Article and Photo by Ronni Diamondstein
A public library is a strong reflection of its community and the Chappaqua Library is no exception. Catering to the entire community and in particular to those with special needs, the Chappaqua Library is in the forefront of services in Westchester. “We’re the only library in the county that provides a special program for children and extensive resources,” says Pamela Thornton, Library Director. “For me and the library staff, it is a basic service for us to provide for our patrons.”
One of the special needs activities that Thornton applauds is a monthly program sponsored by the Children’s Room, Saturday Specials. Miriam Budin, Head of Children’s Services, started the program three years ago when she saw that some parents felt uncomfortable bringing their children to the library’s regular children’s programs. “I wanted them to feel welcome at the library. I wanted to get to know their children better so that I could provide better library service to them going forward,” says Budin. “We’ve had children with hearing loss, cerebral palsy and autism.” Families must register for these thematic programs that include stories, songs, sensory activities, schmoozing and surprises. “The program is open to all,” says Budin “and provides a fun environment for the whole family.” Such fun includes puppets and sensory activities like painting with shaving cream, stringing beads and playing with balloons.
Frequently parents come in to the library with a particular concern and they can find a wide selection of books at all levels to deal with difficult topics. The Parenting Collection includes picture books on tough topics from divorce and bullying to toilet training. The regular library collection contains many books for older children that deal with a wide range of topics like death, disabilities and other special needs. One of the many knowledgeable library staff members will happily help patrons find just the right book.
Another source of Thornton’s pride is The Learning Center, a wide-ranging collection of materials that provides resources on all aspects of human learning. “It started as a collection of materials for vision and hearing concerns,” explains Deb Donaldson, the head of Technical Services who oversees The Learning Center. “The collection is quite extensive and covers topics from ADHD, Autism and Asperger’s to Executive Functioning,” says Donaldson whose own child had Learning Disabilities. “The collection has branched out as things come up,” says Donaldson. There are now over 1900 materials–books in English and Spanish, DVDs, CDs, books on tape and periodicals–on a wide range of topics from Bipolar disorder, Schizophrenia and Borderline Personality Disorder to Gifted Education. Information on popular therapies such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy is also available. “There are resources for kids who are not necessarily on the spectrum, but may have some sensitivity. We’re looking for solutions,” says Donaldson who works closely with the Special Education Committee of the Chappaqua Parent Teacher Association.
Materials from The Learning Center are frequently inter-library loaned to other residents in Westchester. Thornton, a board member of Westchester Institute of Human Development, is proud that her staff offers these services to the community. “There are 17,000 developmentally disabled people living in Westchester County,” says Thornton “and we’re here to help.”
Ronni Diamondstein, owner of Maggie Mae Pup Reporter, is a Chappaqua based freelance writer, PR consultant, award-winning photographer and a School Library Media Specialist and teacher who has worked in the US and abroad.