Blogger Liza Purdy

The Trauma Informed Library

A month or so ago, I watched a terrific documentary on Amazon Prime called Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope, based on a book by the same name written by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn. The movie depicts the precarious state of Kristoff’s hometown, Yamhill, OR. The town has been devastated by economic hardships, the opioid crisis, and poor life expectancy in the past few decades. Kristoff checks in with some of his classmates who have faired far worse than he in the intervening years.

I was fascinated by the documentary. I was particularly riveted by a segment regarding Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs. I had never heard of ACEs, but I believe that they are incredibly relevant to the role of the Children’s Librarian. Kristoff interviewed Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, California Surgeon General, and founder of the Center for Youth Wellness, which is a “national leader in the effort to advance pediatric medicine, raise public awareness, and transform the way society responds to children exposed to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and toxic stress.” We learn about these incredibly common childhood traumas, including parental divorce, mental health and substance abuse issues in families, and physical and sexual abuse, and their lasting impact on health and longevity.

 After introducing the viewer to the work of Dr. Burke Harris, Kristoff transitioned to a segment on an absolutely inspirational child care center in Virginia, called the Circle Preschool Program, which is part of Greater Richmond SCAN (Stop Child Abuse Now). Teachers worked with traumatized children who had been kicked out of other child care centers and their caregivers with the most patient, loving, and steady demeanor. As I watched this portion of the doc, I nearly fell out off my couch with admiration and a strong desire to engage in this sort of work in my library.

This past year has been a veritable hotbed of trauma for so many of us. Children stuck at home in not so great environments surely had a rough pandemic across the board. 2020 highlighted major political and social unrest as well. On a micro scale, my town has suffered through massive wild fires and a deadly school shooting in late 2019. We entered Covid with many unhealed wounds. Nationally and globally, the picture is not any better. We are surrounded by trauma and the traumatized.

There has got to be a way for libraries to respond. We specialize in the stuff of resilience: language-rich stories, access to information, safety, community support, opportunities for family bonding, and chances at self-discovery and growth. Surely these can be applied directly to those who have suffered greatly in our midst.

I am just beginning my research Childhood Trauma and the ways that libraries can respond. I plan on writing a series on this topic as my ALSC blog contribution over the next few months. As part of that research, I would love to hear from any of you who are already doing this work. Would you share with us in the replies what type of work you are doing? I want to learn from you! Please reach out to me individually as well.  I am ready to listen.  


  1. Bryce

    Hi Liza! I’ve been working on this topic since 2013. Here are some posts I’ve written and webinars I’ve given:

    1. Liza Purdy

      Thank you so much! I will totally check everything out! This is great!

  2. Erin Silva

    Hi Liza,
    I started exploring this topic in 2018 after a particularly challenging summer. I did a lot of research was able to “hire” an MSW grad student starting the summer of 2019. I currently have a bachelor of social work student working with me this summer as well.
    We also embarked on training with a local teen-focused group to teach us new thinking and ways of working with kids/teens. It has reshaped the way we work with young people in our library, and every staff person is trained with this new approach.
    I am happy to speak to you (or anyone else, really) about our approach.
    Erin Silva
    Youth and Teen Services Librarian
    North Liberty Library (Iowa)

    1. Liza Purdy

      Fabulous, Erin! So good to hear! I will reach out to you soon! Thank you for including your contact info! I really appreciate it!!!

  3. Kena H.

    Thank you so much for this post! I am also starting to finds methods of integrating trauma-informed work into my job as a Children’s librarian as well. Kristoff was a guest speaker on the podcast, “Reach Out and Read” and he spoke on this topic as well.

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