GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The number one goal as a library is to provide information and access for everyone, which is why the Kent District Library (KDL) has unveiled a new feature to ensure any and everyone can visit the library comfortably.
KDL now has "Sensory Packs." Each pack is a bag, and inside are items that can help someone who may need sensory accommodations. Things like a weighted shoulder wrap, a weighted lap pad, noise cancelling headphones, stress balls, puzzle balls and other fidgets.
Anyone can request to use a pack and they don't need to be checked out either, so a library card is not required to use them.
The packs are in-branch use only, and must be returned to a staff member before leaving, but they are part of a larger effort to make the KDL branches more inclusive and accessible places for everyone.
"Everyone means everyone -- that is all races, all colors, all ages, all abilities," said Shelley Roossien, KDL's Accessibility and Inclusion Specialist.
Roossein recently moved into the newly developed role to help push the library's initiatives along.
She said over the years it became very clear the library was in need of someone in the role.
"Whether it was an issue or question about how to serve someone with a disability -- whether a visual disability or physical, or someone who is deaf -- it was clear that someone need to be in charge of accessibility across the board," she said.
Roossein said the original plan was to roll out the Sensory Packs last spring, however, the pandemic put a halt on the progress. Once the KDL branches opened to the public again, it was time to unveil them.
"When people come in, you don't whether they have a sensory disorder or autism -- you can't tell by looking at someone. People can come in and be very overwhelmed by the library -- by the lights, the colors on our walls, the displays, the amount of books," Roossein explained. "Maybe's it's right after school and there's a lot of kids making a lot of noise -- it can be really overwhelming for someone that has any kind of processing disorder."
Roossein worked with library leadership to expand the already established Talking Book and Braille Center (TBBC) program in ways to provide more accessibility to different disabled communities.
There's been an increased focus recently on improving inclusion and accessibility within libraries across the nation.
Roossien spent the last year or so developing training for staff, researching, brushing up on other trends and becoming the organizational expert for these particular areas.
Roossein explained that this is just one part of KDL's plan to improve accessibility and inclusion. There isn't a set timeline, and many of the initiatives will be ongoing, including training for all KDL staff on best practices for working with people with disabilities, how and when to offer accommodations, and general disability decorum.
"Each year, we're going to be looking at partnering with community organizations -- whether that's them coming in and doing training or maybe we do a program together," Roossein said. "Also, working with the programming department to develop either how to make our existing programming more accessible, or creating targeted programs, and then maybe it will be a combination of both."
Roossein said she is also working with the library's collection development department on purchasing nonfiction materials that provide information about disabilities and fiction materials that feature characters with disabilities for all ages, saying "I think it's important to have a lot of fiction that has characters that represent these communities. I mean, who doesn't? Who picks up a book and isn't thinking 'I want to read about someone who's like me.'"
Each year, Roossein said she and her team will be focusing on a different disability group. In 2021, they will focus on social cognitive disorders and autism. In 2022, the focus will be on serving the deaf and hard of hearing community. And in 2023, Roossein said the library will address patrons with mobility issues.
Anyone interested in utilizing a Sensory Pack at their local KDL branch can ask for one at the information desk, no questions asked. The packs are sanitized after every use.
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