Saturday, July 18, 2009

Library Conference

I'm back again -- didja miss me?

I didn't mean to take quite this long to post, but between last weekend's conferencing, the regular daily plate-spinning, and the bounty of the plantation (have frozen umpteen quarts of green-beans, and canned 10 quarts of applesauce and a double-recipe of cherry jam since last we spoke), my poor blog has gone sliding down the priorities.

However. The library conference needs reporting!

Though the pickings were a little slim for my data-library specialty, I did manage to find relevant vendors in the exhibit hall and useful sessions to attend. I also, wonder of wonders, connected up with EVERY ONE of the people-meetings I'd arranged. It really felt in some ways like another reunion weekend, except instead of college friends, it was high school buddies, a housemate from my post-college years in Mennonite Voluntary Service, a college-library colleague whom I hadn't seen since JoyDad & I made our last cross-country move 11 years ago, a data-librarian colleague from social-science data conferences. (Yes, they have those. Who knew?) And then the wonderful hospitality of UncleDO & AuntLO, who treated me to a grilled-out dinner on their rooftop deck Saturday night, with a spectacular sunset and view of the twinkling city skyline as the darkness fell. Ahhh.

The very last session I attended at the conference was something just for me. It was a session called "Serving Students Along the Autism Spectrum." The program was aimed particularly at school libraries, but it sounded to me as if the attendees represented a broad range of libraries -- and also that some of the more coordinated efforts are happening in the public libraries! Which makes sense, because school libraries are often deemed expendable in budget-cutting times, and we're surely in budget-slashing times these days... many school librarians are just trying to keep their heads above water. But I digress. At any rate, the number of attendees caught the presenters off guard, to the point that they ran out of handout packets!

The session itself had a "what is autism" training component to it, but also had a school librarian describing her own work with students on the spectrum, and representatives from the Chicago Public Library talking about their recent system-wide efforts to orient staff and acquire/create autism-related materials. The CPL is a big system, and I was impressed at how broad their staff-awareness efforts sounded, though at this point it would be hard to guess it from their web site. They also spoke of "inclusion kits" that they're making available for check-out, though it's not yet a completed work -- the kits are social-story materials aimed at particular situations like using the library or using the CTA public transit system.

The school librarian who spoke was interesting. She had a speaking style that was simultaneously animated, with big gestures, but slowly spoken and with huge emphasis on what felt like almost every point, practically every other word. I actually found it annoying to listen to, but then thought "hey, she's showing us what she thinks works when she communicates with young'uns on the spectrum in her library!" Which put a different cast on it. Kind of like how Barney is totally annoying for adults, but little ones lap it up...

A few random good points:
  • On the school library side of things, there was a good point made about keeping the library in mind when it comes to IEPs (filing away for future).
  • On libraries in general, one of the presenters spoke about how libraries can be a natural match for people with autism. It's generally a quiet place; it's generally predictable, with rules for how things go; there are usually safe-feeling nooks and crannies; and there are BOOKS! There are COMPUTERS! You can learn as much as you like about your all-consuming interest!
  • An audience member asked for recommendations for story-time books for kids on the spectrum. The responder gave some examples of books with rhythmic cadences and rhymes, repeated patterns, interesting pictures -- and the audience member pointed out that those are all things that make good read-alouds for any kid. YESSS!

Libraries and Autism: We're ConnectedThe presenters pointed out an award-winning set of resources for libraries, put together by Scotch Plains Public Library and Fanwood Memorial Library, both of New Jersey (where the oft-quoted autism prevalence number is 1 in 94.) The program is called Libraries and Autism: We're Connected, and consists of a 20-minute training video for library staff, a PowerPoint training presentation, recommendations for autism-related materials for library collections, a printed tool with Boardmaker-type icons for library-users with autism to communicate with staff, a social-story tool called This is my Library, links and logos. The panel wanted to rope these people into the conference session, but discovered that they'd be receiving an award at the conference during the same time slot!

I was impressed with the video. (It looks like two parts, but Part 1 is actually the complete presentation, 20 minutes long. Part 2 repeats the last 10 minutes of Part 1 - strange. I figured it out! Part 1 & Part 2 are ten-minute YouTube segments, OR you can click on the video player and play the whole 20-minute video from the library server.) It was very reassuring, low-key, professional. Participants in the video were clearly on the spectrum themselves, not just actors (2 kids, one adult).

Several nice points in the training video:
  • They use the quote "If you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism." Nice!
  • They recommend people-first language (person with autism). I know that's got its own level of controversy, but it fit well into the people-first emphasis of the video overall (e.g. The tips in this video are really quite universal... any encounter with ANY library user should involve a receptive smile and personal words of welcome...)
  • One particularly useful conversation tip for de-escalating uncomfortable situations involved asking common social questions to help library users with autism to get on-script and decrease anxiety levels
  • Good point that if there's a caregiver present, that caregiver is not automatically an intermediary -- library staff should communicate as directly with the person as possible
  • Library staff can be ambassadors to the community, by how they respond to situations involving autism! If the staff is low-key and accepting about flapping or vocal stims, for example, it sends an important message to other people nearby that this is not cause for alarm.
  • The video pointed out the people on the spectrum can make excellent library employees and volunteers. (Oh yeah!)

And there was more. As I said, I was quite impressed. I'd be interested to hear reviews from a spectrum perspective, to fill in what I might be missing.

One quibble I have with the materials is some discomfort with the logo. There's that darn puzzle-piece thing again. It's not so bad when the puzzle-pieces are connected to the books in the image -- when the libraries are part of the puzzle of life, and we're all in it together trying to figure out how to do things right, that's positive. But they use the puzzle-piece part of the logo separately too, and the whole implication that people on the spectrum themselves are puzzles to figure out... bleah.

The recommended links on the site also rather bend over backward to be fair-and-balanced about vaccines. On the other hand, the blog recommendations are much more neurodiversity oriented: LeftBrain/RightBrain, Autism Hub, and more.

Well, it's taken me long enough to get this together, I'll just post now. Am hoping to get back to my more regularly scheduled programming once the beans and cherries and apples start to slow down!


Anonymous said...

Yes, missed you!

Lynda said...

Interesting point about the puzzle pieces. I should use that symbol for my daycare. There is always some piece of a child I'm trying to figure out or make a connection with...on the spectrum or not! ;-)

Anonymous said...

welcome back! it sounds like a very well thought out presentation .. it's so nice to see the effort being made to understand and accomodate our kids across the board!

Dan Weiss and Meg Kolaya said...

We are so glad you found our website, video and resources. Our purpose is to provide a central resource for library staff to improve the customer service they provide. As librarians we do strive, perhaps to a fault, to provide all perspectives.
We've been presenting in-depth workshops around the country on this program. In our presentations, we do have some intensive discussion on hot issues such as vaccinations gluten-free diets, etc. Our experts (in the video) come down definitively on the pro-vaccine side.
Please feel free to contact us anytime or send us suggestions for links or other information to improve our site. THANKS for spreading the word.
All the best,
Dan & Meg

Alison A. Ernst said...

Greetings: I'm the gal who facilitated the "Serving Students Along the Autism Spectrum" program at ALA, and am very glad you found it useful. I am hoping to manage a preconference at ALA 2010 more foused on direct library service to children along the spectrum in school settings. Thanks for blogging about the program!

Alison Ernst
Director of Library & Academic Resources
Northfield Mount Hermon School, MA
NMH Library Home:
NMH Library Blog:
Twitter: aaernst