To begin with, I have cerebral palsy. It’s mild, affecting my left side, but my parents’ attitude was that it was a severe disability. I carry lots of emotional baggage because of that and cruelty from other children. My brother had what I think would be diagnosed today as one or more learning disabilities. He was a very bright man but couldn’t take advantage of his intelligence to the extent he should have been able to. That was where I started from.
My last three years of undergraduate school were paid for by the Iowa Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. In order to qualify for that, I had to be observed in an institutional setting in Des Moines for about a month. That was an eye opener. I got to see first hand how people (teenagers and people in their 20s and 30s, including me) are devalued and sometimes even unintentionally mistreated and how the “system” functions or doesn’t function for individuals. A very enlightening experience but not an experience I want to have again.
So I had many reasons to have an interest in children and adults with disabilities. Through my years as a high school librarian, an academic librarian, and a doctoral student, I followed the changes that were taking place in society: the Rehabilitation Act, for example. While I was a doctoral student at Illinois, I volunteered at a halfway house for people with mental retardation who were receiving job training and learning the skills they would need to live more independently. My job was to accompany them on shopping expeditions as they learned to select toothpaste and clothes and manage their money. I really enjoyed the people and realized how much more they were capable of than their families and society had let them experience.
When I arrived at Carolina for my interview with Bill Summers, the Dean of the College, he had noted the volunteer work which I had included on my vita. The College had a Special Populations course on the books, but it was taught by an adjunct. He hoped for a full time faculty member to teach the course. He asked if I would be interested. Fresh from my positive volunteer experience in Illinois, and with the Education for All Handicapped Children Act newly in place, I thought that was an exciting possibility. I had no experience working with people with disabilities in a library setting, but I knew a great deal about disabilities! I said yes, not realizing that that decision would change the direction of my career. (My dissertation was on reading interests and public library users, and I had assumed that information transfer would be my direction. I taught courses in those areas but did little research there.)
As things evolved and the date for the implementation of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act approached, it became critical that the College’s students going into school media centers and children’s services in public libraries learn about the Act, the children, and the disabilities. Our College’s strength was, and is, educating school media and children¹s services librarians. Three of us faculty members (me, Marilyn Karrenbrock - now Stauffer - and Pam Barron) developed a workshop for our students. Marilyn and Pam had both worked for several years with children, disabled and not. I contributed the focus on disabilities. We discovered that there was very little written on the subject and expressed our frustration about that. A colleague suggested that we write a book, and Marilyn and I did that. Again, I focused on the disabilities and Marilyn on the services. We were pleased with how well the book was received.
Thus, my career took a focus on children with disabilities although I also have publications on prison librarianship (another story), older adults, and college students with disabilities. I don’t present myself as having years of experience working with children who have disabilities. When I teach classes or give workshops on the subject, I seek to enable the students (who are often already working with children with disabilities) to use their experiences with the children to learn about their abilities and disabilities. I have had the opportunity to be involved with librarians who were highly skilled in working with children with disabilities (Coy Hunsucker, Jane McGregor, and Iris Shirley, for example).
I have tried to encourage my students and colleagues to write and research on the subject. A few have done so. There is still a great shortage of material written about the subject except in the area of technology. I was pleased when some of my former students suggested the LLW Collection because I see that as a way I can enable students and librarians to have more confidence as they work with the children. I would like the social media presence of the collection to become a place where librarians and students can share their experiences and ideas. And I hope that more people will pick up the ball and write and research in this area.