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Trauma-Informed Libraries

Trauma-Informed Practice for All Library Programs

All Programs Can Be Trauma-Informed!

Libraries can take steps to implement a trauma-sensitive approach in all of their youth and adult programming.  This section outlines those steps and links to examples and resources that can be used to help all patrons feel safer and more comfortable while attending library programs.


Include information in your program publicity to help patrons make informed choices about attending your event. If you plan to play loud music, discuss possibly triggering topics, use strobe lighting etc. For example, "toddler dance party includes some loud music and use of a disco ball."

It can be tempting to ask patrons if they have any issues that we can be sensitive to during pre-registration or during the event itself. This should not be done for two reasons. The library should be protecting a patron's privacy and right to not disclose any personal information. Secondly, should the library be asking for this information they could become liable for protecting the patron, which is neither possible nor desirable. Alternatively, have a posting on your newsletter or website that welcomes patrons of all ages and abilities and that reasonable accommodation can be made upon prior request.

Program Introductions

Begin each library program with a brief introduction by library staff or the program presenter.  Introductions will help all attendees, particularly those affected by trauma, to feel safe and welcome, and to know what to expect from the program ahead.  Introductions may include:

  • A brief summary of how the program will proceed ("The film will begin in a few minutes and run until 7pm. From 7 to 7:45, we will have a discussion about the film. We will conclude by 8pm.")
  • A heads-up about any sounds, music, movement, touch, lighting changes, discussion, or audience participation that will occur
  • Expectations of inclusive and non-judgmental behavior by staff and attendees throughout the program
  • Reassurance that attendees may leave at any time (and/or instructions for exiting and reentering the program after it has begun)
  • Locations of emergency exits
  • Locations of restrooms


Whenever possible, have materials on hand that can be used to soothe patrons and assist in manipulating the environment. For example, patrons who are sensitive to loud noise, music or other aural stimuli may be helped by the provision of earplugs. Or children who are in distress may be distracted by a toy or coloring activity.

Procedures for Staff

When implementing this trauma-informed programming approach, create a procedure for staff to follow in the event that a patron becomes distressed or needs assistance. This can be added to your library's safety plan or policy.

Program Spaces

  • Is there an ability to control the lighting- can it be dimmed?
  • Can the sound be controlled?
  • Are the exits clearly marked, and kept clear at all times?
  • Are there safe spaces that are accessible to a patron without staff intervention?

Safe Spaces and Exits

In the same way that your library has maps for emergency exits, it is important to know which areas of the library can be available to a patron that needs a private or quiet space. Conversely, some patrons will be uncomfortable with closed spaces with minimal exits. Being able to quickly provide a scene change to a patron in distress can help de-escalate a situation.


Staff should also consider a phone, walkie-talkie, or intercom system. In the event that a patron becomes distressed during a library program, the staff may need to assist, leaving the program unattended. The ability to quickly call for assistance without calling attention to the distressed patron will provide help with the least amount of disruption or embarrassment.

Programming for Those Who Have Experienced Trauma

This section offers ideas for programs that may be created for and delivered to people who have experienced or been touched by trauma.  Delivery will often rely on partnerships with local community organizations.  (For partner suggestions, see the Community Resources section of this guide.)


Storytimes can be made more trauma-aware using the above guidelines. Additionally, many libraries offer sensory storytimes, which can be more beneficial to people who have experienced trauma. Kaitlin Frick's Tips and Tricks can be a good place to start. The El Dorado County Library created the SenseSational-Story Time Manual in 2014, which is a comprehensive tool for planning a sensory storytime.


As explained by Liz Brewster, a leading researcher on bibliotherapy in libraries, bibliotherapy is "an umbrella term for related ideas for using books to help people with mental and physical health problems." [1] Brewster's work offers an excellent point of entry to the concepts and current research on bibliotherapy practice.


Brewster, L. (2008). The reading remedy: bibliotherapy in practice. Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services, 21(4), 172-177.

Yoga for trauma‚Äč

Contact your local yoga studio or practitioner to inquire whether they offer trauma-sensitive or restorative yoga. Local trauma-sensitive practices may be willing to work with the library on programming or may serve as a referral to offer to library patrons. Resources for further information include:

A helpful, more general, site for bringing yoga programs into the library:

Mindfulness, meditation, and breathing

  • Breath-Body-Mind Offers integrative medicine for professionals and consumers—safe, natural treatments for stress, trauma, aging, mental & physical challenges. Seeks to increase awareness of the healing power of the breath. Offers a directory of practitioners, several of whom are located in New York State.
  • Labyrinth Society

Tai Chi for Health

  • Tai chi is a body-mind exercise that can be calming and provide physical benefits for many different conditions. Local practitioners may be available to offer programs at your library. The Tai Chi for Health Institute provides an evidence-based tai chi program with instructors all over the world. You can check their online listing for an instructor near you.

Legal services/clinics

Social services

Social Workers in the Library

Collaborating with social workers can allow libraries to offer social services on-site when they are most needed. These collaborations can include the library hiring full- or part-time staff social workers, partnering with a local agency to provide periodic office hours at the library, or arranging with a school of social work to place interns in the library.

For further information on bringing social workers into your library, see Whole Person Librarianship: A Social Work Approach to Patron Services by Sara K. Zettervall and Mary C. Nienow

Coffee & Conversation

Libraries that aren't able to hire or collaborate with social workers can find other ways to connect their patrons to social services. A community-building program that is becoming popular in public libraries is the Coffee & Conversation model. Community members are invited to join the library for weekly or monthly drop-in sessions where they can enjoy a hot beverage, visit with each other and library staff, and learn about a featured social or community service. A representative of a local organization or agency joins the group each session to conduct a short presentation or to chat informally with participants and provide them with information or referrals.

For more information about Coffee & Conversation programs and other ways to incorporate social services into your library's programming, see The Community Connector: Referring Social Services at the Library (WebJunction webinar).

Art Therapy

Many libraries offer crafting and art programs already. Bringing in practices from art therapy or connecting with a therapist to oversee or advise on a program can be an effective way to provide a more trauma-aware program.


Anita B. Rankin MA, ATR, CPT & Lindsey C. Taucher MA, LPC (2003) A Task-oriented Approach to Art Therapy in Trauma Treatment, Art Therapy, 20:3, 138-147, DOI: 10.1080/07421656.2003.10129570

Therapy Animals

Helping Our Communities Become Trauma Informed

The activities suggested below aim to educate our communities about ACEs and trauma, or to enhance community connections and promote understanding and inclusiveness.

Civility Initiatives

As explained on the Choose Civility website,

Choose Civility is an ongoing community-wide initiative, led by Howard County Library System, to position Howard County, Maryland as a model of civility. Valuing diversity, we choose respect, compassion, empathy, and inclusiveness as essential to our quality of life. We invite all within our community, as well as other communities around the nation, to participate.

To view a list of communities that have sponsored their own civility initiatives, see Choose Civility Chapters & Affiliates. For more information, view the archived WebJunction webinar, Civility Goes Viral.

Film Screenings

  • Resilience 2016- 60 min documentary. Available for public screening rights on TUGG for $175. This film provides insight into how adverse childhood experiences affect  a person's growth and life and delves into research looking to break cycles of trauma.
  • Paper Tigers  2015- 102 min. Available for public screening rights on TUGG for $200. Paper Tigers follows a year in the life of an alternative high school that has radically changed its approach to disciplining its students, becoming a promising model for how to break the cycles of poverty, violence and disease that affect families.

Host Mental Health First Aid

According to SAHMSA,  "Mental Health First Aid is appropriate for a variety of professionals working in primary and behavioral healthcare integration settings. The training can help those who regularly engage with individuals who may experience mental health challenges and is most appropriate for audiences with no prior training or experience with mental health or substance use." Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) provides trainings for groups and institutions.

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