I just finished reading the Urban Library Trauma Study and wanted to offer a little reflection. But first, I want to stress that I am no expert on trauma. I started writing about building a more trauma-informed library in this blog about a year ago. In that time, I’ve read some good books about trauma and resilience, I’ve been a library worker in an urban library, and I’ve experienced some personal trauma of my own. I’m not an expert, but I am invested in this topic, I am committed to public libraries, and I would like to see us foster, in the words of the study, a “culture of healing.” (p. 46)
The Trauma Study made it clear that, in no uncertain terms, public libraries are places where trauma happens. Patrons’ behavior is often informed by trauma brought on by societal and familial issues like homelessness, racism, violence, and homophobia (p.8). Moreover, our society is suffering from “endemic incivility” (p. 20). Library workers regularly experience primary and secondary trauma at work, and we don’t really have a method of dealing with it systematically. So instead, we frequently internalize anger, fear, and frustration brought on by the trauma. Eventually, we burn out. It’s a bad cycle.
Something that I really appreciated about this study is that they offered some practical steps that public libraries can take to start to deal more effectively with adverse situations. They called for a national library worker helpline, a set of standards for healthy library work environments, a collection of policies and procedures written from the perspective of trauma-informed leadership, and peer-led support groups. (p. 51).
One of my favorite ideas from the study was contributed during a small group activity session. The group proposed writing trauma-informed policy into library strategic plans. They called their proposal REST after the concepts they identified as being important in trauma and trauma recovery: rest, recovery, recognition, reform, safety, toxicity, and trauma (p. 46). They created a mission statement that includes the phrase “RE-ST holds an unwavering commitment to a culture of healing.” Isn’t that beautiful?
I have recently become aware of my need for rest. I’m not talking about sleep. I am a terrific sleeper; I don’t function on less than 8 hours unless I’m in a crisis. But rest is something entirely different. It’s time away from screens. It’s reading. It’s baking bread. It’s gardening. It’s time in nature. It’s time with my husband on the back patio with a glass of wine. It happens a few times a week, and it lasts longer than 15 minutes. This is what I need to do to heal, to be whole. If I am not intentional about this, my recipe for rest, a culture of personal healing, I will just pack my schedule full of wonderful and helpful activities that will be great for lots of people, but draining for me. I HAVE to make sure that I’m filling back up.
The same thing is going to go for us as employees. How can we create a culture of healing in our libraries? How do we fill back up? We give a whole lot! And I don’t think we should STOP giving. But I think we have to do a better job of filling back up. What would that look like for you? For your staff and colleagues? And then, how do we extend that culture of healing to our communities? Every person and place is going to have a different answer. But we can start with awareness and acknowledgment. Our work is hard because the world we work in is kind of crazy. Let’s start by thinking through the details of how to heal the trauma that we experience at work on a national scale and at the local level. That task is going to take a while. In the meantime, let’s create recipes for rest in our personal lives. Find some peace. Find some space. Find some beauty. Bask. Rest.