The Healing Library

This is Circulating Ideas. I’m Steve Thomas. Today’s special episode is about the Healing Library, and you’ll hear about it from its creators, Megan Emery, Kirsten Cappy, and Bonnie Thomas. Circulating Ideas is brought to you with support from the University of South Carolina’s School of Library Information Science and from listeners like you.

Megan: I am Megan Emery. I am currently working at the Chattanooga Public Library on the fourth floor in our maker space and on the second floor in our teen department. So, I was studying through  Syracuse University’s iSchool to get my MLIS. I wanted to, classes are great, and all, all of that is wonderful, I love learning. But, I am also very much a doer and a creator, a maker, and so I wanted to utilize my school experience to create something that I felt could benefit the larger library world. So, I had, had kind of a, a tragic couple of years. I, I experienced quite a few losses, the death of my father, the death of some close friends, and I, I wanted to take my experience of healing and self-care and it did so much good for me that I wanted to roll that out in a way to, to help communities, but I couldn’t exactly land on how to do that, and then I, I had some really great non-traditional lending experiences when I was working at the Lewistown Public Library in Maine, which was my job before I got here to Chattanooga. Specifically, working with David Morehead, who is one of the contributors to this project. He had non-traditional lending programs for picture book sets to go out to daycares and rotate on a weekly basis. We were lending American Girl dolls with multiple wardrobes and little toys for the dolls to play with and the girls to play with. We had a telescope that we lent.

And so, I started doodling around with this idea of what if I could create something for other college students. And originally I had actually contacted my college library director who I had worked for to say hey, I want to do this thing, what do you think and his staff is doing so much non-traditional lending that they, they actually said please don’t make us do this. [laughs] Please don’t add one more weird thing that somebody you like put together, let’s just, let’s just stay where we are. And so I thought okay, well that’s, that’s fine, maybe I need to do something more with my, my kid roots. So, my first public library I worked at in Vermont, I was in charge of everything, every, every sort of micro-library part from ages 8 to 18, or 0 to 18 and in Lewistown where I was working, I was in charge of ages, not in charge, but you know, I worked with the ages 0 to 13, and here in Chattanooga I’ve been more tween and teen focused.

So, the brilliant Kirsten Cappy had released some kind of worksheet about the, the book that Arthur Levine had written, dealing with his own children’s experience when his father developed Alzheimer’s and she put out this beautiful worksheet about how families could talk to one another, or begin that process.

Kirsten: I’m Kirsten Cappy and I run a project called Curious City which is for educators and librarians. Megan Emery was in touch with me about working on this idea. She and I have always had this electric connection about programming and not just programming, but programming kits and she had seen a programming kit that I published for a book by Arthur A. Levine aka the editor of the Harry Potter series.

He has a beautiful book about Alzheimer’s called What A Beautiful Morning. I had worked with my local Alzheimer’s association to put together a programming guide for public libraries to, to do an event with families affected by the disease, and projects that they could do at the library and at home and, you know, Megan has that like electric I love it hair that just is the extension of her brain and she just like, she has a little zap moment.

Megan: And at that, sort of, it was one of those moment of clarity. Everything gelled for me. And I knew that what I wanted to do was create specific click focused topics and turn them into non-traditional lending opportunities for libraries. So, I reached out to Kirsten to ask if she liked the idea and she really did, and so that was exciting to me, but we’ve, so in our, you know, we can both get kind of off the rails and excited about ohhh, what if this, and what if that, and I think that’s what makes really great projects, is when you have folks like that to collaborate with. But we quickly realized that we needed to have something more rooted in, in a therapy setting, or in a healing setting than either of us could offer as a librarian and a publishing advocate. And so, I said oh I know this great woman I met years ago who is a holistic play and art therapist for children and she has this great practice and she builds the art that the kids gets to play with sometimes and she’s a published author and so I reached out to Bonnie to ask if she would be interested in, in helping and, and she said yes.

Bonnie: My name is Bonnie Thomas and I am a therapist, a counselor that specializes in working with children ages 3 to 17. I became involved with the Healing Library back in January of 2017 when Megan sent me an invitation to collaborate with a team of people.

Megan: So Bonnie and I have worked together previously. I had assisted her with a chapter about creating library-themed gardens that would be immersive experiences for one of her books about getting kids off-line and playing outside and so I knew that we would work together and I’m so, so lucky that she said yes she would work with us.

And then finally rounding it out, I knew David (Morehead) had the great non-traditional lending experience, and he also has just been doing the whole library game a lot longer than I have, and would know some picture books, cause I knew there had to be a book component to this, something that families could share and share quickly. So I knew he would have some great knowledge about diverse picture books that could help us. So I reached out to him and then it turned out I needed to have a, a real librarian for the project anyway for Syracuse and not only did he agree to, to help with the non-traditional lending advice and some picture book stuff, he also had to sign off on all my paperwork.

Kirsten: So I am like the Watson to the Sherlock here. So, Watson is just standing behind Sherlock trying to make Sherlock even more clever than he is. So, my role at Curious City with Megan’s project was to check in on the project throughout, offer suggestions about usability because I do downloadable PDF how to kits for kidlet programming on a daily basis. So, we were looking at usability and did all of the design work for the PDF kit cause we want everything, you know, there’s a shopping list you need to put together to actually make the physical kit, but all of the printed matter is all in a PDF downloadable kit. So, we did the design work on that piece and then we’re hosting those kits and the follow up continuing dialog at which is my website.

Bonnie: A lot of this was definitely a team effort, and we, we collaborated on a lot of the topics, but the main pieces that I worked on included some discussion points that relayed back to the topic, as well as activity suggestions.

Since I do a lot of play and art therapy with kids, that was kind of my bread and butter of the project was kind of brainstorming possible activities, although Megan and other team members came up with the really awesome activity ideas on their own as well.

Megan: The Healing Library is a set of three kits that we created to assist families during periods of trauma. The idea is that the libraries can lend out a kit that they have scaled to whatever size they need for families to utilize in a variety of different ways in, in an effort to assist in, like I said, through trauma, specifically we built the kits around three main topics.

Bonnie: We kind of narrowed down some topics of what issues we kind of felt like children could use some added resources for approaching and learning about new life experiences, and not necessarily good ones. So, for example, the ones that we narrowed down out of a whole entire list of really important issues, we narrowed it down to when a loved one has died, when a pet dies, and when somebody in the family or a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. So, those are just a few out of a very long list of amazing ideas that we came up with for topics that these kits within the Healing Library could be very helpful for.

Megan: So every kit has six main components to it, but there are a couple of sub-components as well. So, first we started by creating a discussion guide to assist families in tackling these difficult topics, and tackling them in a way that’s healthy and not accidentally going to do more damage that you, than you intend, or is going to affect your child in ways you can’t anticipate. Follow, following that up we created activities guides that are art and play therapy activities, so if you aren’t able to necessarily verbalize your emotions, or what stage of your grieving process you’re in, because are three or four, this provides you with opportunities for healing and working through some of that emotional stuff, either as an individual or there are opportunities as well for families to work together and create together to, to vent and to heal. Next up, we had a guide of community helpers, and I really loved how this came together.

So, we were able to offer insight about who within every community is available to help, whether it’s a school counselor or a religious leader, even if you’re not a religious person. On top of that we layered in some national resources that would be available, and finally we’re hoping that, well we encourage librarians who are going to lend these kits to also include fliers or business cards or pamphlets about what they have locally that, that will benefit families.

Next, we wanted to, we were really in love with the activities guide but you’re experiencing this trauma, you’re experiencing these feelings and needing to work through them and so you can do that hard work and you can do the creative things that we’ve included in an effort to assist you, but it’s not necessarily empowering. So, we created this acts of kindness area to really provide people with ideas about how to get involved on a larger scale and fight back against the disease or fight back against the, the circumstances or situations which may have resulted in the loss of their loved one in an effort to truly empower people and, and combat against some of these negative things that, that have happened.

The fifth component is a curated selection of picture books that all of us really had a hand in making suggestions. I will say that I, I was the one who I read every suggestion we had, I did a lot of research online, I read through multiple guides that other people have created, and I, I don’t know how many hundreds of picture books I read to come up with these lists, [laughs].

But we have an end, more importantly, we knew that we were trying to represent diverse audiences, so if you’ve lost a pet, and you’re reading, oh let’s see, what’s a really great one, Saying Goodbye To Tiger Rose is a beautiful picture book if you’ve lost a cat, but what if you lost a pocket pet or a lizard, we really wanted to have those people represented as well. So, along with each of the picture books, we, there was this sort of realization that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t force it to drink, nor can you teach it how to drink, and so I realized that especially during a period of trauma, if you’re a parent and you’ve taken this hard step to borrow one of these kits from the library and you’re doing the work, you may not necessarily have time to read a picture book the way that your librarian does, and maybe people don’t understand why we read books that we do during story times. So, I recognize that in order for people to get out of these books all the benefits that, that we find in them and the reasons why  we chose them, we had to maybe give them a helping hand. So, each book also has a discussion guide that goes along with it with discussion prompts for how you can use the text or the images within the picture book to spark conversation about, you know, maybe that particular step of grieving that a child’s going through and a picture book about loss or observations that you can make about the way your child is responding to some of these images and text and understand what part of their grieving process or their healing process they’re going through.

And then finally, in those discussion guides we also have tie-ins linking people back to the activities guide, or to community helpers so that everything is sort of working together. And then the final piece that we realized we had to build after we built all this great stuff, it was sort of that moment of like holy smokes, we did it, it’s done, and it’s great, and it’s so good and oh my god we really took care of the parents, how are people going to know how to use this thing? [laughs] So we realized we had to write a how to use this kit for families so that when they get all these, you know, supplies home, there’s just a starting point to say here’s what you’ve got in, in your home now, here’s a great way to approach this, and, you know, here’s what to keep and, and here’s how to move forward. And as well, we realized we had to create a similar guide for librarians to understand how to put their kit together, what the kits do, what they don’t do, and just to sort of reassure them that this doesn’t turn you into a therapist, nor does it take the place of the community members that you have in, in your town or in your cities or, or counties or what, what have you. Instead, it’s meant to sort of bolster everybody and it’s not going to erase what happened, but it is going to start people down their own particular path of healing and allow them the power and the opportunity to heal in their own way, which is going to be different for everybody.

Kirsten: The Healing Library, as it manifests in a, in a library for a family, so if a family walks into your library and asks you for books about the death of a loved one, you know that you, there’s a moment, and as a bookseller, I was a children’s book seller as well, and I would get these moments and then say well I can give them this book, but I, I hope they’re in the stage to be able to actually engage with it and use it in a way that the child needs it. So, it’s a whole healing kit in a rolling suitcase.

Bonnie: Overall my favorite thing about the Healing Library is the idea that rather than kind of going to the library and, you know, thinking okay so my child’s pet has passed, my child’s pet has died, and I’m not really sure how to maybe address this with my child. I’ll go to the library and rather than kind of having a, you know, a bunch of different books to choose from, there’s actually a whole entire kit that you can check out. The kit is just much more comprehensive, it not only has already, kind of, provided a really good overview and selection of children’s literature related to the topic.

As I mentioned before, the, there’s also activity suggestions and discussion points and so many pieces of information that have been included within that kit to help address, you know, whatever questions or concerns that might pop up for this child.

Megan: One of the things that we encourage people to do with these kits, you know, they’re free to download, all three of them, in total there’s probably 210 pages or so. But, but, we also encourage people to take a look at your own communities and reach out to somebody you know and, you know, talk to that person at the hospice and talk to that person at the fire station and put together your own team of people and build your own kits and we include, the font that we use in our logos and, you know, the structure is already in place for you to download, so you can simply take a look at what we’ve done, replicate for your own communities but we do think it is so critical to involve a therapist or a health specialist if you’re gonna to be tackling these tricky topics because otherwise it would be irresponsible to, to even attempt building something that’s intended to help.

Kirsten: So I work with libraries all over the country, and one of the things that I’m happy, happy about, because I see the entries that come in on our bi-weekly giveaways, like we’re working with rural communities all over the country, and you know, when they ran a picture book, it’s a big deal because their budgets are so, so tiny and I know that we’re dealing with, every library’s dealing with a lot of poverty, and getting help is not always an inexpensive proposition for a family, and I love that this is a no-cost entry point for families to start getting help.

Bonnie: I kind of think of these kits as being a, you know, a bundle of toreador resources from a few different professionals and, you know, the, they’re just very helpful whether you’re a parent, whether you are a community helper, or whether you’re a counselor like myself. I just love the idea of being able to direct a client to their community library and to, you know, this is a resource that their library has access, then, you know, to build and say hey they have this amazing kit and everything, just about everything you’re gonna want and need is included in that kit and it takes out so much of the guesswork or, kind of that time researching which book might be better for your child. It just makes it so much simpler to build, to go and check out an entire kit than to kind of go and, and look over all the different books on your own to figure out which ones you think might be best or, you know, the best fit for your child. And so even though that’s still recommended, the kit is just super quick and easy in that it’s a very easy way to kind of direct a client. Say yep, they have this kit, you can go and access it and then the person, the patron can, you know, keep the kit for a couple of weeks at least and, you know, then they have this world of resources within that box of items.

Megan: Once we were done writing the kits, you know, the work continues and you’re tweaking and you’re editing and everybody’s reading and, you know, taking some time off and then rereading to make sure that stuff is, you know, what we had written was still relevant and a couple of points came up from when I would go to library conferences and mention this idea to other librarians and the first was wow that’s so fantastic, so many people in my community can’t afford therapy. And that’s really, it was really fascinating to me because, like I said, it doesn’t take the place of a therapist, but certainly there is language in these kits for how to communicate with your family about this and there are lessons that are simply universal about, for example, if you are grieving along with your child, about the death of a loved one or a pet, you know, it’s natural to cry and it’s an important part of life to model healthy grieving behaviors for your children and, I think that those aren’t necessarily things that we grow up knowing, you know, there’s no, there’s nothing in high school or our, you know, phys ed classes that really touches on this kind of thing.

And so while it isn’t intended to take the place of a therapist, for a family that can’t afford to go and see a therapist, and get some of these, these base skills, that they know about is, I think, crucial and then another point that came up, while I, I, I wasn’t talking to anybody but I was attending a session about the police and their model rules and how they support communities and support libraries. And it occurred to me, he was talking about, you know, Maslov’s hierarchy of needs and when you look at that triangle, and you’re recognizing that there are, there are serious stumbling blocks that our community members are all going through and potentially can’t get past, it, it’s very much within the mission statement of libraries to assist people in solving those Maslovian dilemmas so that their lives can continue to improve and they can continue to be the best that they possibly can.

Kirsten: I think especially on the death of a loved one, and death of a pet, Bonnie Thomas, who was the consulting therapist, was really good about saying this is what you, these are some things you could say, and these are places you should not go, and here are some things you just shouldn’t lie about. Which I thought was great because, too, when you see a child in pain, you want to make up a story and save them from some of the pain, but Bonnie’s contribution to these, to these guides really gives you some parameters for those conversations, and that’s a huge gift I think.

Bonnie: I’ve mainly talked about the kits in terms of how useful the, they would be for someone like myself who works for children. As a community helper myself I, you know, I, I can definitely see the benefit of having this resource, but as a parent, this is certainly a beautiful resource for a library to have within its collection.

Megan: As soon as I was finished, it’s been 2 weeks rights? But when, when we gave the presentation and actually launched the kits, I thought oh my god, [laughs]. I was like I thought, I thought I would have this feeling of like we did it, it’s done, and I sort of realized that Sunday night before and immediately after the presentation, this was really just the beginning because we, folks who download the kits or want to create their own, we’re really looking for them to share those resources with us and if you’ve created something fabulous for your community, share it with us and we can post it as well for other libraries to potentially benefit from. It, it’s been funny because when I tell people about, oh I just did this massive project and here’s what resulted, they say great, what’s next? And I’m like I just want to breathe or sleep for a minute, but there, there absolutely is a new iteration coming, but I don’t know if I’ve told Kirsten or Bonnie about my. Surprise girls! [laughs] Surprise David! Yeah, but, it, if we do this again I want to take a slightly different direction so we aren’t just, you know, no wheel can be reinvented in this case because you’re adding new topics, but I wanna potentially create a more universal experience and that’s all I’m going to say about it at this point. But yes, there is more coming that will benefit our communities in a healing way.

Kirsten: I would love to see more Healing Libraries developed in other communities, and we are, we are all open to helping and we’re all interested in ways to share them together nationally, and share resources.

Bonnie: I would love to see the Healing Library expand. We’ve covered a few topics already, but I would love to see the list of topics that we had originally brainstormed as a team, I would really like to see that come to fruition if it’s at all possible. Some of those topics included community violence or racism and exclusion and bullying and so many of the tough issues that I think really deserve a much more comprehensive resource for families and community helpers to be able to access. Especially where the discussion points and activities suggestions and acts of kindness and, you know, the, the kits are just so rich in what they have to offer for a child and for the person connected to that child.

Megan: People love the, this idea, they love that it’s free, sometimes I think there’s a little fear in people’s eyes. One of, one of the beautiful things about the kits, as I mentioned all of those guides, the discussion guide, the activities guide, and on all of those pages and the book discussion guides as well, every single one of them, there’s something that’s written that says when you return this kit, if you’d like to keep this sheet you’re welcome to, and that’s really an effort to not just give people something fabulous and then rip it away from them, but instead if they need to continue healing, if they need to continue that journey and they feel like this book in particular really resonated with their child and once they get the kit back they want to purchase it, they still have that available to them. So, sometimes librarians will look at me like, so they can just keep everything and we have to keep reprinting and refilling all these activities supplies and but, but, but, but and I always try and reassure them that it’s actually not that bad, like, since the PDFs are free, it’s literally just printing it out and putting it back together. It’s refilling the activity supplies with stuff we all probably, for the most part, already have in our supply closets. And it’s the perfect job for a volunteer or a teen volunteer to assist you with or, or a friends of the library member who is looking to, or I should say, if you’re looking to have your friends of the library members experience a little bit more about the program, programming side of librarianship or about the future of non-traditional lending and how libraries are expanding so far beyond books, it can be really beneficial.

One of the other things that I’ve heard from some librarians is that’s fantastic, but can I just buy it somewhere. And we haven’t known how to respond to that because we didn’t, originally the idea was let’s make something really cool and let’s make it free. And so, we, we have yet to tackle the conversation about should we get to the point where we have this available for purchase? What does that look like. If we do that, does it get into then, because this started from very much wanting to create a user-based experience lendable thing, right, so talking to the, the actual families, talking to these, this multitude of community members, talking to librarians to build the best possible version of this. So, if we’re going to follow that up with something that’s actually available for purchase, then should we be providing people with language for grant applications that they could use? So it’s, it’s a bit of a ball of yarn that we, that we need to start playing with.

I suppose one of the last things to mention is that is you’re interested in this idea, but you wanna get a little deeper with me, I would suggest, I’m gonna be doing a totally free webinar through the fabulous folks at Info People on December 5th, and even if you aren’t able to make it that day, I highly recommend registering for it because again it’s free and everybody that registers is going to receive a video of what we talk about that day. So, we’re gonna do a slightly deeper dive into what is in the kits and how to use them and like I said before, what is this and what isn’t this. But, that would be really great, so if you wanted to go to Info People’s website and take a look either for my name, Megan Emery, or for the Healing Library, you will find it.

So the kits are housed completely on Kirsten’s website, Curious City, oh and let’s see, it, it, the easiest way to find it is to just type Curious City Healing Library, do a web search for that and it will pop right up. It’s curiouscitydpw and from there you’ll find everything. So we have all the kits available in one post for free download and there’s also a follow up post that, that Kirsten put up about the response that we got from NILA. So if you wanted to dive a little deeper into some of those topics and, and see what we had brainstormed, you may find something that really resonates with you and from there decide that you want to build your own kit.

Thanks again to Megan, Kirsten, and Bonnie, and even David, even though he couldn’t be on the episode today. I hope everybody goes out and checks out the Healing Library and uses it to help out your community.