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Burlington Public Library earns "Sensory Inclusive" certification

The library becomes the second in Iowa and the first in the southeastern part of the state to earn the designation.

BURLINGTON, Iowa — Cities, by nature, can often be loud.

When you think of a library, something specific often comes to mind.

Lots of books. Lots of rules. Not a lot of noise.

The Burlington Public Library is doing something unique, and it often sounds, literally, different.

"If we had had this library when I was a child or when I was in high school or college, I absolutely would have been a library user," said Allison Richert, a youth services specialist with the library.

Richert has become accustomed to the yelling on one end of the library in the children's section. That's been even more the case since the library started its latest initiative to evolve.

"We’re part of the greater story of libraries shifting to a human-centered model," said Brittany Jacobs, the library's director.

Over the course of the last year, the library staff has worked toward a Sensory Inclusive certification through KultureCity. That certification recognizes organizations for training staff on inclusive best practices, adding signage to its common spaces and providing kits to help individuals with a sensory sensitivity, Jacobs said.

The library was officially awarded that certification on Friday, October 28.

Those kits include things like communication cards, fidget toys and noise-reducing headphones, among other items. Anyone can check out a bag and use the contents while in the library, an often changing environment.

"This sensory certification includes kids who are on the spectrum but it also goes way beyond that," Jacobs said. "It includes people that have PTSD or any sort of sensory processing disorder."

The library is also broken up into "headphone zones" and "quiet zones" to help individuals make the best decision about where they want to be at any point during the day.

"This is an area of the library that’s tucked away a little bit that happens to be a little more muffled and quiet," Richert said.

This new resource is binding the community together.

"We're looking at demographic data, but we weren't seeing those people, those kids and their families, in the library," Jacobs said. "Libraries carry the stigma of becoming irrelevant and we're also fighting the stereotype of what a traditional library is."

Libraries are places that often are silent. In Burlington, staff are quietly making their own noise.

The library is working on future plans to continue its inclusion efforts. That includes adding braille reading materials to its collection and also re-configuring its physical space to best meet customer needs. 

Burlington joins the Cedar Rapids Public Library as the only two libraries in Iowa to earn this KultureCity certification. 

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