Public libraries are a special part of our community. They are one of few places available where you can gain so much, yet are asked for nothing in return. What’s more, the entire community stands to benefit from the public library and all its facilities and services.
It’s with these thoughts in mind, and thanks to funding from the Dormant Accounts Fund, that Fingal Libraries this year embarked on one of their most ambitious and exciting projects to date, endeavouring to become an Autism-Friendly service.
This project is the culmination of several months’ work, which started with a great deal of research, and meetings between staff members and the autism advocacy group AsIAm, as well as local parents, families, and teachers.
Starting in March of this year, the programme was piloted in Blanchardstown Library, with a series of six Autism Friendly-Fridays encompassing a range of activities for all ages and interests; from Lego workshops and robotics, to story-telling and careers advice. These events were a huge success, and feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with one parent pointing out that the service was “a wonderful resource, a non-threatening calm environment”, while another attendee added; “we are extremely lucky to have this opportunity. The staff are so understanding and the quiet room… what a great idea!”
Spurred on by the success of the initial pilot, staff of all ten branch libraries, as well as the mobile library service, then gathered together to brainstorm, resulting in a series of Autism-friendly hours and events, to reach out to families the length and breadth of Fingal. Staff are undergoing Autism training provided by AsIAm, while sensory hours have been set aside in each branch library to allow for Autistic people and their families to get the full benefit of their public libraries. In between these hours, exciting events such as touch-typing classes, and workshops in Lego and mindfulness have been scheduled to show the very best that the library service has to offer.
To celebrate the success of this initiative, Blanchardstown Library held a magical Sensory Friendly Christmas Celebration on Friday, December 6. Opening after hours, the library played host to an instant frozen yoghurt ‘dry ice’ workshop with Susan Boyle; a film screening of ‘This is Nicholas’ with the film’s Director and Star Nicholas Ryan-Purcell; a talk by author Chris Bonnello on ‘Lessons I Learned in School (Or Wished I Learned)’ and wonderful Bossa Nova music by the LR Project.
In between all these events, we enjoyed a wonderful Autism exhibition by AsIAm, some festive competitions, an introduction to Dungeons and Dragons, board games, and plenty more besides.
Speaking at the event, Deputy CEO of AsIAm Fiona Ferris praised the work of Fingal Libraries in their efforts to become an Autism friendly service.
“I believe the library is the absolute centre of the community,” she told the crowd gathered, “and it’s a core part of making the community Autism-friendly.”
She added that the events and facilities that had been made available in Fingal Libraries, and in other organisations around Ireland, had allowed people to understand, accept, and most importantly, appreciate Autism.
“Autism friendly shouldn’t just be a buzz word,” she added. “It’s not a destination. It’s a journey that we expect organisations and businesses to commit to.”
For more information on this initiative, or to hear more about your Fingal Library’s upcoming Autism-friendly events, please contact your local branch library, or follow Fingal Libraries on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
By Aoife Carberry – Fingal Libraries.