Renee Grassi (USA)
Stronger Together: Successful Community Partnerships Serving Youth with Special Needs in American Public Libraries
Public libraries in the U.S.A. are taking a more community-focused and collaborative approach to service—especially when it pertains to addressing the needs of underserved populations, such as youth with special needs. The goal of this article is to provide concrete and replicable examples of library services for children and teens with disabilities that are informed, planned, and delivered in partnership with community stakeholders. Programs featured in this article will include Dakota County Library’s drop-in Sensory-friendly Saturdays at Dakota County’s annual Special Needs Resource Fair; the Library’s Autism-Friendly Book Discussion series for young adults in partnership with the Autism Society of Minnesota; and an informational program hosted by Dakota County Library featuring the University of Minnesota’s Autism Initiative. This article will use examples from the author’s experience working with Dakota County Social Services to create and distribute a county-wide assessment tool gathering authentic feedback about the Library and its services. It will also provide examples of the Library’s outreach programs, such as maker space programs for young adults participating in an afterschool program at the Minnesota Organization of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. In addition, this article will share the author’s experience developing universally designed spaces, as well as low-cost strategies to make existing libraries more welcoming and inclusive for all. Moreover, this article will share the author’s experience partnering with local organizations and participating in professional networks in Illinois and Minnesota to support disability awareness training and capacity development for library staff. In order for public libraries in the U.S.A. and worldwide to remain relevant in serving the ever-diversifying needs of their communities, they must leverage partnerships and tap into local disability advocates and stakeholders, as this is an essential part of developing more inclusive libraries and creating a more tolerant and accepting world.
Author, blogger, speaker, trainer, and inclusion advocate Renee Grassi is a nationally recognized leader in the United States of America for library services for youth with disabilities. She is the Youth Services Manager at Dakota County Library, Minnesota, U.S.A.