Renee Grassi MLIS '09
Public libraries have always worked to serve the information needs of the diverse communities that house them. In today's world, the new types of services that library innovators such as Renee Grassi MLIS '09 are developing are vital to bringing new families through the doors.
Grassi, who was named a "2012 Mover and Shaker" by Library Journal, established two programs to serve children with special needs while working as a youth services librarian at the Deerfield (IL) Public Library.
"It's relatively new that libraries are starting to target this underserved population," Grassi said. "I think the reason these programs are so important is because families with children with special needs are underserved in general."
The programs that Grassi developed and led, "Sensory Storytime" and "Read to Rover," are geared for children with autism, problems with sensory processing, or who have difficulty sitting still in a library setting.
Library Journal called the programs "unqualified successes," citing an immediate interest shown in the programs by other libraries. In addition, the programs helped lead the library to be honored by North Suburban Special Education District (NSSED) Association of Parents and Staff—the first time the group honored a public library.
Peggy Hamil MLS '77, executive director of Glencoe (IL) Public Library, said her library wanted to strengthen and expand its existing programming for children with special needs, and that's one of the reasons it hired Grassi as head of children's services in May 2012.
"Our school district is renowned for supporting children with special needs. People move to our town because they know there will be a special program for their special kids," Hamil said. "Renee has brought to our library a new level of energy, and now we're doing different kinds of programs to connect with schools and families."
Hamil said the library has expanded its outreach to local schools, regularly hosting programs and workshops to connect students with both adult and children's librarians for work on research projects and adding new resources to its website to help students and families.
Support for the library is strong in Glencoe, where more than 90 percent of local residents hold a library card. Maintaining that connection with the community is vital for the future of libraries, Grassi said.
"It's important for us as librarians to adapt and to change because libraries are changing. The services we offer are changing," she said. "What I'm grateful for from my Dominican education is that it really did teach me that the future of libraries, whatever comes our way, it's important to adapt and think about how we can serve ourcommunities to the fullest."