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Building inclusive communities: teens with disabilities in libraries

Renee Grassi (Dakota County Library, Eagan, Minnesota, USA)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Article publication date: 28 September 2018

Issue publication date: 21 November 2018




This paper aims to provide concrete best practices to frontlines young adult and teen librarians for building positive, effective and welcoming relationships with young adults with disabilities at the library. The scope of this paper will include customer service strategies for working with young adults with disabilities. It will also feature strategies for making existing teen programming more accessible to young adults with disabilities.


By using the author’s professional library experience and citing other published works, this paper will present customer service strategies for librarians and library staff. It will share strategies for leading programs for and with teens with disabilities and will also address working with parents and caregivers of teens with disabilities.


This paper recommends specific strategies, so teen librarians are better equipped to provide inclusive customer service to teens with disabilities in libraries. These strategies are as follows: speak directly to the teen, consider communication and language, develop a rapport, respect their privacy, respect and encourage independence, think person-centered, invite their input, invite them to programs, be their advocate and give them permission to be teens. In addition, this paper shares various techniques for working with parents and caregivers, as developing positive relationships with parents is integral to cultivating positive relationships with teens.


Because of teen’s unique developmental, social and emotional needs, librarians require a specific set of competencies for positive engagement. Unless librarians have a background in accessibility or experience with someone with disabilities, they are inadequately prepared to address the needs of this population, specifically regarding customer service to teens with disabilities. This paper aims to build capacity of librarians by expanding knowledge and skills for working with teens with disabilities. As a result, librarians will be able to increase their competency and be equipped with concrete customer service tools. Librarians will be motivated to improve the accessibility of their libraries.



Grassi, R. (2018), "Building inclusive communities: teens with disabilities in libraries", Reference Services Review, Vol. 46 No. 3, pp. 364-378.



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