How miniature therapy horses help meet a need at the Arlington Heights library

How miniature therapy horses help meet a need at the Arlington Heights library

 
By Eileen O. Daday
Good News
Updated 10/17/2018 6:31 AM
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  • Hope and Winnie, miniature therapy ponies from Barrington-based Mane in Heaven, recently paid a visit to the Arlington Heights Memorial Library.

    Hope and Winnie, miniature therapy ponies from Barrington-based Mane in Heaven, recently paid a visit to the Arlington Heights Memorial Library. Courtesy of Arlington Heights Memorial Library

If you think libraries are for hushed reading and quiet research, think again.

Earlier this month, the Arlington Heights Memorial Library hosted a pair of miniature ponies -- inside the library, on their main floor -- and they drew more than 500 people to check them out.

Families waited patiently in line to meet the ponies -- who wore gym shoes for the occasion -- and take photos with them, naturally.

John Sherkey, 14, of Mount Prospect was one of several children in wheelchairs who came to visit them.

"He loved it," his father, Mike, said afterward. "He loves horses."

Wrangling these ponies into a corral of sorts was all part of the library's efforts to promote inclusion. The meet and greet was one of its opening events, introducing patrons to Hope and Winnie, two of the therapy ponies from Mane in Heaven, based in Barrington.

The equine-based organization provides therapeutic benefits to children and adults through visits to hospitals, retirement communities, skilled nursing care facilities, schools and veteran facilities, but the Arlington Heights visit was one of the biggest crowds they had drawn.

"Studies show, that just like comfort dogs, the ponies lower blood pressure, bring a sense of calmness and just open people up," said Dina Morgan, president of the organization. "People can't help but smile when they see them, and that's our mission, to bring joy and happiness."

Library officials said they hope to bring more joy and happiness to families of children with disabilities, as well as adults dealing with a disability or impairment.

Last year, board members made it a priority to embrace diversity and inclusion at the library, and they directed staff to look for more ways to serve customers more effectively. Their directive came even before members of the American Library Association issued a statement to member libraries to support inclusion as a way to advance a more equitable, diverse and inclusive society.

As a profession, the statement read, libraries strive to identify and address barriers to equity, diversity and inclusion with a broad spectrum of best practices, tools and resources. It appears, Arlington Library officials are doing just that.

Families waited in long lines to meet Hope and Winnie, miniature therapy ponies from Barrington-based Mane in Heaven, at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library.
Families waited in long lines to meet Hope and Winnie, miniature therapy ponies from Barrington-based Mane in Heaven, at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library. - Courtesy of Arlington Heights Memorial Library

An inclusion committee lowered some of the catalog and self-checkout stations to make them handicapped accessible. They also measured doorways to make sure they were accessible and added assistive devices, such as: materials in Braille and adaptive books, sensory headphones, personal amplifiers, video magnifiers, as well as two electric scooters and walkers.

In its Kids' World department, officials have organized early intervention playgroups and a sensory story time that meet every month. They also have contracted with an early childhood music specialist and a certified therapeutic recreation specialist, who come twice a year.

"The library has always been a community center," said Shannon Distel, director of customer service. "We're a place of learning, but we also want to be a place of inclusion. We're trying to be a leader on this and we're setting the bar high."

On Wednesday, Oct. 17, from 10:30-11:30 a.m., the library is hosting officials from the Chicago Lighthouse North in Glenview to share programs for the blind and visually impaired. From 7-8:30 p.m., specialists from JVS Chicago will share information, with tips for making an effective resume, interviewing skills and finding networking opportunities.

What's more, at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 19, library officials will be hosting a sensory-friendly screening of the movie "Monsters, Inc."

More programs are planned through the rest of the month -- with October acknowledged as Inclusion Awareness Month -- as well as making available a variety of adaptive devices at the library's tech learning center available for checkout.

See the library's website for details at www.ahml.info.

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