Researcher’s Corner: At the intersection of autism and libraries

I’m really pleased to be able to present this piece by Dr. Amelia Anderson, which details her research into the workforce experiences of autistic librarians. She says something quite important in her second paragraph, 

“In my mind, if more hiring managers and supervisors were aware of some of the issues, practices may improve for autistic librarians. Even just having an understanding that there is neurodiversity within the field is so important; so often we turn outward, and think of services for neurodivergent patrons, when we should also be thinking of inclusive practices for our own staff.” 

If you find this post interesting and would like to read more, seek out the following articles:

Anderson, A. (2021a). Exploring the workforce experiences of autistic librarians through accessible and participatory approaches. Library & Information Science Research, 43(2). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lisr.2021.101088

 Anderson, A. (2021b). Job Seeking and Daily Workforce Experiences of Autistic Librarians. The International Journal of Information, Diversity, & Inclusion, 5(3), 38-63. https://www.jstor.org/stable/48644446                                                                                   

 If you know of other LIS career resources either for hiring managers to create processes that are more inclusive of neurodivergence, or for LIS job hunters who are themselves neurodivergent, especially if they have been written by neurodivergent LIS folks, I’d love to feature them. Please drop me a line at hiringlibrarians AT gmail.  


I have been studying the intersection of autism and libraries for almost 10 years now, beginning in 2013 when I began the PhD program at Florida State University. At that time, I was hired as a graduate assistant to help create training manuals for librarians to better serve autistic patrons. The project sparked my interest in working with autistic young adults and adults, as I learned how often we focus on children with the diagnosis (which is very important, don’t get me wrong!), but we often forget that autism is lifelong, and a person is still autistic as they grow up. I then focused my dissertation, and served as a postdoctoral scholar, on studying academic library services for autistic college students.

I provide this background here because it is foundational to what happened next. In presenting these projects to audiences of librarians across the country, I found myself continually being pulled aside by librarians who wanted to discuss my work, and then also disclosed their own autism diagnoses. I realized this was something interesting, that deserved exploration, especially when I developed friendships from these conversations and got a firsthand look at some of the unfair advantages neurotypical librarians benefit from when seeking employment and while on the job. In my mind, if more hiring managers and supervisors were aware of some of the issues, practices may improve for autistic librarians. Even just having an understanding that there is neurodiversity within the field is so important; so often we turn outward, and think of services for neurodivergent patrons, when we should also be thinking of inclusive practices for our own staff. 

I decided to take the anecdotal evidence I had from my personal contacts, and embark on a formal research study. I recruited ten librarians who identified as autistic, and asked the same set of questions to each of them, but I let each person choose how they would prefer to participate. In doing so, I wanted to acknowledge communication preferences, allowing each person to feel comfortable in how they participated. I conducted Zoom interviews for most, and a few others submitted their responses as a text document. Of the ten participants in this study, four worked in academic libraries, three in public libraries, one in a school library, and one worked in library services for a federal agency. One recently retired from an academic library.

From the interviews, I addressed the research questions: How do autistic librarians become interested in the library profession? How do autistic librarians describe their job seeking experiences? And, how do autistic librarians describe their workforce experiences?

As I began collecting and analyzing data, I realized the methodology and approaches I used to do so was also important to share with other researchers in the field. As such, I developed a secondary study to explore and report on those approaches, posing the questions: When given options, how do autistic librarians choose to participate in the research process about their working experiences? And, how is data affected by those participant decision?

My first publication from this study presented the experiences of my participants in detail (Anderson, 2021b).

The second publication went into depth about the research process itself (Anderson, 2021a).

Ultimately, I found that many of the autistic librarians I spoke with found their way to the field through previous exposure to or experiences with libraries. They described the librarianship career as fulfilling. However, they also did experience barriers during the job seeking process, as well as in their daily lives on the job. While some requested formal accommodations, others created their own coping or preparation strategies. Many wrestled with issues around disclosure. To alleviate some of those issues, library hiring managers and supervisors should strive to create more universally accessible and accepting environments and processes.

And in the research process itself, though participants used various methods to provide information, the themes that emerged were consistent across data collection methods.

Though exact numbers are impossible to know, there are many autistic librarians, working and working to gain meaningful employment in the field. My hope is that this work has sparked some conversation about the topic, and that hiring and supervising managers will be thoughtful in creating more inclusive practices and spaces.


Dr. Amelia Anderson is an assistant professor of library science at Old Dominion University who has extensive experience on the topics of neurodiversity, disability, and libraries through her work as a public librarian, library researcher, and educator. Amelia is the author of Library Programming for Autistic Children and Teens, 2nd Edition, published by ALA Editions. She was the managing PI on the IMLS planning grant Accessibility in Making (LG-246292-OLS-20), which identified barriers to access in public library makerspaces for patrons with disabilities. Through original research and partnerships with autism self-advocates, Amelia studies and shares best practices and trends at the intersection of autism and libraries and has presented her work at conferences from local to international audiences. Amelia earned her MLIS and Ph.D. from Florida State University.  

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