Library Leadership

92. Trauma-Informed Service with Tiffany Russell

How does trauma impact the lives of those we serve in libraries? On this show I speak withTiffany Russell. She’s a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has worked in libraries delivering trauma-informed service. She shares what a trauma-informed approach can look like in assisting people and creating safe spaces for everyone—along with what resources, partnerships, and advocacy we need to do this work.

Transcript

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Adriane:

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.

How does trauma impact the lives of those we serve in libraries? On this show I speak with Tiffany Russell about this important topic. She’s a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has worked in libraries delivering trauma-informed service. She shares what a trauma-informed approach can look like in assisting people and creating safe spaces for everyone—along with what resources, partnerships, and advocacy we will need to do this work. Enjoy the show!

Tiffany, welcome to the show.

Tiffany Russell:

Thank you for having me.

Adriane:

Question #1: As we get started, why is it important for libraries to think about ways to provide trauma-informed service? 01:23 

Tiffany Russell:

I think it’s important for libraries to think about different ways to provide trauma-informed service because ultimately we want to make sure that we are in a position to serve people to the best of our ability, right? So, we want to make sure we are not retraumatizing people when they’re coming to our spaces. But ultimately providing a safe space for people. 

We don’t always know what people are facing before they come to us, or even after they come to us. So, having an understanding of what trauma-informed service—trauma-informed approach is will help shape our interactions with the patrons that we serve.

Adriane:

Question #2: So how can those of us in libraries begin to understand how trauma impacts the lives of the people we serve? 02:10 

Tiffany Russell:

One of the ways, I think, that people can begin to understand is basically by educating yourself. If you are in a library in a position as a director, a manager—I think it’s really important to bring that training to your library in some type of way. Whether that is bringing someone in to speak about the topic or giving a webinar. Because that will begin that conversation. That will start that dialog about understanding how trauma impacts people that we serve. It is really just as simple as starting the work, then building it from there.

Adriane:

Question #3: What does using a trauma-informed approach look like when we’re assisting people in libraries? 02:55 

Tiffany Russell:

There’s a lot of things that go into using a trauma-informed approach. Some of the things that instantly come to mind are thinking about ways that we can be person-centered. What I mean by that is thinking of people as people first. Being careful not to label people, not judging them based on their circumstances. As opposed to saying someone is, That guy over there that’s homeless, or the lady without a bag—really, just learning how to incorporate that person-first language, seeing people as people, learning people’s names, getting to know them, building relationships. 

I know that it’s not always possible to do that with every single person that comes into our library, but that’s one way to do that. Other things like leading with compassion when we’re talking to people, like I mentioned earlier. Another thing is that—we’re not really sure what people are facing before they come to us, or what they’ll face when they leave us. So it’s really important that while people are in our care—in our facilities, in our libraries, that we’re not retraumatizing them, but their experience is one that’s going to be of value, one that they can feel great about—their interaction with us in libraries.

Adriane:

Question #4: And as we were preparing this show, you were talking to me about how having licensed clinical social workers in libraries is a growing field. What did that look like for you? I know you’ve done this work in libraries yourself. What has that looked like for you? 04:20 

Tiffany Russell:

I definitely think that library social work is an emergent field and for me, my position was working under a grant. This grant allowed for my library to hire a full-time social worker, in addition to placing social work interns in libraries that we partnered with. 

Different libraries, you know, will need different things. There may be a need for a full-time social worker in one library, and then in another library, you know, just a need for a part-time person, or an intern. What it is about is being there to provide resources for people, connecting people to resources in the community, facilitating conversations and trainings with staff, as well. It’s really an emergent field and it’s still being fleshed out, but I think that the possibilities are endless in terms of having a social worker in the library. It really takes a creative mind, and thinking outside the box in terms of how your library may be able to utilize a social worker.

Adriane:

Question #5: Thank you for sharing that with me. And, you advocate for being proactive in creating safe spaces for everyone in our community. How can we do this? 05:39 

Tiffany Russell:

When you think about a safe space for everyone, it’s important to examine the space that you have. Looking at your library and asking the questions, Would everyone feel safe when they come here? Thinking about who we are welcoming when we open our doors. That’s a conversation that should continue in libraries and be brought to the table often.

Every library is different. One of the things you may want to look at is looking at your policies, looking at your rules, and seeing who we are really creating these rules for? Are we thinking ahead and thinking about our patrons, or are we thinking about ourselves? Are we enforcing our policies with equity? I think that’s one of the main things. But, creating that safe space is really important. A lot of people see the library as a safe space. So, we really want to continue that for people. Again, just moving forward in the future, establishing that, and maintaining that safe space is definitely one of the most important things.

Adriane:

Question #6: What resources, partnerships, and advocacy will we need to do trauma-informed work in our libraries? 06:53 

Tiffany Russell:

Some of the partnerships, definitely, that can be beneficial would be linking up with your local community mental health agencies. Also, thinking about your local—depending on where you are, it may be called a couple of different things, your health and human services department, all of those things are fantastic sources. Thinking about this type of work and establishing relationships with even your local senior citizen community, or your community center, or your police department. 

There’s really an endless amount of resources that you can connect to, to start this work. The idea is having that conversation with those other places saying that, This is what we recognize as important to us. This is important work. So we would like to partner with you and see how we can work together to serve our community.

Adriane:

Question #7: And I know that you’ve done a lot of work with the public utilizing our libraries, but is there anything you have done with staff? Because, like you say, we’ve come out of a pandemic. We have many changes happening in libraries. Not only is it important for us to think about this topic in terms of our public and our patrons, but those who work together to provide services in libraries. Has any of this work focused on staff as well as patrons? 08:01 

Tiffany Russell:

We’ve all experienced trauma, right? It hasn’t always been patron-specific. But, everybody who is living through this time—this pandemic has been a traumatic experience for all of us. So it’s definitely important, just in terms of thinking about staff—I often talk about compassion fatigue. Thinking about people who work in human service professions and how it can be very stressful working with people, working with the public, hearing stories about situations that people are enduring, going through themselves. There’s definitely some work that can be done and should be done just in terms of keeping our staff well, as well. 

Not just our patrons, but we want everybody to be well. We want everybody to have that mental stability and be really healthy—overall, not just patrons. So there’s definitely conversations about how staff take care of themselves throughout these times, too. I’ve definitely talked to a lot of libraries about the importance of self-care and how we take care of ourselves and what to do to decrease some of our own anxieties surrounding all of this thing as well.

Adriane:

Question #8: Is there anything else you would like to share? 09:40 

Tiffany Russell:

If I could share anything else I would say that trauma-informed approach, trauma-informed service in the library is really key. It’s really essential in that it is definitely necessary in providing the best service to our patrons. 

The word trauma is very triggering in reference to the topic, but I think that it’s very important to begin these conversations, to start this dialogue. I would encourage library staff, directors to start somewhere. You don’t have to start with a huge project or something so grand. But just start by having a conversation, watching a webinar, putting this topic on your agenda, getting a feel for what your staff might think and have talked about. I think that’s just super important. 

In addition I could say, just in terms of social work in libraries, I also think that’s a very important trend, a very important topic, and that it is necessary. I encourage everybody to think outside the box in ways that can be something that your library offers—develop a partnership, a relationship, schools of social work, library school, all of those things. Because as we move forward in the future, thinking about coming out of a pandemic, we’re seeing an increase in the amount of people that are visiting libraries, but we’re also seeing an increase in the needs that these people have.

So looking for resources with mental health issues, substance abuse issues, it really speaks to the change that’s happening in libraries. It’s just an important topic overall—social work in libraries and then providing that trauma-informed service. I encourage everybody just to keep pushing the initiative forward.

Adriane:

Question #9: Do you have a favorite management or leadership book, or resource, and why? 11:35 

Tiffany Russell:

I wouldn’t say that this fits into the category of management or leadership, necessarily, but it definitely ties into the topic of trauma and being trauma-informed. There is a book that is called The Body Keeps the Score, and it is by Bessel van der Kolk, who is a doctor. This book talks about how trauma impacts us, basically. It’s really a good read for people who are looking to do some work in terms of just understanding trauma and how trauma impacts people throughout their life. That would be one book that I would recommend relative to this topic that we’re talking about today.

Adriane:

Question #10: Excellent resource. I’ve read that one, Tiffany, and I agree it’s a good way to get some insights into this. So, thank you for recommending that. In closing, what do libraries mean to you, personally? 12:24 

Tiffany Russell:

Oh, that’s a great question, oh, my goodness. I love libraries. From me, I remember being a kid and going to libraries with my parents, with my grandparents, with my classes on field trips—really just enjoying the setting, enjoying the atmosphere, thinking of it as a place where I want to learn. There was so much information there. I always felt welcome. I always felt like it was a cool place. It was a place for everybody as well. So when I went to the library, even now when I go to libraries I’ve worked in, you see everybody, right? You see kids, you see babies, you see older people, you see college students. Really it’s a place where it doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter if you’re white. It doesn’t matter if you’re black, what your gender identity is. None of those things matter in that space. I really see it as a space for everybody. 

To me libraries are a special place and the dynamic is changing—how people view the library is changing, the library’s role is changing. And, I think there’s so many possibilities for libraries. I really think that libraries are here to stay, and that they will have a major role in just the overall well-being of our society.

Adriane:

Question #11: That’s marvelous, Tiffany. Thank you so much, and you’re right. If we think about this and we think about the ways we can be inclusive and provide this kind of informed service, especially when it comes to trauma—not knowing what people are going through before they walk through the door, after they walk through the door. We can really provide excellent service to everyone in our libraries. So, thank you so much for being on the show. 13:59 

Tiffany Russell:

You’re welcome. Thank you for having me.

You’ve been listening to Library Leadership Podcast. This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. For more episodes tune into LibraryLeadershipPodcast.com, where you can now subscribe to have monthly updates delivered right into your email inbox. Our producer is Nathan Sinclair Vineyard. Thanks 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.

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