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Student-Centered Change

April 18, 2022

This past fall, I attended the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions’ (IFLA) virtual conference: Managing and Marketing Inclusion in Libraries. Many of the presentations focused on creating welcoming spaces for individuals who are neurodiverse. Neuro-diversity includes people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) as well as people with ADHD and learning disabilities. As I watched the presentations, I remembered that my institution, Susquehanna University, has a Neuro-Diversity and ASD support group for our students through our Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). This got me thinking, “How many students on my campus are neuro-diverse?”

I decided to dig deeper. I looped in my colleague, Amir El-Chidiac, our Diversity Resident, as they and I share a passion for accessibility in libraries. We reached out CAPS and asked if we might attend one of the meetings to ask the students how they felt about the library space. We learned that about 20% of the student body have accommodations via the Disability Services Office, and a majority of these students are neuro-diverse. Keeping this in mind, we knew whatever we learned at the group meeting had to become a top priority.

During the meeting, we asked a few questions, but mostly, we listened. The students kept expressing how they were just so glad someone on campus was finally asking them how they felt in certain spaces on campus. No one had ever asked them before. They had lots of ideas, but they were also mindful that change takes time and money. They were so glad to have their voices heard, and they said whatever changes we could make would be greatly appreciated. Students expressed concerns with the harsh lighting of the study rooms, the unpredictable amount of people in the building, the cleanliness of the café, the method of booking study rooms, etc.

We offered some ideas, but we made sure any changes we implemented would be approved by the students first. For example, we offered to have a box of items at the circulation desk, such as fidget toys, ear plugs, etc., that the students could check out and take to a study room. The students explained how they would feel embarrassed by such a large item that may make their neuro-diversity very obvious to other students. They instead suggested keeping the box at the desk and allowing students to check out just a few small items at a time. They also told us how important it was that there be cleaning supplies offered with the items, so the student using the item could make sure it was sanitized.

So far, with input from this student group, we have implemented a fidget box at our circulation desk full of a variety of fidget toys for all students to check out. We also purchased disposable ear plugs and noise cancelling headphones. With help from our Systems Librarian, Brianne Dort, we also implemented an occupancy counter where the students can check online how busy the library is. We will be attending the group’s next meeting to get feedback on how the changes are working so far as well as to get feedback on our next steps. This summer we hope to price out dimmer switches for the lights in the study rooms as well as convert one of our study rooms into a neuro-diverse friendly study room. Not only are these students more excited about using the library, but they are also currently using us as an example to advocate for change across the university. They recently asked the gym and the cafeteria to consider implementing occupancy counters like the library has.

What student groups exist on your campus that you can partner with to implement change in your library? How can your library be a leader for change on your campus?

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