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Researchers seek to better serve library users with autism

Nancy Everhart, professor at the School of Information, and College of Communication and Information Associate Dean of Research Juliann Woods.

Florida State University professors are making it easier for people with autism to use the library through an online course designed to teach librarians the challenges individuals with the disorder are facing.

Nancy Everhart, professor at the School of Information, and College of Communication and Information Associate Dean of Research Juliann Woods have partnered to make library patrons with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) more successful in the library setting through Project PALS. ASD is the fastest growing disability in the United States, according to Autism Speaks, an autism advocacy organization.

“We found that librarians really want to know more about this population and how their libraries can respond positively,” Everhart said. “Particularly in rural areas, training of this type has been unavailable.”

Project PALS, which stands for Project Panhandle Autism Library Services, is an online course for librarians designed to teach the unique challenges and needs of individuals with ASD, regardless of age. The project is funded by a federal grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Produced in collaboration with the Florida Center for Interactive Media, courses consist of four multimedia modules: About Autism in the Library, Arranging the Library Environment, Communication with Individuals with Autism, and Interacting with Technology. Project PALS researchers identified these topics as being of highest need to librarians.

Project PALS is hosted by WebJunction, a national portal for professional librarian development. Starting this month, the course will be widely accessible for free. Additional resources include research-based checklists, examples of materials, tip sheets, lists and templates to assist librarians in implementing best practices in their unique setting. The course can be found at http://pals.cci.fsu.edu.

“The response has been overwhelming,” said Amelia Anderson, a doctoral student at School of Information who is evaluating the project and disseminating information about Project PALS at conferences nationwide. “There is a definite need.”