By Hannah Devlin
This summer, the Port Washington Public Library (PWPL) introduced its latest initiative: sensory bags. These bags include a number of items that are catered towards patrons with sensory sensitivities to ensure their access to future library events.
As a public institution that serves the community, the library has committed itself to the inclusivity of its diverse audience.
Many patrons of the library have sensory issues that prevent them from attending events, lectures and other programs at the library. In order to combat this, the sensory bag initiative–inspired by many zoos which have similar projects–began in 2021.
Melanie Davidoff, head of computer services and initiative leader, said that: “I had seen zoos offer this to their patrons and customers [because] zoos can be wild, bright environments, and they wanted to make the zoo more inclusive and accessible. And I thought that that’s something that we could easily lend out to patrons.”
From there, Davidoff began to compile the resources and items that would be included in the bags: noise-canceling headphones, sunglasses, weighted lap desks and fidget toys. Each of these items are included to accommodate different sensitivities.
The headphones allow the reduction of loud noises in overwhelming situations, while the sunglasses help reduce harsh lighting in bright settings. For programs that involve sitting for long periods of time, the weighted lap desks and fidget toys have proven to be helpful, especially during remote instruction and virtual programs.
The sensory bags are available for use at the library, or they are available to be taken out for loan. With the implementation of this program, residents with sensitivities will be able to experience loud and overwhelming places–like zoos, museums, concerts, etc.–in a more accessible way.
Not only are these sensory bags available to PWPL cardholders, but they are accessible to any Nassau County library cardholder. This will help ensure that the county at large is a more easily accessible place for those who may have previously felt limited by their sensitivities.
This project was made possible through the Technology and Innovation grant received by the Long Island Library Resources Council. This selective grant was awarded to six libraries in 2021 and has allowed the PWPL to develop the project.
In addition to the sensory bag initiative, the PWPL has hopes of expanding other programs to create an accessible environment. Alongside the introduction of the sensory bag project, the PWPL aims to expand their “Books for Dessert” program in the near future.
Books for Dessert is a book club for patrons over 21 with intellectual and learning disabilities. The program is open to patrons who live in or near the Port Washington area. The program has read over 80 books, and meets weekly for discussions and events. The reading group has proven to be an excellent resource.
“[The library] is committed to inclusivity and accessibility throughout the board, aside from specific programs like the sensory bags and Books for Dessert.” Davidoff continued, “It’s definitely something we think about while planning services and initiatives throughout the library.”