Community Engagement and Outreach with Special Needs Populations

The goal of many libraries is to become a community resource.  In order to achieve this goal, libraries must go out into their communities.  They need to reach the people in the community they serve.  One way to do this is through outreach programs.  One population of the community that benefits from these types of programs are adults with mental and physical disabilities.  At the Avon Public Library in Colorado, the children’s librarian noticed several developmentally disabled adults watching story time.   They seemed fascinated with the music and stories.  A story time for these adults was proposed and the project began.  The library then went on to partner with the agency in the community, Mountain Valley Developmental Services, to develop a program that would best suit the needs of the adults they would be serving. (Levin, 2008)

The Niles District Library in Michigan has also implemented programs for adults with developmental disabilities.  The title of the program is Special Edition club. They began with weekly programs such as crafts, movies and book sharing. They have adapted their programs to include story times, healthy eating and Zumba classes.  According to program creator Laura Hollister, the goal is to “Make everything a learning opportunity on multiple levels” (Hollister, 2015) and to offer “high quality, high interest events to draw non-affected families too.” (Hollister, 2015)

Why do we need to reach these populations? We need to reach these members of our communities. Libraries are becoming places other than just for books. They are becoming information centers and community hubs.  It is important to continue this trend and include every member of the community possible. Special needs adults and children will benefit from coming to the library.  Another reason for including these populations in community outreach is because they will be at the library anyway.  We should take the opportunity to make their visits meaningful.  So yes, it is the library’s responsibility to reach the members of their community and to include all as much as possible.  This is accomplished by having meaningful and interesting programs.


Hollister, L. (2015, March 25). Community Engagement Manager. (C. Gleason, Interviewer)

Levin, D. S. (2008). A Special Program and a Special Partnership: Serving a Developmentally Disabled Adult Population. Colorado Libraries, 34(3), 36-38.


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