Library Partners and Programs for Teens and Adults

This guest post was written by Michèle Freese, Senior Librarian at Oak Lawn Public Library in Oak Lawn, Illinois. Thank you for sharing your experience with us, Michèle!

When I was in high school in the 1960's, I helped out a classmate, who was deaf, by repeating what the teacher said for her and sharing my notes. My classmate attended Argo Community High School through A.E.R.O. -- a special education cooperative in Burbank, Illinois composed of twelve member school districts. The acronym, A.E.R.O., stands for the four high schools in the cooperative – Argo, Evergreen Park, Reavis, and Oak Lawn. Little did I know then that I would also work with A.E.R.O. students as an adult. In the late seventies and early eighties, I supervised A.E.R.O. student workers at the Bridgeview Public Library where I was the Youth Services Librarian. Now, at the Oak Lawn Public Library, I have an even closer relationship with A.E.R.O. staff and students.

At least twice a year, both primary grade and transitional students (ages 16-22) visit the library for tours, stories and crafts, and to use the library's resources. Transitional students from two of the high schools also volunteer weekly at the library during the school year. They work in teams of two or three to thoroughly dust bookshelves and clean audiovisual materials. This gives the students an opportunity to work in cooperation with others, to learn a routine, and to help learn responsibility. One transitional student who began working in the Adult Services Department in a supervised school work program back in 2005 was hired as a page upon graduation, and he is one of our most dedicated and reliable staff members to this day.

We also serve adults with developmental disabilities who are clients of an organization in Oak Lawn called Park Lawn. Rotating groups of 8-12 adults come to the library every Thursday morning to listen to folktales, do a "science craft," and use the library. In order to meet with all 150 clients, we will repeatedly present the same six sessions over the next two years. We will then plan six new sessions and start the rotation over again.

Beginning in January 2015, we'll be showing movies on the fourth Friday morning of each month for the Park Lawn clients, the transitional students, and any adults who would like to see a film at the library. One of the reasons we are having both age groups come together for movies is so the students can meet adults with special needs and see that there are opportunities for them after high school.

I feel that working with transitional students and adults with developmental disabilities benefits everyone. These patrons have a place to come where they are not treated like small children but as capable adults and young adults. The Library staff and general public become aware of people with special needs and learn that they have abilities and are valued patrons. And ME - I get the affection and gratitude from these special patrons, their caregivers, and teachers. Truly, I think I benefit most of all.