On June 17, 2015, in Charleston, South Carolina, Cynthia Hurd, a veteran Librarian for the Charleston County Library, was killed when a 21-year old man massacred worshipers at the Mother Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston. This is a great tragedy that doesn’t just affect everyone who works in public libraries, but also the community she served. After reflecting on the senselessness of this massacre, I started thinking about the teens in Charleston. Not only did these teens lose an advocate, but they lost a mentor and a friend. As librarians, we forge amazing bonds with our teen patrons so, when tragedy strikes, how do we comfort those who are grieving? Although we cannot take on the role of grief counselors, we can provide grieving teens with a safe environment and resources that can help calm and comfort them through these dark days.

The first resource we can always rely on are books. There are many, many books that can help teens cope with their pain and suffering. In fact, after researching resources to help grieving teens, I found that libraries all over the country have amazing book lists that contain numerous titles cover all kinds of loss. If you haven’t had the chance to read Can Reading Make Your Happier1 by Cerwiden Dovey, it talks about the power of bibliotherapy and how books can not only stimulate our brains, but help delay the damage that debilitating diseases such as Dementia can cause. Furthermore, what makes books so powerful is that readers become so enveloped with the story that it literally has the power to change their perspective and decision-making processes. With grief, teens have a very different way of processing their feelings, which is why they act out; therefore, let’s empower our teens by giving them something to help them cope with their feelings. Lastly, as librarians, it is our job to provide teens with information and materials to help them learn, but let’s also show our teens we are also human beings who care and give them something a lot more valuable, which is our time and ears.

Again, we are not clinically-trained to help teens manage their sadness, pain, and/or anger, but we can take the time to listen to our teens. When teens confide in us, they are literally bearing their souls, which is difficult because they are already incredibly vulnerable. In other words, they are placing a huge amount of trust in us when they reveal their problems. By letting our teens vent, they are inadvertently seeking advice that can help them process their problems. Depending on the severity of these problems, we can usually provide a few words or sentences that will help them solve their issues. Obviously, if it’s something completely out of our control, we can provide them with resources that they can investigate, but there is a line we cannot cross. Most of the time, teens just need someone to listen without providing any judgment so let’s take the time to help them find the right tools whether it be a book, magazine, website, phone number, or age old wisdom. Along with connecting teens to resources, we can use our next greatest asset, which is programming.

Programming has immense power to heal. Whether it’s about bringing out our gaming systems or providing assorted crafts, teens can channel their energy into these projects. If tragedy does indeed strike, we can easily provide our teens with a safe space, such as a meeting room, and allow them to just mellow out and process the events that have occurred. Also, if we have strong connections with our local schools, we can contact school counselors to stop by the library to provide counseling or, if we have connections within our community, we can contact counselors who would be willing to donate their time to help our community heal. With this particular incident, I really think it might be worth creating a plan for when awful things happen in the community just in case.

Public libraries have a huge presence in the lives of teens and, just like Ferguson Public Library, we have the power to provide a safe haven for our community. As much as we want to protect our teens from the evil in this world, we can’t. However, we do have the ability to help them get through these moments and I have absolute faith that the Charleston County Public Library will continue to honor the memory of their fallen colleague by providing their community with the tools and resources to thrive and survive anything that life may throw at them.

To learn more about Cynthia Hurd, please click on the following link: http://www.ccpl.org/content.asp?id=147022&action=detail&catID=5367&parentID=5368


1 http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/can-reading-make-you-happier

About Deborah Takahashi

Deborah Takahashi is a Senior Librarian for the Monterey Park Bruggemeyer Library. Deborah has been working with teens and children for seventeen years and loves every minute. Deborah is also the author of "Serving Teens with Mental Illness at the Library: A Practical Guide."

2 Thoughts on “When Tragedy Strikes

  1. Sara on June 21, 2015 at 1:43 pm said:

    I think you mean Charleston, South Carolina, not Charleston, Virginia.

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