Penny and the library

Penny shares her worries about being in a university library and some thoughts on how libraries can be designed to reduce anxieties in autistic students.

Photograph of Penny

The things I worry about when I think about libraries

I’m autistic and I find some spaces really difficult places to be, including some libraries.

  • I think of libraries as quiet places where I can do work or even just go to get away from everything, but now everyone does group work in them, they are crowded and noisy
  • I don’t like bright lights in big buildings
  • I find barriers where you have to swipe a card or insert a ticket quite stressful and busy and that means I’m stressed when I get past them
  • I can get lost very easily
  • I need to know what somewhere looks like inside to feel comfortable
  • I prefer to know what people look like before I meet them
  • I have had big library fines in the past because I forgot what books I had and they went overdue

Why Leeds Beckett’s libraries are OK for me

  • The range of spaces plus the Disability Resource Area (DRA) means I can always find somewhere quiet to go, even at the busiest times
  • Some of the desks have reading lamps, which I find a bit better than overhead lights
  • The barriers are open between 8.30am and 9pm, but even outside those times (the library is open 24 hours a day) there is a gap between the entrance and the barriers and then between the barriers and the rest of the library – so I have space to gather my thoughts
  • At the City campus, the library has identical layouts on each floor, but both libraries have floor plan leaflets available and you can ask for a tour or attend one with others on your course
  • There is a 360 virtual tour of the Headingley campus library on the Virtual Campus site and lots of photos of both libraries online
  • Both libraries have big boards on the wall with pictures of all the library staff who work at that campus, including Sue Smith, who is the Learning Support Officer who works with disabled students (including autistic students).
  • Every subject has an area of the Library website called a LibGuide, and they have pictures of the specific academic librarian for the relevant subject.
  • You can see online at any time what books you have out on loan and renew them if necessary, plus the Library emails you before they are due to be returned so you can bring them back on time or renew them.

About Penny

Penny is the Research Assistant for Autism&Uni and a PhD candidate in the Information School at the University of Sheffield, researching academic social networks. She is also a writer, artist, performer, researcher, sprinter and qualified librarian. She was diagnosed with autism in 2011, while she was a student. Her expertise is in the relationships between people, policy and technology.