The Special Needs Services Roundtable (SNSR) of Michigan librarians working with children, teens, and adults with disabilities, took a field trip for a spring meeting at the incredible Mary Idema Pew Library (Grand Valley State University). Thank you to Annie Belanger, Dean of University Libraries, for hosting and leading us in a discussion on Accessible Customer Service and Planning with Accessibility in Mind.
Annie's presentation key takeaways included:
- Implementing accessibility in your planning from the start
- Accessing your design plans for accessibility barriers
- Skills needed to make a project accessible, e.g., Universal Design for Learning
- Conducting an audit of development plans, policies, practices, and procedures to identify gaps in light of the four principles of accessibility: Dignity, Independence, Integration, and Equal Opportunity
- Determining your vision and approach
- Developing new or revised policies/guidelines
- Gathering feedback and approval (especially from the disability community)
- Implementing new policies, procedures and practices (shared publicly in an accessible manner)
After the presentation, Hannah, a GVSU student and User Experience Team Member at the Mary Idema Pew Library, took us on a tour. Hannah told us that user experience staff roam the library every hour assisting students and faculty, observing use of spaces, and populating data on the interactive pedestal displays on each level. These pedestal displays assist with wayfinding and indicate computer station availability, study room availability, and library traffic levels in seating areas on each level.
Assessing crowd levels can be a wonderful tool for people who may experience overstimulation in more populated settings. Students can also check out some of the library's "Focus Tools" to help with focus and self-regulation. Feedback generated from a neurodiverse student body, including a focus group of autistic GVSU students, initiated the circulation of these Tools, which include weighted lap pads, noise-canceling headphones, reading overlays, fidgets and more.
The Library is inclusive of all learning styles, providing a variety of seating arrangements depending on whether a person prefers studying alone, alone/together, quiet enclosed study rooms, or in larger group collaboration. Not pictured are also height-adjustable tables for library users who prefer or need to be working while standing, but may also be adjusted for seated users. An abundance of natural light is found throughout the library, along with refurbished wood interspersed to help absorb sound. Though we didn't notice until it was brought to our attention, a soothing white noise being projected on one of the levels to help mask collaborative sounds certainly succeeded in its task. Here are just a few of the many different seating arrangements we found:
Smaller 1 - 1 groupings
Cozy nooks with movable tables
Single seat enclosures with pull-out table tray
Quiet, natural respite found in the center courtyard of the Library
One of the silent study/reading rooms
Movable white boards and white board walls found in collaborative areas
More beautiful, natural respite found on the top level terrace
Popular meeting rooms can be reserved online.
There are so many other great examples, including the fantastic collaboration areas, which were all occupied by many students so I was not able to take photos. Hannah told us that the larger tables with 4 - 5 cozy chairs were the most popular seating arrangement, as students like to spread their books/materials out while working. You can check out more of these arrangements pictured on their website.
The Library's linear layout, interactive digital pedestal displays, text support, and large pop-out call letters in the browsable collections assist students of all abilities with independent wayfinding.
Students are also provided with creativity-sparking (and/or stress-relieving) toys in the large collaboration space.
Students can also head to the Knowledge Market to meet with highly-trained student peer consultants to work on their writing skills, presentation style, and researching strategies.
While humanities books and high-use books in the sciences and social sciences are out on the floor, the majority of the Library's books are housed in an automated storage/retrieval system which students and faculty can request online and pick up at the service desk within minutes. This space savings allows for more space dedicated to student needs. This amazing system is where we ended our tour.
As we left to collect our things, we observed students studying, researching, collaborating, creating, and socializing in a student-focused library. In addition to the incorporation of assistive technologies throughout the Mary Idema Pew Library, staff are constantly observing and evaluating how students of all abilities are using spaces and how their experience can be improved upon. A model of inclusion for all academic, public, special, and K-12 school libraries to take a look at.