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Heidi Daniel, Pratt Public Library CEO, says librarians need to understand PACEs science


A lover of libraries ever since she was an adopted, single child in Michigan, where she was encouraged by her working-class parents to read in pursuit of a college education, Heidi Daniel seemed a natural to lead one of the largest public libraries in one of the most trauma-ridden cities in the nation.

What she didn’t expect—and yet what she was perfectly qualified to handle—was to help make the Enoch Pratt Free Public Library in Baltimore a social anchor for the community.

Opened in 1886, the Pratt is one of the oldest public libraries in the U.S. with a Central Library, 21 branches throughout the city, as well as three mobile units and free Wi-Fi services. In 2018, the Pratt Library was named One of the Nicest Places in America by Good Morning America and Reader’s Digest.

More than books, like many free libraries, the Pratt offers a Library of Things, which allows teens to check out STEAM kits (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics), sewing machines, musical instruments, games, and other learning tools. Beginning during the pandemic, the library now offers hotspots for free internet connections and Chromebooks for remote schooling. In 2021, the library expanded its hours and stayed open six days a week.

Libraries Offer Support as Well as Books

But more than books and things, the Pratt offers resources for children, teens, and adults suffering from adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Particularly during the pandemic, the library has been offering courses in mindfulness, yoga, meditation, and breath work to reduce stress. It has also partnered with local universities to place interns in social work in the libraries and online. The main central library has a full-time social worker on staff, who can refer people to outside resources, such as legal aid or drug rehabilitation.

“The library,” notes Daniel, “takes a holistic approach as well in its programming, looking at parents, caregivers, and children.”

Pratt has also partnered with the Maryland Peer Advisory Council to place “peer navigators” in its Pennsylvania Avenue branch as part of a pilot project. The peer navigators have had experience with substance use either themselves or through family members. They are certified and trained. The navigators reach out to people in the library exhibiting symptoms of drug misuse or other difficulties. A staff member might notice someone who tends to sleep often or is reported using a needle in the bathroom to inject drugs; the staff member tells the peer navigator to connect with that person and help them find recovery resources.

“Librarians are very trusted,” says Daniel. “People come in and tell us their stories. Our staff is trained to find out what they need, whether it’s filling out a job application when they are required to pass a drug test or dealing with domestic violence.

“We do all the traditional work of the library,” she continues, “but our staff has a natural desire to help. We can connect people looking for a book to the right resources, whatever those resources might be, which is beyond books. It’s really important for us to understand ACEs and trauma.”

ACEs Awareness for the Librarian

After getting a degree in women’s studies at DePaul University, Daniel worked in a public library in Oklahoma City. She quickly connected with her love of children and teens by doing outreach and programming to support them, including outreach in juvenile justice venues and schools.

“You got a strong sense of how important libraries could be for teens in particular,” she says, “to interact with adults other than their parents, to have a safe space, and to provide programs they could help create.”

Inspired by her library experience, she earned a master’s in library science at Texas Woman’s University and went on to program youth services in Houston’s libraries in the early 2000s. It was then that she learned about and was first trained in ACEs science.

Her first reaction to the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study mirrors that of many others. “It made perfect sense to me knowing what I was seeing in the children and teens I was working with as well as with the people in my own community,” she says. “It was like someone gave me the answers to a puzzle, and it made perfect sense. These behaviors were a result of these childhood traumas manifesting throughout their lives.” (PACEs Science 101, What ACEs and PCEs Do You Have?)

ACEs Awareness for the Community

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pratt offered ACEs training for its youth services staff. In 2021, the city passed a Healing City Baltimore act, “to build a united movement of Baltimore’s communities focused on healing from trauma, violence, and racial inequity.”

The act includes this mission: “Making Baltimore a trauma-informed city ensures that every service, public servant, and policy supports healing of the community as a whole. Learning how to relate to and engage with each other from a trauma-informed perspective in our everyday interactions helps us strengthen relationships and build community through our shared humanity.”

As a semi-public agency, Pratt took on the responsibility of healing trauma with five workforce trainings in trauma—one specifically focused on ACEs. As for future plans, Daniel says, “We are now determining a way to embed ACEs training into our workforce.”

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I so love this story!
Great job, Sylvia!

Heidi, I am so glad Baltimore City Council member Zeke Cohen mentioned you on a Campaign for Trauma Informed Policy and Practice call about six weeks ago. You sounded like a terrific “PACEs Champion” and you are.

It would be terrific were the Pratt to serve as a model for libraries around the world as being such healing-centered places of service to all in the community, especially in this hard time. I loved reading your quotes about what a resource libraries are for teenagers. If ever a group of people need as safe, stable, supportive environment, it is these kids who’re being buffeted on all sides. Well. Maybe pregnant and new moms and their little ones need it, too, most of all. But practically speaking, that teens can get themselves to a library and find safe harbor is wonderful thing.

It is so wonderful that at your library people may even check out sewing machines? What a life-changer that must be for a young person who wants to be a designer. Or a mom trying to save money by sewing.

This story warms my heart in myriad ways. Thanks for being willing to do the interview.



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