Robin Bennett
June 9, 2017

The New Age of Libraries: Community Centers for All


As the United States has progressed into the 21st-century and we have seen technology tighten its grip on our daily lives, our 9000+ public libraries have been tasked with adapting. Of course, one of the most obvious areas of change has been the offer of e-books and internet-based resources; but as early as the 2000s, it became clear that the physical presence of library visitors was down. Such was the catalyst for public libraries becoming resource centers and program leaders for people in all stations of life: including children and youth with special needs.

Other changes in the fabric of our communities have required libraries to get creative in order to provide a home to the underserved population of people with disabilities. Libraries are picking up the slack all over our country when adaptive reading needs and recreation opportunities continue to decline elsewhere. The Special Needs And Inclusive Library Services (SNAILS) resource website and blog offers annual webinars to provide tools, ideas and advocacy to libraries looking to create or expand programming for all abilities.

What to Do at the Library?

According to the American Libraries Magazine, “There is no question that libraries must continue to prioritize collections and the legacy of reading, but our value today is less about what we have for people and more about what we do for and with people.”

Check out your local library to learn about the great activities/services offered, like:

  • Library Clubs— whether you are a train enthusiast, video game expert or have a different affinity, the library might just have a club of youth/adults that share that interest. Remember that libraries are more than willing to adapt or accommodate for challenges and disabilities, so be sure to talk to your librarian if there any special needs.
  • Special Needs Storytime— just about every library offers storytime for children, but sensory sensitive storytimes that are designed for children with special needs are being offered more and more. The Bloomfield Hills Public Library (a 4th Wall Theatre partner) , for example, describes their story time event as: “SENSEational StoryTime—This sensory storytime is geared to differently-able children ages 3 – 10 years who have a hard time in large groups, are on the autism spectrum or have other developmental delays and/or sensitivity to sensory overload. Visuals, rhythmic preschool-level stories, and sensory activities will be included in this interactive storytime.”
  • Sign language programs— with an emphasis on alternate ways to communicate, libraries often have programming for those with special needs to learn American Sign Language. Libraries, like the Ann Arbor District Library (another 4th Wall partner), have transitioned into becoming the foremost resource in their communities for alternative formats for those who are blind or visually impaired.
  • Sensory-Friendly Films and Discussion—the Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA) shares on its website that a library in Kansas City has pioneered an idea to use the library as a venue for film discussions for adults with special needs. The films they watch, as well as the discussions that are facilitated afterwords, focus on providing these adults with experience in having real world conversations that will prepare them for entering competitive integrated employment and society.
  • Support/Resource Centers— through partnerships with independent living organizations and disability service agencies, libraries provide access to those “best kept secrets” in society that we may not know about. Many also provide a home for support groups that families, educators and young people rely on to be their source for continual learning in the ever-changing world of special needs life.
  • Theatre & Drama Programs— like 4th Wall Theatre! Let’s learn more about the magic that happens when Theatre meets Library:

When Theatre Met Library

Cast of Characters

Theatre– an energetic lad who is always smiling and moving, occasionally bursting into song. Theatre loves to communicate, be it with body or words, the expressions of life and all its joy. A friend to everyone, theatre has open arms for all.

Library– A reliable friend to turn to when in need. Library is a steadfast teacher, but always prepared to get creative and have some honest to goodness fun. A friend to everyone, library has open arms for all.

Parent/Guardian-eager to know about resources, she has been learning from Library for years. She is constantly looking for opportunities to get Participant  involved in learning, too; she wants him to be able to learn about himself and the world. She is always willing to try new things.

Participant-inquisitive about the world and looking to make friends, he is often frustrated to find that he is challenged in communicating and understanding. He is excited about certain toys and games, and is always quietly searching for a friend to help him make sense of things and accept him for who he is.

When 4th Wall comes on the stage, magic is bound to happen. A Library provides the perfect venue, because just like us, the role that a library plays centers around inclusion, learning and fun. In a Library workshop, Theatre is experienced by a variety of ages and abilities. Theatre classes at the Library are usually drop in, therefore a Parent/Guardian can drop off a Participant for some theatre fun, while they are free to visit the Library and check out other resources. As an instructor, my favorite part about Theatre at the Library is engaging participants to enjoy the class independently and grow in the things they’re willing to try just in the hour I am with them. The cherry on top is having loved ones come back in the room 10 minutes before class is over to witness the group’s “performance” of songs with sign language, dance moves, and a mini-play

Check out all the libraries that we have partnered with and call your local library to inquire about theatre and drama classes like those with 4th Wall Theatre!