March 09, 2023

By Haley Dittbrenner ’25

Amanda Boyer, assistant professor and First Year Experience librarian Amanda Boyer, assistant professor and First Year Experience librarianEvery student deserves a place where they can comfortably study. Last semester, Blough-Weis Library staff created three “Chill Out” study rooms meant to suit the needs of neurodiverse students.

In their paper, “Come Chill Out at the Library: Creating Soothing Spaces for Neurodiverse Students,” published in the Journal of New Librarianship, librarians Amanda Boyer and Amir El-Chidiac explain how they made Susquehanna’s library more accessible to all students.

“As more neurodivergent students enroll in college, academic libraries need to examine how accessible their space is for these students,” said Boyer assistant professor and First-Year Experience librarian.

The Chill Out project began when Boyer and El-Chidiac started meeting with Susquehanna’s Autism Spectrum and Neurodiversity Student Group to discuss ways to make the library more welcoming. Students in the group indicated noise from Scholarly Grounds café, bright lighting and large windows were areas of discomfort. The students also created a “wish list” of items, including dimmable lights and comfortable seating, that they wanted to see in the library.

“All the changes we made were direct suggestions from students in the group,” Boyer said.

Library staff designated three rooms on the top floor to become the Chill Out rooms. They frosted the windows, replaced desks with height-adjusted tables, and added bean bag chairs, wobble stools, noise machines, weighted blankets, dimmable lamps and fidget toys. The systems librarian, Brianne Dort, also created an occupancy counter. Found on the Blough-Weis Library website, the occupancy counter allows students to see how busy the library is at any given time. Some students reported visiting the library for the first time only after these changes were made.

Boyer said the Chill Out project was so successful they have plans to add three additional Chill Out rooms to the library for the fall 2023 semester. To Blough-Weis Library staff, accessibility is part of what it means to be a librarian.

“Libraries are for everyone,” Boyer said. “There should never be a barrier preventing someone from using the library. It’s easy to think about accessibility only in terms of physical disability. Neurodiversity is hard to see, and so many people may forget that there are lots of aspects that can make libraries difficult for some people to use.”

For anyone wanting to create a neurodivergent-friendly space for students, Boyer and El-Chidiac recommend talking to neurodivergent students directly. Different groups of students will have different needs to consider.

“Just like libraries, accessibility is for everyone,” Boyer said.