Friday, April 4, 2014

How I Started An Autism Acceptance Community Library

I originally got the idea to create an acceptance library because of the lack of information available in my community about autism from the perspective of the real experts:

Autistic People

In addition to this, I have always felt that it's important to learn about the history of the disability rights movement and to understand the concepts of acceptance and neurodiversity.  I feel that those three things are crucial to creating inclusive communities that respect and affirm the value of Autistic and disabled lives.  

I started with an idea.   The second thing that I did was to write a mission statement.  It was short and simple, but it clearly laid out my goals and objectives with the library.  Having a clear mission statement kept me from getting sidetracked by other ideas and input as well.    

This was my simple mission statement:

The mission of the Ed Wiley Autism Acceptance Library is to promote understanding, acceptance and inclusion for Autistic people. Our organization is dedicated to the ideas of neurodiversity, social justice, Autistic/Disabled Pride and disability rights. The lending materials we offer will reflect the wide and diverse spectrum of autism and intersectional identities. We are working toward building an inclusive community and providing relevant resources and information for Autistic people, our families, friends and allies. 
The mission statement was also helpful  in letting community members know the intention of my library.  Creating it first was a way to state my goals upfront to potential donors.  

Then, I had to have money to purchase books.  This is where social networking is really amazing.  The majority of the money I have raised so far has been from a GoFundMe campaign.  That site DOES take a 9% cut of what you make, but I feel like it was necessary to use them to get the word out.  Once I made the fundraising page, and had enough money, I opened a bank account under the library name and was able to solicit donations privately in the community.  When the bank account was open so that I could take those donations, I then made a Facebook page for the library to update people about the progress, ask for donations, and signal boost important topics in the Autistic community that were relevant to the mission of the library. 

The next step is to get to know your community.  I needed a place to house the library on certain days.  I decided that this would be a mobile library, so that I could travel with my books to people to make it more accessible.  I still wanted to have a place that I could regularly set up and meet with people in the community.  My town has a great community center that allowed me to set up there a few times a month.  I also was in touch with several local disability advocacy organizations, just to introduce the library, to let them know it existed, and that it was a local resource on autism by Autistic people.  

The library is a project I am doing with  my son, but I also have had the support and assistance of many people along the way.  If this is something you wish to do in your community, don't be afraid to ask for favors.  I needed a logo, and I thought it would be neat to use a logo that incorporated AAC.  I asked around and one of my friends, who is an artist,  offered to screenshot an image on the AAC app on her iPad, using images that she created too.  I was really  happy with the result!  And if you are familiar with the Facebook page or have been to the library, you will see that because I put it everywhere!   

Once word got out about the library, several of my friends and contacts who are writers offered to donate books that they had written to the library.  I have also sent several e-mails to authors, including links to the Facebook and GoFundMe Page to ask for donations.   Many people asked me to create an Amazon wishlist so that they could send books directly to me.   A local friend has been helping me to organize a benefit show for the library.  Getting bands together, booking the venue and giving me information and advice on how to get raffle prizes (another great way to call on friends who are creative and want to donate items to raffle!) and what I need to do to make the show successful.    A local parent group who were excited about the library offered to sell bracelets and donate the proceeds to the library.  

 If you know someone who has a printing business or can give you a discount, ask them about helping you out too!  I have spent a lot of money on copies  (resource lists, copies of Nick Walker's "What is Autism?", kids acceptance coloring pages, flyers for the library and for some of the organizations I am a part of and endorse like Autism Women's Network and Parenting Autistic Children With Love & Acceptance, and materials from The Autistic Self Advocacy Networks Autism Acceptance  Month website).  It's important at least to me, to have something to give to people so that they can take it home and do more research and learning on acceptance, neurodiversity and the Autistic community.   

When I opened the bank account, I had to have a friend help me because I didn't fully understand the process of applying for an EIN number from the IRS (it's free and totally easy and you can do it at your bank when you open an account for your library!).   He also helped me to understand the process of registering the library as a non profit in my state (this is not the same as applying for 501c3 status).  Registering in my state only cost me $20 (though it varies by state).  Applying for tax exempt status is a lengthy and expensive process which I will eventually do, but at this time I am unable to.  So, I'm a legal non profit in my state, I just can't offer a tax exemption for donations.  I feel like the library is small enough that this won't be an issue for a while anyway.  

As I collected books, I had to find an easy way to catalog them.  I had stickers printed with the library logo that I put on all the books.  I created an old fashioned library system utilizing envelopes and cards in the back of the books for people to use to sign materials out.  I made the sign out cards out of basic index cards and used standard envelopes, cut in half and glued  in place on the back covers of the books.  Books that I have multiple copies of, I just numbered on the book and on the lending card.  I put the cards in a plastic recipe box to keep track of.   I also created an informational sheet for people to sign up to be able to check out books.  It is fairly simple, just verifying name and contact information.   It's all very low-tech!  

My husband purchased a used suitcase with wheels for me so that I could easily transport my books to and from the Community Center and to appointments.
I have many goals for the future, including finding ways to get materials in Spanish for community members who speak English as second language, using the library's name and funds  to host events to educate the community about Autism Acceptance, to be able to purchase films with the appropriate licensing fees paid so that I can lend them in the library, find ways to gather an "expert panel" of Autistic people to review books to see if they would be a good fit for the library, and so much more!   I'm so excited to watch the library grow and so proud to b
e able to bring a positive message of Autism Acceptance to my local community. 


Creating the library has been a lot of work, but I have enjoyed so much of it.  I just hope to continue to grow and grow and be a model for others to start acceptance libraries in their own communities

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