Library aims to create supportive environment for all and empower girls through peer mentoring.

athens library trauma mentorsThose who have experienced traumatic events, such as bullying at school, severe weather events, divorce or homelessness, do not always react or behave in the way that we may expect.

The Athens-Clarke County Library is partnering with the University of Georgia School of Social Work to help staff practice empathy for everyone who comes into the library, as well as gain an understanding of resources to share with individuals in need. The project is made possible through a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

“Every day people who are experiencing trauma come into our libraries,” said Valerie Bell, Athens Regional Library System executive director.

“Many are young people trying to establish their future in our communities; empowering library staff to recognize these efforts and to be able to connect patrons with the resources they need is one way for the public library to become more proactive in service to its communities.”

In a trauma-informed library, staff are prepared to recognize and respond to those who have been impacted by trauma.

On a day-to-day basis, this means recognizing signs of trauma in those who come into the library and responding effectively to help them and prevent further harm.

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Graduate students will be embedded in the library to share information about social services and advocate for those who have difficulties accessing those services.

“Placing social workers in this setting is a natural next step,” said Jennifer Elkins, associate professor of social work at UGA School of Social Work. “Rather than asking clients to come to us, we’re coming to them. It’s the living embodiment of the principle and value of ‘meeting the client where they’re at.’”

So far, UGA social work interns have been interviewing community organization leaders, identifying opportunities and threats and preparing resources.

In the next phase of the project, interns will use what they learn to develop an ongoing training to help staff become comfortable in addressing the needs of patrons experiencing trauma.

The intent is to create a welcoming environment where everyone who walks through library doors can find the resources they need and to create an underlying culture of respect and support.

“Social work services should be deeply embedded in the community in places where people trust and feel welcomed. The library is one such place, if not THE place,” said UGA School of Social Work Dean Anna Scheyett.

“Having library staff informed about trauma, so they can make the library as supportive a place as possible, plus having social work students who can help connect people with services they need throughout the community will be a novel and powerful combination.”

The project also includes a self-sustaining peer mentoring program for high school girls called Becoming Empowered through Education, Inc. (B.E.E. Club). This program will train young women to help and support others following in their educational paths.

Programming Specialist Akilah Blount has been working to establish B.E.E. Club chapters at local high schools.

“We want to create a safe space for girls to freely express themselves, advocate for causes that matter to them and talk about life outside the classroom,” said Blount. “Eventually, it could create an opportunity for women throughout the community, including local residents as well as students at the University of Georgia, to connect and build genuine relationships with the girls in Clarke County.”

The Athens-Clarke County Library is the headquarters of the Athens Regional Library System, Georgia’s 2017 Public Library of the Year. Learn more at