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Detailed Neurodiverse User's Guide to the Library: Why do we have a user's guide?

For neurodiverse users, by a neurodiverse librarian.

What's this for?

Short version here


Hi, I'm Sarah Morehouse. I've been a librarian here since 2006 and I've been in the field of library science since 2002. I have gotten used to lot of complicated, counterintuitive, and/or irritating things in the library world. I can't change them, but I can use my own experience as a neurodiverse person with anxiety, executive dysfunction, and sensory sensitivities to make things easier for others. This seems to be especially appropriate now that SUNY Empire is designated an Autism Friendly institution.

I hope to make helpful information and guidance available on:

  • Navigating the library and completing library-related tasks in a sensory-friendly way
  • Navigating the library and completing library-related tasks with maximum support for and minimum burden on executive function and working memory
  • Making the unspoken rules and parameters of libraries in general and our library in particular explicit and clear
  • Letting everyone know what to expect from, and hopefully reduce anxiety about interacting with a librarian in reference questions (Ask A Librarian) and webinars (@Home Library Workshops)

What is neurodiversity?

The Neurodiverse category (aka neurodivergent or neurovariant) typically includes people who are autistic*, or who have ADHD, OCD, or any number of learning differences. It means having a slightly different kind of brain from the majority of people (who are called neurotypical.) Most of the artificial environment, including institutions of higher education, the Internet, libraries, etc. are built with the majority in mind, so neurodiverse people can experience disproportionate challenges using and existing in them.

Neurodivergent and neurotypical minds can have different patterns of strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, neurodiversity is not just one spectrum, but many of them. Each individual falls somewhere on the sensory seeking/sensory defensiveness spectrum. Each individual falls somewhere on the spectrum of executive functioning ability. Each individual has a different level of social skills and social anxiety - in fact probably different levels of social skills/anxiety for different kinds of socializing and under different circumstances. Your place on any spectrum is likely to change with stress, fatigue, formative experiences and learned skills, environmental factors, and many other kinds of factors.

One of the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is that we may be making things accessible for people with certain specific needs, but invariably, we will end up helping many more people. A classic example is that when we add curb-cuts to sidewalks, we are obviously helping wheelchair users, but people who are using strollers or wheeled briefcases also benefit from the improvement, and it reduces the number of times you stub your toe, no matter what your disability status is. The kinds of things that make a resource useful to people with autism and ADHD are also the kinds of things that can potentially help everyone. It never hurts to provide options and be clear! 

* I am using identity-first language for autistic people because the autistic consensus is that it is preferable. The current consensus among groups of people with other disabilities is to choose person-first language. Please do not read any implication of categorical difference or hierarchy into my phrasing.