World Autism Awareness Week 27 March – 2 April – A personal story Part 3

Following on from yesterday’s post Hope talks about working for Edinburgh City Libraries.

It was my boyfriend who suggested I apply to libraries. He thought the work would do me good, give me stability that seasonal waitressing and freelance writing didn’t.

I didn’t think I had a chance, but he found out that Edinburgh City Council have a scheme where they guarantee an interview to candidates who declare they have a disability. I felt a bit weird about using this, but I also remembered the libraries of my childhood, the magic there, the tales of courage and failure, as well as success, the way that books seemed to be the haven for kids who felt they were outsiders. With this in mind I applied and got an interview, where I spoke to the interviewer about how important libraries were to me as a child, how I’d like to see other children have similar positive experiences in libraries, how books could make a kid feel that he or she was not so alone after all. I thought I’d talked to much and made a total mess of it.

When I got the phone call to tell me I’d got the job I was delighted. Andrew, the interviewer, told me that my passion had come across and I’d given a good interview.

There have been challenges to working in libraries. One emotion I cannot recognise in others is anger, and this makes me edgy – aware of the potential that someone may become angry and I will not recognise it. A raised voice will frighten me for example, and I have mistaken customers’ legitimate frustration’ with anger directed at myself and my colleagues. But I’ve learnt to deal with this, communicating clearly with customers who have problems, and speaking with them about the steps we can take to ensure that the problem is solved.

Working in libraries has been an overwhelmingly positive experience, and I think that because of my experience as an outsider I can relate to library users who may have challenges in a more direct way than other staff members can. Of course, all staff will seek to help library users with disabilities, but I feel that wanting to help, and being able to relate are different things.

The customers are for the most part friendly, engaging and interesting, and something I’ve learned about people since I was a child is that whether they are on the autistic spectrum or not, they are all as keen to be liked as I am, and everyone has at one stage in their life had a time where they feel like an outsider; whether that is when they are starting a new role, or in an unfamiliar situation. Alienation is lonely, but also universal, and it took a long time for me to understand that.

Just today a member of the public came into the children’s library and asked about books on autism. He works as a play worker with autistic children, and was looking for resources. I pointed him in the right direction and we had a chat about his work, and how important it is. I didn’t tell him I’m on the autistic spectrum and I don’t think he guessed. Sometimes it’s nice to pass as normal.

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