Penny and the library

Penny shares her worries about being in a university library and some thoughts on how libraries can be designed to reduce anxieties in autistic students.

Photograph of Penny

The things I worry about when I think about libraries

I’m autistic and I find some spaces really difficult places to be, including some libraries.

  • I think of libraries as quiet places where I can do work or even just go to get away from everything, but now everyone does group work in them, they are crowded and noisy
  • I don’t like bright lights in big buildings
  • I find barriers where you have to swipe a card or insert a ticket quite stressful and busy and that means I’m stressed when I get past them
  • I can get lost very easily
  • I need to know what somewhere looks like inside to feel comfortable
  • I prefer to know what people look like before I meet them
  • I have had big library fines in the past because I forgot what books I had and they went overdue

Why the University of Bath’s libraries are OK for me

  • They have one central campus Library, so books, journals and resources to support all Departments (and all Library staff) are based there.
  • They have study space for 1,600 students, zoned into silent, quiet and group study areas. Over 500 of the study spaces have computers, the majority have access to power, and the whole building is wireless enabled. They recently converted Level 1 of the Library into a new 115-seater student quiet study area and the top floor (Level 5) is designated a silent study area.
  • There is lots of natural light.
  • The library is open 24 hours a day, and during semester, Library staff are available on the subject floors until at least 5pm, and at the Issue Desk from 9am to 7pm weekdays and 10am to 5pm at weekends. I can use the self- service machines at any time.
  • University Reception on Level 2 is staffed 24 hours a day by members of the Security Service, who are all trained first aiders.
  • There are wide automatic sliding doors at the Library entrance, then gates into the Library which swing open when your Library card is placed on their sensor. Reception staff will open the adjacent, wider glass gate on request. Inside the Library, there are three stairwells and a lift to all five floors.
  • They abolished fines on standard loan items and introduced a system to automatically renew items which are unreserved, so students don’t pay unnecessary fines.
  • There are interactive floor plans so I can plan where I need to go.

About Penny

Penny is the Research Assistant for Autism&Uni and a PhD candidate in the Information School at the University of Sheffield, researching academic social networks. She is also a writer, artist, performer, researcher, sprinter and qualified librarian. She was diagnosed with autism in 2011, while she was a student. Her expertise is in the relationships between people, policy and technology.