and the hyper-linked library

A Reflection on Infinite Learning and the Special Needs Child

Although Brian Matthews was discussing college librarianship when he mused that “curating learning experiences” should be a future goal for librarians, I think that this sentiment also applies to public library experiences that cater to neurodivergent children and their families.

As a parent of a child who has learning differences , I’m struck by the importance of library programs such as Marsden Library’s sensory space. Private therapy is expensive and often not covered by insurance, and the therapy offered through the school system pauses for the summer months leaving parents struggling to find support. Libraries have the opportunity to provide a “third place” for these children and their families in an environment that echoes the connected learning core values of equity, participation, and social connection. It can feel isolating to have a child who has special needs, and libraries can become community hubs to unite parents with other people in their communities who may be facing similar challenges. It’s vital that families have space to connect outside of the restrictive and often fee-based spaces of clinics and doctors offices. Libraries with dedicated special spaces or play times can facilitate children’s joy, honest familial communication, and the sharing of stories and resources between adults. Just to know you aren’t alone is priceless.

            There is also something unique about a space set up to explicitly foster parent/child interaction without the distractions of a busy work and school day. The chance to just slow down and enjoy each other’s company can be hard to come by in the busy lives we all lead. Especially when you have a child who is constantly shuttled back and forth between doctors, therapy, and school.

            The public library is also a perfect place for experts such as SLPs to do educational outreach and even to do developmental screenings ) to try to reach children in need of early intervention therapy. Or as a place to provide hands-on training for parents to help their children at home, I believe that through programs like these, the public library can reach towards a “more immersive and transformative experience” for all of the members of its community.

Because all children should be able to enjoy the library…


  1. Adrianna De Maria

    Hi Sarah,
    I am in awe of your post. I have a younger sister with down syndrome, and I could not agree more that public libraries should create more inclusive spaces for children with learning differences. I know something like that would have extremely helpful for my family.
    – Adrianna De Maria

  2. Sarah Rainey

    Thank you Adrianna for your kind words and for sharing. I was feeling a little vulnerable after I posted. I’ve kept a wall up between my “school life” and my “real life” and as I sat, typing up my reflection in another pathologists office waiting as my son got tested, again, I decided that it was time to knock down that wall.

  3. Rosa Hughes

    Yes, Yes, Yes! So thought provoking and very actionable steps that would make the library a transformative place for children and parents. Thank you for sharing your personal life in such an unguarded way. There are a few students I have met in library school that have shared things that have made them vulnerable and every time I am deeply moved and feel that there has been an increased opportunity for communication and connectedness. Brene Brown’s teaches that “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” and those traits are all gathered at the crossroads of what makes a great parent and a great librarian. Thanks for inspiring me to be braver!

    • Sarah Rainey

      Thank you Rosa, I feel like this last year has opened me up to being more vulnerable and sharing–I hope I can continue.

  4. Kellie Lanham-Friedman


    Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I am currently in INFO 275 : Library Services for Racially and Ethnically Diverse Communities and have not come across these kind of programs yet. As you describe it, this library resource sounds invaluable, especially with the cost and limitations of healthcare in the country.

    Thanks again,

  5. Michael Stephens

    Sarah – I admire your courage and candor with this post. I agree with thoughts above regarding vulnerability. I wish more folks felt comfortable sharing themselves, their fears, and their situations. It might make things better. One of the best things I learned in the last year or so is to talk openly about struggles etc.

  6. Vida

    That is one thing I sincerely regret being unable to offer my own child, a place and time for the both of us to just be. And that’s what the hyperlinked library means to me, every individual, group, organization, all those levels coming together to fill in the gaps to what we are unable to provide for ourselves and really community (that’s right, I used a noun as a verb).

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