11 May 2022

How libraries can become more ASD-inclusive

Guest post by Aodhán Keegan, DCU Library

This article is a summary of the key points from my Capstone Project I conducted during my Masters in Library and Information Studies in UCD from 2020 to 2021. My research topic concerned the role of public and academic libraries as inclusive spaces for the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) community. In this article, I will focus on how both public and academic librarians may appreciate ASD as an opportunity for professional growth instead of an obstacle, and how the library can function as an ASD-inclusive establishment.

Throughout my research, I consulted various articles that were oriented around how well librarians understood ASD, and how they could incorporate their knowledge into their professional practice. In one of these articles, a group of public librarians in Australia participated in an online autism awareness training session in 2020. Afterwards, they developed the confidence to support library users with ASD, as they were better informed about autism and the signs to look out for in an affected user (Paynter, Simpson, O’Leary et al, 2020).

Other articles suggested that public librarians should concentrate on their forms of communication with library users with ASD. Akin and MacKinney (2004) suggest scaffolding communication when interacting with children with ASD. This entails the librarian beginning by asking the user yes or no questions before proceeding to more nuanced questions regarding their information search. This method ensures that the child is not overwhelmed during their information search. It must also be acknowledged that the user(s) with ASD may act as aloof or disinterested in the library, but this should not be regarded as antisocial behaviour. It is merely their adaptation to the sensory stimuli of this environment.

The approach that academic librarians may adopt is vastly different to their public counterparts. This evolves around the consent of the student with ASD to be forthcoming about their information needs and their desired study space. In the articles I consulted, most academic librarians regarded these students to be ‘intellectually capable of pursuing higher level education’ as well as having the confidence to ask for help (Shea & Derry, 2019, p. 327). Hence, it is the imperative of the academic librarian to give the student with ASD the prerogative to navigate their options of using the library to suit their additional needs.

However, that is not to say the academic librarian adopts a passive role to the needs of students with ASD. Whenever a lecturer refers a student to them for support, they must regard them as individuals presenting with their own challenges. They must recognise that no two students on the spectrum have the same needs, thus an unbiased and non-judgmental manner must be adopted to support them. As stated previously, the student with ASD knows what they are seeking, and they are self-assured enough to realise and address this.

There is a general assumption that libraries are naturally safe havens for people with autism spectrum disorder due to their traditionally quiet environments. However, in a survey conducted by Lou-Ellen Kiely (2018, p. 42) on library attendance amongst people with ASD and their guardians in Ireland, forty-four percent never availed of their local library services, with eighteen percent complaining that their local library was unaccommodating to their sensory needs. To tackle this problematic gap, efforts have been made in America to promote public libraries as ASD-inclusive. Librarians have put up visual displays of ‘autism-friendly’ logos on the front doors of their workplace and have collaborated with other libraries to host weekly sensory programming for families.

For ASD students to experience a positive relationship with their academic library, school librarians may support secondary school students with ASD to develop their information seeking skills in advance of attending third-level education. In their research, Ennis-Cole and Smith (2011) surveyed school librarians who were teaching students with ASD to develop their assistive technology skills. To quote a surveyed librarian, ‘we can assist autistic students in the same ways we assist other students. We recommend materials. We teach selection. We model reading. We mentor’ (Ennis-Cole & Smith, 2011, p. 93).

As this article asserts, to support the ASD community, the public librarian must be astute to how they may respond to the sensory stimuli of the library environment. As many students with ASD are generally well developed both socially and intellectually, the academic librarian must cultivate a professional rapport with these students when supporting them in navigating the library. For both the public and academic sectors, advocacy for the ASD community in the public library environment and preparing prospective third-level students with ASD to develop their information seeking skills are two examples of solutions to combat the additional challenges people with ASD typically experience when accessing library services.

References
Akin, L. & MacKinney, D. (2004). Autism, Literacy, and Libraries: The 3 Rs = Routine, Repetition, and Redundancy. Children and Libraries, 2(2), 35–43. ISSN: 1542-9806

Ennis-Cole, D. & Smith, D., (2011). Assistive technology and autism: Expanding the technology leadership role of the school librarian. School Libraries Worldwide, 17(2), 86-98. ISSN: 1023-9391

Kiely, L. (2018). ‘The role of Irish Public Libraries in Assisting Users with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Benefits, Challenges and other Considerations’ (Masters Dissertation, Dublin Business School, Dublin). ISSN: 10788/3489

Paynter, J., Simpson, K., Wicks, R., Westerveld, M., O’Leary, K. & Hurley, A. (2020). Development of an Online Training Program for Public Library Staff to Deliver Autism Friendly Story Time Sessions. Journal Of The Australian Library And Information Association 2020, 69(4), 496–522. DOI: 10.1080/24750158.2020.1836949

Shea, G. & Derry, S. (2019). Academic Libraries and Autism Spectrum Disorder: What Do We Know? The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 45(1), 326–331. DOI: 10.1016/j.acalib.2019.04.007

Making it work: doing a Virtual Work Placement during Covid-19

© True Media

Guest Post by Sinead Delaney Sinéad is a student of Library and Information Management. She has recently completed a work experience placement at the Glucksman Library.'

I am a Master’s student in Information and Library Management at Ulster University. The course is part-time and entirely remote. One of the conditions of the course is that I must work in a library setting as I study. This blog post and the poster I present at the CONUL Conference in May 2022 recount my experience of conducting a virtual work placement at UL. While the latter stages of my placement were in-person, I worked entirely remotely for the autumn semester of 2021 as the Covid-19 restrictions in place in September 2021 meant that only University staff and students were permitted in UL Library. 

When I enrolled on my course at Ulster University, I was working full-time, first at a HSE Covid-19 Vaccination Centre in Laois, then at the library supply department in O’Mahony’s Booksellers in Limerick city. I began my work experience in UL in September 2021, which meant my placement began during the pandemic. The Glucksman Library allowed me to conduct my placement virtually, and my academic supervisor also supported this. While doing my virtual work placement at the Glucksman Library I worked on projects for my supervisor, Michelle Breen and for Louise O’Shea, Librarian Administration. Below are some of the projects I worked on for UL Library.

Digital Skills Workshops

I attended UL’s 21 Digital Skills for Students workshops (online) and prepared a report on how I perceived them, being a postgraduate student myself. I reported my observations under the following headings so that the LevUL Up project team at UL could get qualitative feedback on the following:

  • Applicability, 
  • Volume of content, 
  • Pace,
  • Level of interaction, 
  • Level of understanding as measured by questions asked.

I also did a landscape check for Michelle, finding out the different types of classes that libraries in Ireland, the UK and the US offer to their students. Michelle will mention this in her talk at the CONUL Conference on ‘Taking a Lead in Digital Literacy’ 

Research Skills

When doing desk-based research for Michelle, and also for Louise O’Shea I was able to carry out research projects from start to finish and present my findings through a Powerpoint deck; a simulation of the type of assignment I might face in my course, and a taste of what it could be like to work at an academic library. For Louise, I looked at the Universities that have Makerspaces to see how common it was that these were managed by the University library. I also audited the University libraries to see what technology they loaned to students and reported my findings back to the librarians. This meant I learnt about what these sorts of spaces looked like and understood the types of equipment that were useful for libraries to lend. 

New skills for students

Michelle encouraged me to think like a student when attending the digital skils workshops but challenged me to think like a teaching librarian too when I presented my findings about the types of workshops presented in other libraries. I identified that there was nowhere really teaching reading skills so I prepared a PowerPoint presentation on critical reading skills aimed at postgraduates. I was able to apply principles I had come across in my studies, for example, ‘fitting-in’ reading and ‘analytical reading. I hope that UL will be able to make some use out of my work on this in the future in their workshops for students. 

Collection Development 

During my virtual work placement, I submitted a list of recommended new titles for the popular fiction section in UL’s Glucksman Library. To do this, I consulted best seller lists, compared what UL had already in stock and also used social media sites to come up with my list of books. 

SWOT Analysis 

I completed a SWOT analysis of the library as part of a college assignment and Michelle’s feedback to me on that was that it matched what an academic library would identify among its strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities in the current climate




Reflections on my virtual work placement

I am an alumnus of the University of Limerick and immediately felt a connection to the library when I began my work placement. Since January 2022 I have been able to actually come in to the library and that has highlighted for me the importance of being face-to-face with colleagues. The remote working part of my placement, while not ideal, meant that I was in a safe working environment and I didn’t really feel disconnected from the library team.

I had weekly virtual meetings with my supervisor, Michelle Breen, Head of Information Services during my placement. Often these were taken during my work break but I made it work.

Overall, my placement was a success. I received a great insight into library work and was able to make real contributions to the library. I had to manage my time carefully with a full-time job, a part-time internship, and a part-time Master’s. 

Where to next? 

My background before September 2021 was not in library science. I completed an undergraduate degree in Food Science and Health at the University of Limerick before completing the professional exams with Chartered Accountants Ireland. I found the skillset I had already developed applicable to the library sector. A methodical approach to tasks was invaluable, and being good at Microsoft Office, especially Excel, is very important. Being digitally literate is an essential part of working in a library and I was glad to be able to use Excel, Powerpoint and Canva during my placement. My course will take another 2 years and I look forward then, or before I complete it, to working in a library.  

I am grateful to the staff at the Glucksman Library in UL for welcoming me in to their team and especially grateful to Michelle Breen and the other managers in UL for being so flexible in their approach and accommodating me getting started through this work placement. 

Come and see my poster with Michelle at the CONUL Conference in Limerick.




4 May 2022

Reflections on LAI CDG 202



Guest Post by Lisa O Leary, Library Assistant at UCC Library

On the 30th of March 2022 I attended the LAI CDG ‘Ace the Interview: All Things Applications and Interviews for Librarians!’ event on Zoom. 

The Library Association of Ireland’s (LAI) Career Development Group (CDG) “represents both existing library and information professionals and new graduates looking for job opportunities” (ABOUT CDG, 2022). This was my first CDG event and I found the topics covered both interesting and informative for future applications and interviews. 

Below is a summary of the event and the key points that stood out for me. 

After an introduction by Laura Ryan (@LaurNiR) of UCD Library, Marie O'Neill (@marie_librarian) of CCT College Dublin, began her presentation ‘Job Seeking and Interview Tips for Librarians’ and shared her tips on CVs, Cover Letters and Interviews. 

  • Roles that suit MLIS graduates might not be found in a library or may have very different names, but they still utilise the same skills. As the saying goes ‘A rose by any other name...’ And the same is true for MLIS graduates! So, think about non-library organisations that need information management specialists, these can be anything from data protection officers to taxonomists. 
  • Work experience is always worth it. Whether it’s giving you valuable experience to add to your CV or providing a steppingstone into a new job, the skills you gain from work experience will only benefit you. 
  • Marie highlighted how important it is to ask for help and advice, particularly from those already in the role or area you’re applying for. They know the area and what to look out for, and they may be able to review your CV and/or cover letter for you. 
  • Never underestimate the importance of mock interviews and putting in plenty of interview prep work. Not only will it give you confidence, but it will also help iron out any issues or stumbling blocks. 
  • Marie gave us a classic STAR format but with a new twist – STARSS (Situation, Task, Action, Result, Library Strategic Plans, Institutional Strategic Plan). It’s important to, where you can, link your examples with the Strategic Plans of the library and/or the institution, demonstrating how you can contribute to these goals. 
  • Always reference any MOOCS or Digital Badges that you’ve completed or are doing. They show personal and professional development and can really help you stand out from the crowd. 
  • One of the biggest surprises and takeaways for me was to do with the final interview question - “Do you have any questions for us?” Despite what interview, and internet, lore tells you it's not necessary to ask a question at the end. If you feel that everything has been covered satisfactorily in the interview, then there’s no need to ask a question for the sake of asking one. 

The next presentation was by Emma Doran (@tumbling_tomes) of Kildare County Council Library, called ‘Through the Looking Glass: Demystifying Public Library Interviews’ with a focus on public libraries. 

  • Emma went over the Public Library Grading system clarifying each grade and how they relate to one another. This was very helpful for anyone (like me!) outside of public libraries to gain a better understanding of how things work. 
  • Emma also went through the steps of the Selection Process, breaking them down into an easy-to-follow roadmap. 
  • It is critical to tailor your application to the job description, that way you highlight how you are the best candidate for the job. 
  • There were some very useful STAR examples, providing a perfect springboard to get people thinking about their own experiences and what their answers could be. 
  • When in an interview and using the STAR format remember ‘I.’ While it’s important to highlight good team working, it’s your interview and you need to shine and to sell yourself to get the job. So remember ‘I.’ 
  • When applying for a position in a public library it’s important to do your homework and read up on Local Government plans and projects. For example, ‘Our Public Libraries 2022: Inspiring, Connecting and Empowering Communities’; and the Council’s current Library Development Plan. 
  • It’s important to stay positive both in and outside of the interview. Don’t worry about your position on a Panel, you may be called sooner than you think. Particularly for Councils they could be hiring for multiple different branches and make their way down the panel list very quickly. 

Once the two keynote speakers had finished their presentations the floor was opened to both speakers and the panellists — Johanna Duffy (@Johanna_speaks) of AIT Library, Linda Fennessy (@lindafennessy) of the National Library of Ireland, and Martin O'Connor (@martinoconnor3) of UCC Library — to answer the Padlet questions sent in by attendees. 

  • Part of the discussion was on transferable skills, and not forgetting about them. Even if you don’t have much or any library experience there are plenty of skills that you find in retail, customer services, and sales that match library roles. These can range from digital skills to customer services skills to teamworking skills. 
  • Don’t stress about keeping your CV to two pages. If something is relevant and shows how you meet the job criteria, then put it in; and if your CV goes to three pages don’t worry. 
  • One of the Padlet questions sparked a very important discussion on diversity and inclusion. If you’re neurodivergent and have been called for interview don’t be afraid to reach out to the HR department and discuss how to make the interview as comfortable as possible. Don’t feel that your differences will hold you back in an interview; you have unique insights and ideas and libraries, both public and academic, are calling out for this. 

Thank you to the LAI CDG committee for organising the event and to all speakers and panellists for sharing their knowledge and experience. 

References: LAI CDG. 2022. ABOUT CDG. [online] Available at: https://laicdg.wordpress.com/about/ 

[Accessed 4 April 2022]. 

Posted on Wednesday, May 04, 2022 | Categories: