Amelia Gibson will use IMLS grant to research how libraries can better engage people with Autism and their families

May 17, 2017

UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS) Assistant Professor Amelia Gibson has received an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Laura Bush 21st Century Early Career Award to support a project titled, "Deconstructing Information Poverty: Identifying, Supporting, and Leveraging Local Expertise in Marginalized Communities."

Amelia Gibson
Dr. Amelia Gibson

The three-year project, which received over $336,600 in funding from IMLS, will examine the potential for libraries to help people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and their families fulfill their information needs and reduce information poverty in local ASD communities. It will also investigate how members of marginalized communities can act as self-advocates on a local level, and how libraries can recognize, empower, and educate all members of their communities through programming, planning, and collection development.

“Much of the work that goes into librarianship for people with disabilities focuses on providing access to current collections,” Gibson said. “In our zeal to create libraries that transform communities, we have overlooked the need for communities to transform the library. This project’s outcomes will help facilitate engagement that results in changes to collections, spaces, and programming so libraries can better meet the information needs of marginalized communities.”

Gibson will collaborate with the Durham and Charlotte Public Libraries and the Autism Society of North Carolina (ASNC) for the project, which will culminate in the development and dissemination of an online toolkit that describes community assessment and engagement processes. The outcomes include guidelines and approaches for understanding what peer-to-peer information networks, information needs, expertise, and special knowledge exist among local people with ASD and their families, and how to libraries can use that knowledge to support local community members

While this study addresses ASD communities specifically, libraries will be able to use the resulting tools to create different outcomes in different types of marginalized communities, producing an even broader impact.

“Diversity and inclusion efforts of any kind can be difficult without the understanding that comes from a grounding in critical thought and conversations,” Gibson said. “Providing librarians with theoretically and empirically based tools for thinking about and actively engaging in community assessment from a transformative perspective can help mitigate some of that difficulty, and give librarians and communities practical means for combatting information poverty, together.”


The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums. Its mission is to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. Its grant making, policy development, and research help libraries and museums deliver valuable services that make it possible for communities and individuals to thrive. To learn more, visit and follow IMLS on Facebook  and Twitter .