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.

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

Following on from Hope’s post yesterday.

So how can I work in libraries, working not only within a team, but also serving customers, dealing with their enquiries, advising them on where to find a book, or how to get a bus pass, or which part of the library to go to?

Hope

Hope working in the Central Library

Ever since I can remember I have loved libraries; I remember the childhood treat of being allowed to choose new books every Saturday, which would be my bedtime stories for the week ahead, learning to read myself, making slow but crucial sense of the strange characters on paper which make up words, sitting on the little plastic orange chairs and reading story books about kids who also felt isolated, or awkward or were in some kind of jeopardy. The monsters who they fled from seemed similar to the bullies who I spent my lunch break hiding from.

The books in the library told stories of outsiders, kids like me who although they weren’t autistic, had something separating them, something which meant that they weren’t like all the other kids, something a bit magical. Through the magic of libraries and the kindness of librarians I learnt a lot, and even as a child, frightened of the world and the people in it, I always thought it would be sort of cool to work in a library.

As I got older I learnt to disguise my weirdness and fear, until the fear was far smaller and the weirdness transformed into something people called ‘quirkiness’ or ‘magic.’ I went to University and graduated at the height of the recession then worked as a waitress, because there was literally no other work. I found to my amazement that excepting the odd person, working with members of the public is kind of nice.

Tomorrow Hope talks about her experience of working for Edinburgh City Libraries.

 

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

This is the first in a three-part series of blog posts written by Hope, who’s a member of library staff and who is on the Autistic Spectrum. In part one she talks about her experiences as a child.

It is not always obvious that someone is on the Autistic Spectrum. I am a thirty-one-year-old Library Adviser in  Central Library. I also happen to be on the Autistic Spectrum.

As a child, I was lost in unfamiliar social situations, filled with a fear of strangers, separate to that created by the ‘stranger danger’ messages with which all children are familiar. My fear was more complex, less easy to express. I was afraid of being disliked, of being thought of as weird, of seeing strangers’ eyes glaze over as I spoke to them, or worse, seeing them look sideways at the person next to them in a glance they thought I couldn’t catch – a glance which said – ‘isn’t she a freak?’

Work can be frightening for people on the Autistic Spectrum, as it entails working with people (members of the public as well as colleagues.) The fear comes not from the other people, but from the Autistic person’s inability (or their low perception of their own ability) to read social cues. Some people who have Autistic Spectrum disorders may talk too much to cover up nerves, some may hardly speak at all – both can be construed as inappropriate.

Tomorrow, Hope talks about the importance of libraries.