Children’s Librarians in the Lives of Children with Disabilities: A Bio-ecological Perspective

A few months ago, I presented a poster at ALISE 2016, in Boston, MA.

Here is a summary of my poster’s content, with a link to the PDF version.

Children’s Librarians in the Lives of Children with Disabilities: A Bioecological Perspective
This poster explores the intersections of children’s librarianship and early literacy in the lives of children with disabilities. In what is referred to as his bioecological systems theory, Bronfenbrenner (1986, 2005) conceptualized a child’s development as taking place within nested systems of support. Each setting (i.e. home, preschool, library) is considered a microsystem within which the individual child interacts with objects, symbols and people in ways that advance or hinder that child’s development. Interactions between those people who surround the child constitute the mesosystem influence. To elaborate, the mesosystem may be constituted when an outside influence (such as a teacher or therapist) is exerted on a child within a specific microsystem. An example of this would be a father bringing his toddler to a storytime program and learning how to play a rhyming game with his child from a children’s librarian. The influence that the children’s librarian has had on the father (i.e. teaching him a new way to play and interact with his child in their home microsystem) constitutes the mesosystem.


This poster mainly explores actual examples of the children’s librarian’s mesosystem role and draws on evidence from a series of semi-structured interviews with groups of children’s librarians as well as parents of young children with disabilities. This study’s findings suggest that children’s librarians who are willing and (somewhat) able to offer responsive, inclusive services and parents who want and need such services rarely encounter each other but when they do the benefits of such interactions are obvious especially when viewed through Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological systems framework. This study suggests that librarians and their expertise in encouraging early literacy development via mesosystem interactions are under-utilized resources in the lives of families whose children have disabilities. Working with families around making accommodations to meet children’s learning needs represents a significant way that children’s librarians become part of children’s mesosystems of support and in this way provide equitable early literacy resources across diverse communities of children.


By considering Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological systems framework wherein children are afforded frequent and successful interactions with ‘objects, symbols and people’ in public library contexts, this study suggests that more frequent interactions around the early literacy resources of the public library could represent a positive force for individual children’s early literacy development, in much the same way as regular home reading supports early literacy growth. By the same token, fewer, or less successful interactions in the library context could inhibit literacy growth because of lost opportunities to engage with the resources that are freely available at the public library. This study concludes with a rationale for continuing to strengthen the role that children’s librarians play in the lives of all children, particularly those who may remain underserved.

Children’s Librarians in the Lives of Children with Disabilities: A Bioecological Perspective


Bronfenbrenner, U. (1986). Ecology of the family as a context for human development: Research perspectives. Developmental Psychology, 22(6), 723-742.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (2005). Making human beings human: bioecological perspectives on human development. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Photo credit: AdinaVoicu


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