FSU collaboration to help librarians serve those with autism spectrum disorder

The Florida State University has received a $573,554 grant award from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) for a collaborative project between the PALM Center at the School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS) and the Autism Institute at the College of Medicine.

Project PALS (Panhandle Autism Library Services) is a two-year program to improve information services for rural library patrons who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

During the past two decades, ASD has become the largest growing disability in the U.S. with one in 88 children facing significant social, vocational and educational challenges. Those with ASD may have difficulties with social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, behavior and interests.

Because libraries are low stress, structured places that offer resources to participate in self-directed learning, connect with others and explore employment, they have been identified as excellent environments for those with ASD. However, there is no research and little information to ensure that this growing, underserved population will be successful in library settings.

Funded by the IMLS Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program and led by faculty at two schools within the College of Communication & Information, Project PALS will develop and offer four research-based, professional development modules that will teach librarians how to better serve patrons with ASD.

Project co-directors Dr. Nancy Everhart (SLIS) and Dr. Juliann Woods (School of Communication Science & Disorders) are both national leaders in their respective fields, known for their research in the evaluation of programs.

Everhart, who is director of the PALM (Partnerships Advancing Library Media) Center, will lead the management and implementation of the project, which includes consultants and advisors at the FSU Center for Autism and Related Disabilities, the Panhandle Library Access Network, the Scotch Plains (New Jersey) Public Library’s “Libraries and Autism: We’re Connected” project, Syracuse University’s Project ENABLE, and others.

Woods, associate director for research to practice at the Autism Institute, will lend her expertise from the development of the Autism Navigator, a web-based early-detection tool that aids service providers in recognizing and serving children with ASD. She will be integrally involved in the development and field-testing of an Autism Navigator for Librarians to ensure its maximum effectiveness.

Three students will be supported to work on the project and at least 170 librarians will participate in the development and testing of the modules, which will be freely available to the general public.