According to figures around 1% of the Irish population is now on the autism spectrum. As autism is considered to be an invisible disability it is not always obvious when a child or adult has the condition. Libraries are seen as a safe space and their aim is to be socially and culturally inclusive and to minimise barriers to use. They are leaders in delivering an innovative service which engages, informs and provides greater access for individuals and communities to reading and literacy, learning and information, and community and culture.
A busy library however, can be a very challenging place for a person with autism for several reasons including bright lights, unfamiliar layout, too noisy, to name but a few. To effectively meet the needs of people with autism it is necessary for librarians to understand autism and what extra supports are required.
There have been several studies undertaken on autism services in academic libraries in Ireland. Research of services in public libraries however has remained largely untouched.
This research attempts to investigate the role of public libraries in assisting library users with autism. This exploratory study collected data from individuals with experience of autism and from librarians working in libraries that offer autism friendly services. By doing this we were able to examine people’s awareness of autism friendly services and how they perceive library environments in general. It also examined what potential improvements could be made to ensure the library experience is as enjoyable as possible. Various librarians gave their insight into how their libraries assist people with autism.
Results of the study show that there is a lack of awareness of the services on offer in the library amongst library users. It also highlighted several factors which could be a barrier to accessing the library, along with changes that could be made to make the library more autism friendly. Consequently, these findings enable recommendations to be made that can be applied across all public libraries in order to develop programmes or strategies to assist users with autism.