thankfully beginning to be more inclusive of everyone.
  • Youth Services and ASD: This link further discusses the role libraries can serve those with ASD, especially youth.
  • Diversity: Libraries can serve as powerful advocates for supporting diversity inside and outside the library. It’s our differences that make us beautiful, whether our differences are visible or under the service, they should be embraced and celebrated.

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