by Kathleen Hegarty, Chair, ASCLA Awards Committee
At the ALA Midwinter Conference, the ASCLA Awards Committee selected as the winner of the ASCLA/KLAS/NOD Award “Libraries and Autism: We’re Connected,” a remarkable project developed by Margaret Kolaya, director of the Scotch Plains Public Library, and Daniel Weiss, director of the Fanwood Memorial Library, both in New Jersey.
This extraordinary initiative employs a sophisticated, yet user-friendly website, www.thejointlibrary.org/autism, to impart information on the autism spectrum disorder through text and electronic media and, most notably, to train librarians to reach out to and serve people with autism. The website includes numerous citations to print and non-print materials, websites, and organizations concerned with the autism spectrum. Special features include an Autism Overview PowerPoint presentation and a 19-minute customer service training video, both of which are downloadable. The video demonstrates some behavioral patterns exhibited by people with autism and shows techniques that librarians can use to respond positively, making these patrons feel welcome in the library. Supplementing the video are a list of workshop consultants and a workshop evaluation form.
Other supportive materials include: a decal with the “Libraries and Autism: We’re Connected” logo for mounting on the library door or window, circular and rectangular logos for use on publicity, a sample publicity release, a non-verbal communication tool, a customer service tips handout, and the storybook template, “This is My Library,” which can be customized by the individual library to provide a visual pre-visit tour of the library for the child with autism.
This outstanding project is a part of the “Welcoming Library Spaces for the Autism Community and Their Families” incubator project which was made possible by a contract with INFOLINK: The Eastern New Jersey Regional Library Cooperative. The Cooperative and its services are funded by the New Jersey State Library which is responsible for the coordination, promotion, and funding of the New Jersey Library Network.
The ASCLA Awards Committee chose this project for the ASCLA/KLAS/NOD Award because of its national significance. Its focus on people with autism has highlighted for libraries everywhere the need for service to this growing and underserved population. The customer service training media and supportive materials on the website offer the means by which libraries may undertake this task. The project can be easily and successfully replicated on a nationwide basis. In addition, the website with its valuable array of informational and staff training resources suggests a possible model for preparing librarians to work with people with other disabilities who may also be underserved by libraries.