What does providing trauma-informed service look like in libraries? On this show, I speak with Bryce Kozla, Youth Services Librarian at Washington County Cooperative Library Services and a trained facilitator in trauma-informed service. You’ll learn why it’s important to focus on being trauma-informed and what it means in a library context, as well as learn about toxic stress in work interactions, how to apply trauma-informed principles at work, and why workforce wellness is essential in trauma-informed service.
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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.
What does providing trauma-informed service look like in libraries? On this show I speak with Bryce Kozla, Youth Services Librarian at Washington County Cooperative Library Services—and a trained facilitator in Trauma-Informed Service. You’ll learn why it’s important to focus on being trauma-informed, and what it means in a library context—as well as learn about toxic stress in work interactions, how to apply trauma-informed principles at work, and why workforce wellness is essential in trauma-informed service. It’s an episode you won’t want to miss. Enjoy the show!
Bryce, welcome to the show.
Oh, thank you, so much. I’m so happy to be here.
Question #1: Thank you for talking with me today about trauma-informed library service. First off, what made you interested in this, and why should we be implementing trauma-informed service in libraries? 01:33
I’ve always been fascinated learning about how our brains work. I saw a presentation on adverse childhood experiences back in 2013, and that got me searching more about trauma-informed care. So, since then, this knowledge has shaped how I think about myself as I interact with the world. I was honored to be trained as a 101 Level Trainer in 2018 by Trauma-Informed Oregon. They tasked our cohort with making the training industry specific. So, I’ve created a 101 level, library specific training for that.
Libraries should strive to be trauma-informed for lots of reasons. My top three, though, are that stress and trauma can affect everyone, being trauma-informed can help everyone, but most of all, every consideration that we make—every interaction that we have has the potential to be retraumatizing, or healing. So, we might as well try to be healing.
Sure. That’s absolutely true. So, what does trauma-informed mean in libraries? 02:45
We all want libraries to be as welcoming as we can make them, right? So, a trauma-informed care can help with that. For instance, breaking down barriers to access by eliminating overdue fines can be trauma-informed. But, also it can look like good wayfinding signage with clearly marked exits. Or, making sure there are no unsaid expectations that staff or patrons need to meet.
Everyone knows what they need to know—to do what they need to do. Clarity is a big part of trauma-informed care. Sometimes in libraries, it can be hard for staff to put themselves in the shoes of people who have never set foot in a library before, or are wary of libraries, whether from a bad past experience, or just a general distrust for government, or academic institutions.
Question #2: Can you tell us about toxic stress in the brain and what that means in a library context? 03:39
Sure, yeah. When we have an intensely stressful interaction, our brains want to save us. So, it prepares to save our own lives. And so, this is useful if we’re in, like, a physical altercation, but it’s not so useful when you have this response when you get an email from your boss that just says, Come see me… Your brain’s reaction to that email is to cut you off from your executive functioning, so it can focus on life-saving.
We might respond to—in a life-saving way, to real, or perceived threats. And also, our brains try to be helpful by strengthening neural pathways that make our everyday lives more efficient. If you make a cup of coffee every morning, it helps to be able to do that without explicitly thinking of every single step, every day. However, when we’re exposed to prolonged toxic stress like, you know, a year-long pandemic, for example. Our brains can start to strengthen the neural pathways that prepare to save our lives.
So, this can mean that we might see threats and patterns where there are none. And, more easily experience a temporary switch off of our ability to turn thoughts into words, or think straight at all, even when our lives and our senses of self are relatively safe.
Question #3: How do we apply trauma-informed principles to library work? 04:58
One important thing to keep in mind is that there is no real endpoint, or checklist, and this is continuous work. That said, there are six principles of trauma-informed care we can apply to libraries. The first is safety. So throughout the organization, staff, and the people they serve—both children and adults, should feel physically, and psychologically safe. The physical setting is safe, and interpersonal interactions promote a sense of safety.
Understanding safety, as defined by our patrons, is a high priority. So, some examples of how this principle could be seen in libraries are things like clearly marked entrances, and exits, interactions, and with ‘what’s next’, making sure expectations are clear. Either a physical space, or a space in a person’s schedule for self-care, and other plans to buffer against possible traumatic stress. Having a culture that inspires staff, and patrons, to try new things, take risks, and speak up is also a big one for safety.
The next is trustworthiness, and transparency. So, organizational operations and decisions are conducted with transparency—with the goal of building and maintaining trust with service users, or patrons, and family members among staff, and others involved in the organization.
It’s important to note that transparency is what others want to know, not what they think that they want to know, or they should know. So, some examples of this at work in libraries could be: understanding among patrons that staff will treat personal information as confidential; library rules that are clearly communicated and equitably enforced; professional norms that are openly articulated, rather than assumed or unsaid; and staff and patrons are provided with the information they need to succeed with inevitable library changes.
Next is peer support. So, while peer support is mostly care oriented, foundations of peer support can be reflected in libraries. Peer support is rooted in compassion for one’s self, and others. It’s about learning from one another and building connections. Peer support considers a person’s entire self, rather than focusing on real or perceived deficits. Patrons and co-workers feel like their needs and concerns are heard, if not understood. So, some examples of this in libraries could be displays, and books that prioritize #OwnVoices titles, where applicable—community opportunities to gather at the library around shared experiences, and meet new people, or some space therein. Now that many of us are virtual, or have been—procedures for voicing needs and concerns are clearly communicated, and easily accessible, and opportunity for staff to collaborate in ways that reflect the strengths of each staff member.
Next we’ve got collaboration and mutuality. So, importance is placed on partnering and the leveling of power differences between staff and patrons, and among organizational staff around the library and in interactions. Staff members feel like they have a valuable and value to play. Patrons feel as though they’re being treated as equals like staff, and they trust that staff is there to help them. Collaboration and mutuality demonstrates an organization’s commitment to relationships and the meaningful sharing of power in decision-making.
Everyone has a role to play in the trauma-informed approach. So, some examples of this could be: opportunities to collaborate within and among different departments or work groups, or teams; partnering with organization partners, and also individual community members to create community relevant and culturally responsive spaces, programs, and services; opportunities for staff and patrons to contribute, or provide feedback on decisions that affect them; and ensuring everyone in the library knows who to go to when they have specific questions.
So, next we have empowerment, voice and choice. Throughout the library and among patrons, individual strengths and experiences are recognized and built upon. Patrons are supported in making informed decisions about their library use, and they feel empowered to consider choices for themselves. Individual skills of staff are utilized where applicable. Patrons, and staff, feel as though they are equipped to be successful at the library. Some of these things playing out in the library could be intuitive signage, displays, and other discovery tools to help patrons find what they want or need; reader’s advisory, and reference interaction that offer a variety of choices; policies that empower staff to help patrons while using reasonable, professional discretion; and staffing models that take in account a staff member’s strengths and experience, as well as the needs of a library.
Last, but not least, are cultural, historical, and gender issues. So basically, the organization actively moves past cultural stereotypes and biases like: race; ethnicity; sexual orientation; age; religion; gender identity; ability. A library recognizes the need for accessible space, programs, and services, and it provides space programs, and services that are culturally, and gender inclusive—and also recognizes and addresses historical trauma.
So, some examples of this principle at work in the library could be providing gender-neutral, or all gender, or gender inclusive bathrooms; considering how the history of public libraries in America influence libraries today; using universal design principles to make the library usable by all people to the greatest extent possible; and consulting and partnering with culturally specific organizations to serve different cultural groups in the community.
Becoming a trauma-informed organization is an ongoing process and one that can help us foster trusting relationships with our community.
Question #4: What is the importance of workforce wellness in a trauma-informed approach? 11:13
Oh, it’s everything. A well cared for, and empowered workforce is less likely to see their employer, or workplace, as a threat—which can do wonders for staff morale, and customer service. This means feeling actually supported by management in ways that matter, like keeping work capacity at reasonable levels.
Question 5: Definitely. And, I know that you often introduce the concepts of historical trauma, and institutional oppression when you speak on this topic. What do we need to know about this? 11:36
So, there’s a lot, and I don’t know how much justice I can give this topic right now, but I’ll try. The term historical trauma was first coined by Maria Yellow Horse Braveheart in the 1980’s. It’s used to describe the culmination of trauma passed down through historically oppressed communities, and is experienced by individuals as they learn the realities of their community’s history. It is important to be mindful of historical trauma, since it can activate the stress response in a similar way to a live traumatic experience. It’s also possible that historical trauma is an impetus for a lived traumatic experience.
So, institutional oppression is the system of individual barriers that have been codified into our policies, procedures, and our work in general. This answers questions like, Who is most affected by punitive measures? How accessible are your physical and online spaces? How much general knowledge of libraries does a person need, to succeed and engage with a collection successfully? Positive and negative anecdotes about the library can be shared through communities, as well—even if the information is outdated, or there was a misunderstanding, or if the experience happened twenty years ago, or in another system.
When reaching out to communities that underutilize our services, we might consider that they may know more about us than we might assume they do. And, it’s important to listen to, and address concerns. And also, just sometimes, it’s easy for those in the dominant culture—so those of us most comforted and validated by society, to think of trauma-informed care as a framework in order to avoid talking about race, or other identities that have been harmed by organizations. But, in reality, when done correctly, to be trauma-informed is to grapple with the ways libraries have either passively, or actively, engaged in oppression and to work to remedy that.
Question 6: Anything else you would like to share? 13:38
Yeah, I just want to make sure that everyone knows that I do talk about trauma-informed care in libraries on my blog, at https://brycekozlablog.blogspot.com/. I have a few webinars linked there, as well.
Question #7: Great. Thank you for sharing that. Do you have a favorite management, or leadership book, and why? 13:53
So, I’m not really a big fan of management or leadership books, but if I had one book to recommend right now, it would be The Age of Overwhelm: Strategies for the Long Haul, by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky. Who is the founder of the Trauma Stewardship Institute. She also has a great Ted Talk called, Beyond the Cliff that you can find on youtube.
Question #8: Bryce, in closing, what do libraries mean to you, personally? 14:17
Yeah, so, when I worked in a public library children’s department I used to talk to school groups about the circ desk, and the courier system like it was the circulation system of the body. While I’m not one to believe that libraries, in general, are inherently good, I do believe libraries have a unique place in helping our communities thrive. And, as Uncle Ben says in Spiderman, With great power comes great responsibility.
Thank you so much for being with me today. I really enjoyed having you on the show. And, this is such an important topic. So, I think it’s good that we’re talking about this today. So, thank you.
Oh, absolutely. Thank you so much for having me.
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 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.
We would like to thank the Park City Library for their dedicated support of this show. The opinions expressed on this show are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the views of Library Leadership Podcast, or our sponsors.