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FSU researchers win grant to better serve library patrons on the autism spectrum

Florida State University’s College of Communication and Information is spearheading Project A+ — research that aims to create strategies for academic librarians to serve patrons on the autism spectrum (ASD).

The Institute of Museum and Library Services — the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums — has awarded $400,000 to researchers from FSU’s School of Information and School of Communication Science and Disorders to study a range of academic libraries to determine what makes an “autism friendly” space.

“Libraries are a safe place to university students,” said Nancy Everhart, professor in the School of Information and principal investigator of the project. “Those with ASD use libraries as a place to study and explore interests, as an escape and as a space away from sensory distractions.”

 

Coaching for librarians and staff and implementation protocols for libraries will be developed to achieve the goal of creating an autism friendly space. Their impact will be tested on students with ASD.

Multimedia models and resources will be shared nationwide with academic librarians via FSU’s DigiNole digital research repository.

Patrons with ASD are a growing group of underserved library users according to Everhart and fellow researchers Juliann Woods, professor in the School of Communication Science and Disorders, and Amelia Anderson, project coordinator of Project A+.

The research team first collaborated in 2013 to create Project PALS – Panhandle Autism Library Services. The program, also funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, program sought to improve information services for rural library patrons with ASD through online courses for librarians.

In 2015, the courses became widely accessible for free via WebJunction.org.

“The response to PALS has been overwhelming,” Anderson said.

Project A+ builds on PALS with more specific solutions for academic libraries.

“Voices of students with autism will figure prominently as they are surveyed and interviewed as part of Project A+,” Woods said.