For over fifty years, the Mokena Community Public Library has provided inclusive programming for their residents. They have adapted to the changing needs of their diverse community while remaining a central informational and social hub for the village.
Cathy Hoffman and Kathy Ruggio, library staff members, attended the 2017 Targeting Autism forum in Springfield to explore how the library might address the needs of patrons and families impacted by autism. They left the forum with great ideas about adapting services in her library. Wasting no time, they pitched the ideas to the board of directors. With the green light from the board and Library Director, Cathy Palmer, they embarked on an exciting mission to make Mokena Public Library truly inclusive. Seeking advice, they contacted Mary Pelich, Autism Consultant and Trainer with the Targeting Autism Project, for a professional consultation.
Mary toured the Mokena Public Library on July 27, to assess their space and discuss ways to make their library more welcoming for individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities. During the consultation, all explored the possibility of converting several spaces into “calming environments” by making just a few inexpensive adjustments. Lighting was considered as well as noise levels, neighboring library departments, furniture options, privacy and signage for the space. They also looked at the children’s story/activity room, a large, dedicated area full of tables and chairs with built-in work spaces. For children with sensory sensitivities, however, it is rather busy-looking and is too large for use with a smaller group. Ways to partition the space, adapt the lighting, make it more comfortable and minimize visual content were discussed.
In addition, staff is working with nearby libraries to learn about any inclusive services and programs that they are currently providing. Several libraries in the region are partnering to offer special programming on a rotating basis so that families in the larger community have a weekly option for special programs, such as sensory storytimes. Toward this end, the Mokena Public Library Children’s Department is planning to offer a monthly sensory-friendly program. Staff members from the Children’s Department are also working on adapting activity kits for circulation.
Collaborations are underway with local service organizations in the area. Partnering with service providers will lend expertise for environmental or programmatic changes in the library. The library will then explore ways to enhance or adapt their programs and services specifically for individuals and families connected to the providers. In this way, they hope to reach children, adults and families that may have never used the library before.
Because community access to reliable resources plays an essential role for public libraries, the Mokena Library has prioritized the development and expansion of an autism resource center. Parents, caregivers, educators and residents will be able to rely on well-vetted resources along with the personalized assistance of librarians and staff.
Clearly, the Mokena Community Public Library strives each day to achieve their mission as the most welcoming and inclusive library possible. The staff is dedicated to forming alliances with their patrons in order to serve them with information, access to useful resources, and opportunities for socialization and personal growth. They successfully collaborate within the Village of Mokena and the greater community to find opportunities that will engage people and get them excited to use their library.
If you would like to know more about the Targeting Autism project’s consultation and training opportunities, contact Mary Pelich.
Targeting Autism is supported by an LB21 Institute of Museum and Library Services grant and the Illinois State Library.