Bronwyn’s Library Blog

Welcoming Library Spaces for the Autism Community and Their Families

Posted by bronwynr on May 18, 2009

ASCLA/KLAS/NOD Award Winner Named

The Association of Cooperative and Specialized Agencies (ASCLA), a division of the American Library Association, announces 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.

The award, sponsored by ASCLA, Keystone Systems, and the National Organization on Disability, recognizes a library for “an innovative and well-organized project which has successfully developed or expanded services for people with disabilities.    The winner receives a citation and a $1000 prize, funded by Keystone Systems.

Kathleen Hegarty, Chair of the ASCLA Awards Committee, commented on the choice of “Libraries and Autism” for the award:  This outstanding project has launched a virtual campaign to make libraries aware of people on the autism spectrum and, most notably, to train librarians to serve this growing, underserved population. Its accessible website offers valuable background information, a superb customer service training film, and supportive materials and graphics, all of which can be downloaded.  State sponsorship, able project leadership, the involvement of the autism community, and highly effective promotion have contributed to the success of an initiative that has had national impact.

The sophisticated, yet user-friendly website,, contains numerous citations to print and non-print materials, websites, and organizations concerned with the autism spectrum disorder as well as an Autism Overview PowerPoint presentation. Individuals with autism and library staff interact in the 19-minute training video which focuses on some unconventional behavioral traits of people with this disorder.  Techniques are then suggested and demonstrated that will enable librarians to respond in a positive and welcoming manner.

Providing expert commentary are:  Dr. Linda Meyers, Executive Director, COSAC (The New Jersey Center for Outreach and Services for the Autism Community),  Dr. Jill Harris, Director of Psychology and Coordinator of the Autism Center of Excellence, Specialized Children’s Hospital, and Adrienne Robertiello, Community Partnership for People with Autism, who appears with her son in the video.

The video is intended to form the basis for workshops such as those held by the project for its own library staff, local school media specialists, and selected libraries in New Jersey.  It has been the springboard for workshops in other states, among them, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Supportive materials include: a list of workshop consultants;  publicity logos;  sample publicity release; a non-verbal communication tool; customer service tips; and a unique 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.   A “Libraries and Autism: We’re Connected” – decal for the library door or window is available on request.

As a component of the project, the training video has been distributed to every public library in New Jersey, many schools, special and academic libraries, and to every New Jersey legislator.  The Pennsylvania State Library has also replicated 1000 copies.

Other promotional efforts — the  comprehensive release sent by PR NewsWire and MultiVU to thousands of local and national media outlets and to over 3600 websites and the YouTube posting of the training video–have evoked enthusiastic responses from libraries nationally and internationally as well as from individuals in the autism community.

The 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.


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