The Urban Library Trauma Study (ULTS) used emancipatory and participatory action research frameworks to explore how public library workers in urban centers experience trauma while providing library services and create a path forward for exploring institutional and individual solutions that will enable library workers and their institutions to continue providing vital library services to communities in need while still caring for the well being of staff.

Urban LIbrary Trauma study report cover, Title of report with image of 4 library workers sitting on a historical brownstone stoop.

The report provides a series of recommendations created by public facing urban library staff to address the pervasive issue of trauma in the library workplace while demonstrating how the library field can research solutions to problems while being radically inclusive of the workers those problems most impact.


The Urban Library Trauma Study (ULTS) is an attempt to capture, quantify, and respond to some of the trauma, stress, and burnout experienced by urban public library workers so that public facing staff can work together to innovate solutions. The project included 4 stages;

  • a comprehensive review of current literature on the topic of trauma in libraries
  • a survey of urban library workers
  • a series of virtual focus groups for urban library workers to discuss workplace issues around trauma
  • the culmination of the project was a National Forum of urban library workers, where we convened to go through the research and worked together to create a framework for moving forward.

Literature Review

Research fellows and staff engaged in a literature review looking at issues of trauma in urban public library settings from a wide variety of view points. In addition to looking at library science literature, researchers reviewed resources on primary and secondary trauma from adjacent professions like social work to look for best practices or studies that could be modified for use in urban public libraries.

Annotated Bibliography – This is our full annotated bibliography as an Airtable base, please note that we have provided content warnings where we thought they were appropriate. If you would prefer not to engage with that content please use the filter at the top of the spreadsheet to hide those records.
Printable Annotated Bibliography
Written Literature Review


The Urban Library Trauma Study survey was intended to collect information that could be used by forum participants to inform their ideas for potential solutions to the issue of workplace trauma in urban public libraries. The survey questions were drafted to draw out the broader trends of adverse experiences and trauma in libraries, while also eliciting descriptions of events and impacts on public service staff.  It was distributed as a google form between August 7, 2021 and September 29, 2021. We received 568 responses, of which 435 were useable responses from urban public library staff. 

Survey Questions
Written Survey Summary
Survey Data Visualizations

Focus Groups

In order to gain a deeper understanding of the issue of workplace trauma in urban public libraries we followed up the survey with a series of focus groups.  The focus groups enabled us to have conversations that delved more deeply into the areas of concern raised by the survey. In September 2021, we hosted six focus groups with a total of 58 participants from libraries across the country.

Written Focus Group Summary
Focus Group Facilitation Guide
Focus Group Notes


Group of people looking at small post it notes on a brick wall together
Forum participants clustering and sorting their ideas. Photo credit: Brynna Tucker

The Urban Library Trauma Study hosted a national forum on the topic of practical solutions to the problem of trauma in urban public library work from March 9th –  11th 2022. Approximately 25 individuals participated in a design sprint to process the research gleaned through a literature review, a survey, and a series of focus groups over the last year. The purpose of this forum was to produce practicable responses to the ongoing issue of trauma in the library workplace.

Forum Participant Packet
Pre-forum Meeting Facilitation Guide
Forum Facilitation Guide
Forum Documentation
Forum Posters


The Urban Library Trauma Study is a partnership between the New York Library Association, Urban Librarians Unite, and St John’s University.

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services: RE-246392-OLS-20.

The views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this report do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Thank you to the amazing research fellows who have joined us in doing this work, the project could not happen without them.