Bright Ideas | May 2023

PL-School Book Club Partnership | Exploring Neurodiversity and Disability in Libraries

A Lesson in Yeses: Public Library & School Partnerships

Children reading in a small group in a school libraryIn the middle of fall semester 2022, our public library was invited by a representative from the school PTA to visit the nearby school to host a book club for grades 2-5. As new librarians, we were both enthusiastic about the opportunity to deepen existing relationships with the walkable school where many of our afterschool patrons attend. We'd already welcomed field trips to the library and offered information literacy instruction and a book club seemed like a perfect match to respond to school interest.  We decided on a read aloud format where students could opt-in to large group, smaller group, or quiet reading time alone, and we anticipated one of us and a school representative would visit each month to facilitate.

From building new connections with teachers and students who didn't already visit the library, there were a million reasons to try. With tentative hopefulness, we decided to select high appeal books since the kids joining us would be giving up recess for book club. We purchased low-cost stickers, fun bookmarks, and looked into gift book options for those who joined. For recruitment day we created a simple reader's advisory form that inquired about book club name and book suggestions and put together a box of book possibilities so the children could see what kinds of books we hoped to read together. The list included a lot of graphic novels and books that wouldn't look like homework. Our goal was reaching 10-15 students with each session, but we agreed along with our manager that even five each time would be a beneficial reach. We felt lucky for the support despite the uncertainty of program outcomes and the time that would be allotted during an often under-staffed lunch timeframe.

We arrived at school on recruitment day and at first, nobody knew why we were there, but after a few quick conversations and hiccups, we connected with the right grade contacts and entered a busy lunchroom to make our pitch.  To our surprise, the enthusiasm was contagious (and the stickers were popular): more than sixty children signed up to participate. We left knowing that even if interest dropped by more than 50%, we'd be well in the goal range. We realized we Large group of students sitting in circle of chairs in school librarywould both be needed at the sessions to allow for the flexibility of large and small group management, and luckily our library was able to accommodate the change. We also realized we'd be keeping book orders to add new class sets rather than creating giveaways every session. We met once a month for five months with an overall attendance ranging from 35 to 76 students! We ended the season in April with a library program in the media lab where participants were invited to craft their first video or audio book reviews, an opportunity that led some of them to the media lab for the first time. 
At each session we saw children gaining confidence in reading aloud, helping one another with new words and new book formats and expressions, and building their love of reading. How do we know? Among the favorite responses we gathered from participants, we were asked questions like these throughout: "What will happen in the summer?" "Where can we meet in the summer?" "Why do we only have book club once a month?" We've already begun planning for the summer sessions of book club, once again unsure if we should expect five or twenty-five participants, but our lesson in “yes” has inspired us to work flexibly with schools, raise expectations about potential, and build meaningful relationships with students, teachers, and volunteers in our community, so they feel welcome at our Library.—Erika Hogan, youth services librarian, & Angela Clock, youth services librarian, Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library

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Reaching for Higher Ceilings: KSU and Pittsburgh MLIS Students Explore Neurodiversity and Disability in Libraries

A spark ignited in the Kent State University’s ALA Student Chapter meeting in January 2023. In one way or another, all of us had a vested interest in the many aspects of neurodiversity and disability in libraries. A few of us identify as neurodivergent and/or disabled. Others have children who fall within these categories. However, every single person recognized that the conversation about these populations within libraries either fell short or didn’t happen at all.

Kent State University logoALA Student Chapter Officers Lynette Seelmeyer, Alison Caplan, Beth Parker, Nicole Clarkson, and faculty liaison Dr. Marianne Martens decided that our Spring 2023 event would be a free, open-to-all webinar in mid-April discussing how librarians can serve, work alongside, or thrive as members of the neurodiverse or disability communities. We called it “Included: Neurodiversity and Disability in Libraries” in hopes of facilitating the eventual inclusion not only of this conversation, but of the individuals it impacts the most.

As our first ever Lunch & Learn webinar, “Included” was an hour-long roundtable discussion with ALA Chapter students and two experts on the subject: Renee Grassi and Dr. Amelia Gibson. In addition to the two speakers, two other student organizations joined forces with us to make this event possible: the ALA Student Chapter of University of Pittsburgh, led by Emily Wood, Liz Quinn, Brittni Linn, and faculty liaison Dr. Rebecca Morris, and the Graduate Student Advisory Council at Kent State University, led by Emily Rebmann and faculty liaison Mary Anne Nichols.

Each speaker spent ten minutes introducing their unique research and experience. After these presentations, speakers and ALA Chapter officers spent forty minutes diving into the students’ questions, all of which extended the presented research, brought in personal experiences, and introduced additional ideas for an even deeper discussion.

The first speaker, Dr. Amelia Gibson, is an associate professor at the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland at College Park, and she explored the different models of disability and how librarianship can embrace intersectional disability justice to best serve patrons in today’s society.

speech bubble containing words related to neurodiversity“The ADA is not the ceiling here,” she says about institutions setting accessibility standards solely based on the terms of the Americans for Disabilities Act, “It’s the floor. It’s the basic and we would like to set our ceiling much higher.”

The second speaker, Renee Grassi, is the library director at Lake Bluff Public Library in Illinois, and she offered her personal and professional experiences in inclusivity of neurodiverse colleagues and communities.

“I think there is a misnomer that is actually kind of a deterrent to this idea of neurodiversity,” she stated regarding employing and managing those with disabilities or neurodiversity, “which is ‘there’s only one person for the job’…I think that that’s a lie we’ve been telling ourselves for a long time.”

Within the Q&A portion, discussion topics included responsive library policies without excessive disclosure, the necessity of teaching subjects like labor politics and disability justice in library science programs, and an acknowledgment of how advocacy can be exhausting but is never selfish.

Together, we recruited more than 80 participants for the webinar, not including those who reached out to say that they couldn’t watch it live but wanted access to a recording to view later.

“We will never be in a finite state of learning in our profession [and] in our humanity,” Renee says in her closing remarks, “The more people we know and understand their stories or just listen, the more we can become more full and diverse in our own understanding of this complicated world that we live in.”

To join the discussion and learn more about neurodiversity and disability in libraries, please check out the webinar’s recording on YouTube.—Nicole Clarkson, Lynette Seelmeyer, Alison Caplan, and Beth Parker, ALA Student Chapter officers, Kent State University, Ohio

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