Have you ever had the need in your library to assist families after periods of trauma? On this show I speak with Megan Schadich, Creator of the Healing Library.

Her organization creates resources for libraries to help trauma, recognizing that families can build their own journey of healing with quality experiences and materials at their libraries. From dealing with the death of a loved one or a pet, to handling Alzheimer’s, to coping with the myriad of emotions surrounding COVID-19 the resources that Megan shares will help libraries help families. https://www.thehealinglibraryus.com/



This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. You’re listening to Library Leadership Podcast where we talk about libraries and leadership, and speak with guests who share their ideas, innovations, and strategic insights into the profession. 

Have you ever had the need in your library to assist families after periods of trauma? In this show I speak with Megan Schadich Emery, creator of The Healing Library. Her organization creates resources for libraries to help trauma, recognizing that families can build their own journey of healing with quality experiences and materials at their libraries. From dealing with the death of a loved one, or a pet, to handling Alzheimer’s, to coping with the myriad of emotions surrounding COVID-19, the resources that Megan shares will help libraries help families. Enjoy the show.

Megan, Welcome to the show.

Megan Emery:

Thank you so much for having me.


Question #1: It’s a pleasure to have you here today. Thank you for talking with me about The Healing Library. Can you tell me all what this is, and what led to its development? 01:11 

Megan Emery:

The Healing Library is a project that I started in school, actually. I was attending Syracuse  to obtain my MLIS. I really wanted to contribute something back rather than just taking another internship, or taking another class. I wanted to create something. 

So, I got permission to do this crazy project with myself, obviously, as the student participant. Kirsten Cappy who’s the creator of Curious City. She creates incredible experiences, especially independently published high-quality, diverse picture books through her Curious City website. David Moorhead, who at the time was Children’s Librarian at the Lewiston Public Library in Maine. Another person who my path crossed with years ago, Bonnie Thomas, who is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. 

The short version of the story is that Kirsten had just created a hand-out for libraries to discover how they could engage with the picture book, What a Beautiful Morning, by Arthur A. Levine. I was already going down a path of non-traditional learning for this project, and I was focusing on college students. I wanted to create something to assist with burnout and to provide opportunities for mindfulness, especially thinking about finals, and just all the stress of being away from home, and how your life at home doesn’t stop just because you’re away. 

When I saw Kirsten’s experience I was so excited, because I’d been bumping into some walls with the college experience. The school I wanted to work with had just told me that they didn’t feel like they could lend one more non-traditional item or their staff would quit. So, I talked with

Kirsten, and I said, I have a bigger idea. What if you and I get together and we create something that any library could have access to, and anybody could download for free? And, of course, that’s what she does, because she loves the idea. 

We both agreed that we needed to have a health professional involved to insure the ethical responsibility of what we were creating, and just the overall content. That it was as high quality as it could be. She asked me if I knew anybody, and immediately Bonnie popped into my mind because she’s so talented. She deals, especially heavily, with youth and families focusing on art and play-based therapies. 

At the end of the day, what this all became are free downloads where libraries can click on the title of the PDF and download it for free. There are instructions for them to download these kits that were created to make a family’s journey of healing following a period of trauma easier to navigate, and easier to personalize around their own unique needs.

They were designed with the intention of being lent out by libraries, however a family can download them. A library can download them, and perform some of these activities virtually, which is what a lot of us are doing right now. 

Each kit contains the following items: there’s a discussion guide with overall tips for how to constructively discuss this typical topic of the family; there’s an activities guide that consists of holistic art and play-based therapy activities. In addition with the kit that libraries purchase or assemble themselves, these kits come with all of the materials that a family would need to participate in, at least a few, but as many of the art and play-based therapy activities as possible. There’s an Acts of Kindness guide, which is more proactive activities that are encouraging families to reach out into the greater community of other people who may have experienced similar trauma. There’s a Community Helper’s guide that once they return the kit, or have exhausted the kit’s resources, it has national suggestions and opportunities for libraries to customize that locally, and really highlight the organizations who they may be partnering with. 

The part probably everyone cares about in this group about the most, there’s a curated book selection of diverse titles, both experientially diverse, racially diverse. For example, the Death of a Pet kit. There are some people who are going to have pocket pets, like gerbils that pass away. And, other people are going to have dogs or cats that pass away. So, we wanted to really try and cover all of our bases. 

Along with each book we’ve also created a discussion guide that provides observations and discussion prompts that families can utilize while they’re sharing the books. Because, you can give the right book to anybody but they might not know how to read it with a child as effectively as possible, especially when they’re experiencing their own trauma. 

And finally, there’s a single page introduction for families to explain, Here’s what you have in your hands, and here’s how to dive-in, as well as a guide for librarians to explain, Here’s what these kits are. Here’s what these kits are not, and here are some suggestions about how to create your own, how to begin lending, all that good stuff. 


Question #2: ISounds like amazing resources, all of these things. These are kits. They provide materials for families to help deal with trauma. Can you share with us what kind of things are dealt with in the kits, in particular, and what is in them? You went over that, but how does that work in these kits? 06:15 

Megan Emery:

Trauma is such an expansive topic. It’s getting so much more attention and focus. And, we’re recognizing how individual these experiences can be. We recognized when we started the project—we all just chimed in with as many experiences that we could think of that we would like to write about. Eventually we realized that it was still an internship. I still had to be “finished” with the product in three months. 

So, in three months we decided that we could do three kits really well. We’ve grown since then. But, the first kit we focused on was the Death of a Loved One. The second was The Death of a Pet. The third was Alzheimer’s in Your Family. 

Since then, we were actually hired by Barefoot Books and the incredible, incredible, author, Tamara Ellis Smith to create a kit around her book which dealt with separation and divorce. Then, just a couple weeks ago we actually released a COVID-19 kit. 

So, we have these five incidents which we feel are common enough that they are occurring more frequently in people’s lives. And we’re slowly adding more, and more topics to that.


Question #3: Those sound like really good topics. So, what do these kits do? When someone gets a kit, they open it up, they see all these resources. What can they expect to have happen with these kits? 07:47 

Megan Emery:

It’s going to be unique for everyone. One of the things that we’ve taken great care, responsibility, and tenderness in our writing is to ensure that we are covering a bunch of bases when it comes to social-emotional learning. For folks that aren’t familiar, there’s an incredible organization, CASEL. They have created a framework and a language around social-emotional learning that would probably be really helpful. I can share that resource with folks later. But basically, there are five core competencies that they focus on: self-awareness; self-management; social awareness; relationship skills; and responsible decision-making.

Without being heavy handed or preachy, technically, we don’t even bring up the term social-emotional learning when we’re creating these things because we’re providing families with the language, with the actions, and with the opportunity to engage with one another through conversation—through caring language, and tender action, and through the community, whether that’s their neighborhood, or their family, or a national organization that understands what they’re going through. We really try to provide a myriad of opportunities so that they can engage in these healthy activities and build something that works for their families. 

A good example is one of the activities in The Death of a Pet kit is called Thinking About Heaven. In the overall discussion guide we go over some common things that parents did with us when we were kids, and now that we’re parents the pattern just tends to repeat itself. Or, you see it on TV and it works, and you think, Oh, I can just use that language.

A good example is, heaven. A lot of families don’t believe in heaven but, it’s awfully comforting and easy to say, Well, our cat has passed away but, they’re in heaven now where everything is wonderful. So, you don’t have to worry about them. Or, It’s okay to be sad but understand they’re in heaven.

And if you aren’t a family who’s ever discussed heaven before, that can be confusing for a child and it can open up a whole new set of doors and questions. It may not even be that you’re the one who’s mentioned heaven to them but, maybe their best friend, maybe their parents say something about that, and they come home with questions for you about what is heaven. 

So, we talk about how to tenderly approach that subject in the discussion guide. But, then we also pair it with an activity called Thinking About Heaven, where we provide a myriad of art materials and the child could draw. If heaven is real, what does that look like for your animal? Or, What would that look like if the two of you were together and heaven is on earth? Or, What was a perfect day like?

Trying to provide opportunities for families that don’t believe in heaven to have an experience with that concept, but also for the families that do experience heaven in their lives, and in their religion to support that idea, as well.


Question #4: It sounds very sensitive, and as we all know when you’re in a library almost anything can come through the door. Families are going through a lot when they come into our facilities. So, it’s important that librarians have resources like this. What would you say to librarians who want to lead the way on developing social and emotional learning for their communities? 11:15 

Megan Emery:

Check out the CASEL website because chances are, it’s a lot like the maker movement. We heard about it and we all said, Oh, my God that sounds so expensive. It sounds like a lot of research. And then when you look into it you realize, Oh, I’ve already been doing a lot of this, in some of our cases, for decades.

So, I’m willing to bet that a lot of the work you’ve already been doing. Having the framework and language around it to communicate with your administration, or your funding sources, or your boards, or city government, or because this was originally created for schools to build healthy partnerships with your schools, all of us moving forward with whatever’s going to come from the COVID-19 situation that we’re in, everybody is like, Ahhh, summer’s here, what are we going to do? 

People are also freaked out about Back to School is coming, What’s that going to look like? How are our kiddos’ lives going to change? How are our parents’ lives going to change? How are our libraries going to change when that happens?

So, taking a little time to do some of this reading and thinking over the course of the summer while you’re participating or administering in virtual programming could be a really healthy way to try out the training wheels and talk to some of your teachers, some of those allies that you have in other community organizations. See what they think of the idea of partnering together. What does that look like moving forward? I think everybody’s stronger in a partnership.


Question #5: Right. I think that’s fantastic. One of the things I like that you said was about adapting the kits to your families’ needs, right? Everybody comes at this a little bit differently when dealing with trauma, or when something comes at us in our communities like COVID. It sounds like the kits have enough flexibility in them that you can take the essential resources and put them into your own situation, is that right? 13:09 

Megan Emery:

Yes, absolutely. Like I said, we tried to provide as robust an experience as we could knowing that some families will—I’m trying to think of an example from our Death of a Loved One kit. Some families will read one particular phrasing in the discussion guide and know, Oh, that’s not us. So, they can just skip down to the next heading.

Other families may eat this all up and decide that—It’s important for me to review this as a parent, and to experience all of these activities. Like I said, there’s no right or wrong way to approach these kits. I think the only real piece of advice we give parents, beyond some of those tips in the discussion guide about how to approach these sensitive topics with a child that’s constructive and is going to give them a framework and toolbox of healing, is that when it comes to the picture books, really give yourself a chance to read them ahead of time because you never know what’s going to be triggering.

The other hard piece of advice that we put in is about crying. How it’s so powerful for a child to see a parent have these emotions, and to see a parent relating with them, and feeling sad as well. So, it’s okay to cry in front of your child. However, if you feel that it’s going to be uncontrollable for you, or you feel you’re bordering on that uncontrollable territory, remove yourself and regain your composure. Seeing your parent out of control with sorrow or grief can have the opposite effect and be kind of scary.


Question #6: Yeah, scary, good advice. So, where can our listener’s go for resources? 14:49 

Megan Emery:

Our website has a lot of information on it. We are thehealinglibraryus.com, as in the United States. On our website you’ll get the overview of what we’ve discussed today on that homepage. The About section has a little bit of the story of how we came about. Then, of course, everybody wants the Free Downloads page. If you go to the Free Downloads page, you just click on the title that you want and a free PDF will automatically download to your computer.

The other section that gets a lot of attention is our Grant Language section. We’ve set this up so that we break down for you how The Healing Library can assist your community in providing social-emotional learning. I’ve written a ton of grants, as I’m sure you, and your listeners have. We really broke this down so that it’s basically – you can copy and paste. We also provide additional questions that you might want to consider offering up, or answering in the grant somewhere to show how capable, resourceful, and ready you are for this kind of action in your community.

There’s also a shopping section. We’ve been really proud of taking our work and growing with the requests of the greater library, and now the school community, who has been accessing our materials. One of the things we kept hearing from rural and smaller libraries was that they loved this, but they don’t have the manpower to assemble these kits themselves, so where can they purchase them? I said, Well, that’s not who we are, hands up in the air—no, no we’re libraries, we do things for free. And they said, Then I can’t have one. 

So, with the Grant Language we created a Shop page that has slowly been built out and now three of the kits are available in three different sizes for people to purchase, everything from something that can be shelved with your collection, to a full size rolling duffle bag that has every single thing in it. 

Then there’s a Contact page, and of course Terms and Conditions. But beyond what’s available on the website, if anybody has a question for me directly they’re welcome to reach out. It’s just like the website. Our email address is [email protected]. That will come to me, and truly you can ask anything. Recently I helped a school librarian and a school counselor purchase three kits through the website. I helped them with writing their grants, and showing why in their case purchasing a kit wound up saving money, as opposed to trying to create their own kits.

And then if folks had questions about social-emotional learning, the website is casel.org, and you would click on, What is SEL. That will take you directly to those five core competencies, and a whole bunch of information that I think your listeners would find really interesting.


Question #7: Thank you. Anything else you would like to share? 17:42 

Megan Emery:

Yes, absolutely. The team and I are available to either assist with the launch of your book, if you’re an author, or an illustrator, or a publisher. If you feel it’s in line with social-emotional learning—with assisting families through getting through some type of traumatic or life-changing incident, you can reach out to us at that website, or at the email address. Further, we create webinars and trainings, and all kinds of things. So, if you feel like your staff day, or library conference, or administrative team would benefit from something like that, please reach out. I do everything from social-emotional learning, programming audits, to what is The Healing Library, and how can my team dive deeper.


Question #8: Excellent. And, will you say the website again? 18:23 

Megan Emery:

Sure, https://www.thehealinglibraryus.com.


Question #9: Perfect. Do you have a favorite leadership book, or resource you’d like to share, Megan? 18:33 

Megan Emery:

I do. I am kind of a psychology junkie and nerd. So, probably my favorite is, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel Pink. My absolute favorite nerdy psychology is motivational psychology. I just think it’s so fascinating. If you look at the tests that were completed decades, and decades ago about how money is not what drives people to be successful at work and to achieve things. If we can really tap into what makes one another tick as human beings, we all can just flourish. If we would only put the focus on that, and the attention on that instead of things like money.


Question #10: Sounds good. Megan, in closing, what do libraries mean to you, personally? 19:18 

Megan Emery:

I’m sure like many people listening, I have one of those stories where I was kind of raised by the library. Some of my first and best memories were in the library. I was incredibly fortunate my dad was an avid reader, as was my mom. So we had a library in the house that I grew up in. As an adult, moving away from that, I did everything the opposite of libraries. I’ve been a bartender, and I was a park ranger for a snowboard park in a resort, and a plumber’s assistant, and I helped out on whale watch boats finding the whales for tourists. 

I really just spent a long time seeking and trying to learn what my life was about, and what I thought our connected life as human beings was about. It wasn’t until I answered an ad in the paper to be a children’s librarian after I was a bartender, and it was a miserable experience, that I recognized that what I had been seeking was a balance. All the very physical jobs I had didn’t stimulate me intellectually. And, the more intellectual jobs that I had weren’t stimulating in a physical sense. 

I think that libraries are one of the few places, because we are cultivating life-long learning, where we get to dive-in and use our hands, and our brains at the same time. It’s all centered around the heart and I can’t imagine a more beautiful profession. That’s why I’m attracted to them even though, full disclosure, I had a son and actually left my library, so now The Healing Library is all that I’m focusing on. I still have a passion for them.


It seems very full circle, Megan, as you give back with The Healing Library. What a nice story, thank you.

Megan Emery:

Oh, thank you very much for having me.


It’s been a pleasure. 

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You’ve been listening to Library Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Adriane Herrick Juarez. Our producer is Nate Vineyard. More episodes can be found at https://libraryleadershippodcast.com, where you can now subscribe to have new shows delivered right into your email inbox. You can also find the show on Apple iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you for listening. We’ll see you next time.