Interview with Katie Scherrer

Kate ScherrerI’m interviewing Katie Scherrer, who has been an instructor for us for a long time. She has taught a Latinx outreach class for us, a bilingual storytime class, and now teaches her Stories, Songs, and Stretches certification series for kinesthetic development in children’s services. She also teaches a class in mindfulness for librarians that is highly relevant to the current situation. We’ve got a great relationship with Katie, who has made us a part of her overall career as a consultant and trainer. I’m happy to interview her here about what drives her in her work and her experience teaching for Library Juice Academy.

RL (Rory Litwin): Hi Katie. It’s great to talk to you in an interview like this. Would you start out by talking about yourself a little and what you do?

KS: Hi Rory! Thanks for the opportunity to talk with you! First, I have to say I love teaching for Library Juice Academy. I started offering my first workshops with you all in 2013, “Bilingual Storytime at Your Biblioteca” and “Building Relationships, Building Bridges: Library Outreach to Latinx and Spanish-Speaking Families.” These workshops were informed by my experience working to improve library service to Spanish-speaking families (especially immigrant families) as an outsider to that community myself. I am passionate about inclusion, access, school readiness, and trauma-informed care. I’ve written two books published by ALA Editions: Once Upon a Cuento: Bilingual Storytime in English and Spanish (co-authored with Jamie Campbell Naidoo) and Stories, Songs, and Stretches! Creating Playful Storytimes with Yoga and Movement. I’m currently working on a third book for ALA, perhaps the one that is the most meaningful and personal to me, Moment by Moment: A Trauma-Informed Approach to Embedding Mindfulness into Library Service to Children. Professional life is just one small slice of who I am, though! I live in Lexington, KY with my husband and young daughter where I spend my personal time hiking and camping, playing pinball, supporting local vegan-friendly restaurants, driving my muscle car and cheering for the Dallas Cowboys!

RL: I didn’t realize you were a Cowboys fan. I want to reassure potential customers that this in no way affects Katie’s ability to teach (har har). Seriously, it’s been great to have you with us as an instructor. It’s been important for giving us something for a youth services audience from the very beginning, and your spirit has been inspiring in general. I know that most of the teaching you do is in in-person workshops. How have you been able to translate what you do for an online service like ours? What was it like moving onto our platform?

KS: The process of building each workshop has been unique, but the way that I approach that process is the same, whether it’s for these online workshops, custom webinars, or my in-person trainings, and that is by being very clear what I want people to take away from the session and into their work, or even into their lives. From there, I work backward, taking the big goal and breaking it down into small parts. I follow what’s sometimes called a “LEARN / SEE / DO ” model. This means that I don’t just provide information through readings or lectures; I try to provide demonstrations, activities, group work, and discussion as well. I respect and appreciate the time of my participants, so I don’t create work for the sake of work; I truly try to ensure that each step along the way is practical and building on previous learning to bring them closer to the end goal. I also have taken advantage of the wonderful resources Library Juice Academy has provided to instructors, such as the online instruction courses and the usability audits. Offering these tools as a company helps all of us to be the best online instructors that we can be. Finally, I revisit my workshops frequently to make improvements, update content, incorporate new ideas, etc. so that they remain relevant and practical. So I find that new insights that arise in online workshops inform tweaks that I make to my in-person trainings and vice-versa. In this way, the participants are often my teachers too. 

RL: That’s great. I want to back up a little and let you talk a bit about what it is that you teach. I know you have a whole big well-developed thing going.

KS: So my first two courses for Library Juice Academy, both of which I still teach, were “Building Bridges, Building Relationships: Library Outreach to Latinx and Spanish-Speaking Families” and “Bilingual Storytime at Your Biblioteca.” These courses are informed by my work as a children’s librarian providing bilingual storytime programs and outreach services to largely first-generation, Spanish-speaking immigrant families from 2005-2012, for multiple library systems. I am an outsider to the Latinx community, and did not grow up speaking Spanish myself. My experiences working in libraries that struggled to connect growing Latinx communities, and a specific branch deeply embedded within it, provided me with a unique understanding of why libraries in many areas struggle to adequately serve Latinx families. Youth services staff are often very aware these families are underserved and may be the first in their organizations to take up the charge to do something about it. Often this means developing bilingual storytime programs. But what many do not realize at the beginning of this process is that outreach and relationship-building is a critical component to establishing equitable access to families who otherwise experience barriers to service. This is why I strongly recommend my outreach course as a prerequisite to anyone participating in the bilingual storytime course (which is one of the optional workshops in the Early Literacy Certificate program).

“Stories, Songs, and Stretches!®” is a whole-child, school readiness program that I launched in 2018 and brought online in 2019. This program guides participants through the intentional use of movement and mindfulness to enhance early learning in body, heart, and mind. It is yoga-inspired and science-informed. I find time and again that participants come away from this training series surprised by its depth, and enriched personally as well as professionally. There are three modules: the first focuses on early learning and child development; the second asks participants to build their own movement and mindfulness practices as they learn child-friendly yoga shapes and mindfulness techniques; the third brings the information from module one together with the tools from module two to create engaging and intentional programs for children and families. Upon completion of the training, participants can become certified facilitators, gaining the right to use the “Stories, Songs, and Stretches!®” name and logo, access the the extensive professional video library I developed, and an online community of practice that so far includes folks from not only librarianship, but also early childhood education, social work, yoga, and other professions nationwide. The passion for equity developed through the work I previously described is embedded in this program at every turn, from the focus on inclusion in support of social-emotional learning, to the resources shared, to the Vividhatā Scholarship initiative. It’s difficult to overstate what this program, this movement, means to me. I am grateful to have a virtual format for this certification, as I am currently not provided this training in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I also instruct “Mindfulness Practices for Reduced Stress” which guides participants week by week through the process of developing their own mindfulness practice and observing the effects of mindfulness in their personal and professional lives. This is not an academic approach to learning about mindfulness and librarianship; it is a lived one. We cannot think our way into the scientifically established benefits of mindfulness; we have to actually practice. That is what this course focuses on helping individuals learn to do. 

RL: How has COVID-19 affected your classes and your professional life? I would imagine people’s needs and limitations are changing quite a bit.

KS: At this time, providing and explicitly communicating the flexibility, support, and compassion that I always strive to cultivate in my courses (for individual participants and the group as a whole) is one of my top priorities as an instructor. We are living through a collective trauma. This trauma is, of course, landing disproportionately in terms of who is impacted and how severely, but no one is unaffected. So I keep a close eye on assignments and discussions, particularly watching out for folks who may be judging themselves unnecessarily harshly, or who disappear from the course for an unusual amount of time, or who are doing much more work than is expected from them. I reach out to those folks to check in and see if they need any additional support, or send them a private note offering encouragement. As an instructor, this is part of how I always lead my workshops, but I find myself more frequently reminding people that they are human, they are dealing with immense stress, and it is OK to not be perfect. And I mean it, too! If someone needs additional support that I am able to provide, I provide it, whether that’s a chat, a call, an extension, or switching their enrollment to another session. 

I have had periods of immense distress during this pandemic. I lost childcare for my toddler for several weeks and went almost overnight from traveling the country doing what I love professionally to being a stay-at-home mom. My husband, who is a nurse at a psychiatric hospital, tested positive for COVID and we all had to quarantine (he thankfully was asymptomatic and has recovered without complication). My mentor of over a decade, Libby Alexander, died suddenly and we who knew and loved her were unable to come together and collectively grieve our loss at a funeral or memorial service. And I am not special. Situations like this are being experienced by everyone because the ups and downs of life don’t pause for a pandemic; instead, their emotional gravity feels at times to be intensified because living through this pandemic, especially in conjunction with this presidential election, is like living inside of a pressure cooker. I hope that the topics I provide training on with my workshops and my presence as an instructor serve to reduce participants’ stress, not add to it, and to keep them connected to their passion for their work, adapting what they can to our current circumstances and also planning with hope and enthusiasm for a future where more is possible. 

With specific regard to my flagship program, Stories, Songs, and Stretches!®, I am sincerely grateful to have been able to have the online certification training built with Library Juice Academy prior to the pandemic, because I had to make the tough decision in the late spring to suspend all in-person Stories, Songs, and Stretches!® trainings, at least through 2020. I miss in-person training terribly, but I can honestly say that I witness just as much transformation and buy-in build among the participants in the workshops. I believe that the trauma-informed, intentional use of movement and mindfulness that is at the heart of Stories, Songs, and Stretches!® can be a tool to promote healing from this period of immense stress, for the young children we serve, the adult caregivers who participate in these programs with their children, and for the staff who learn the strategies by practicing them themselves. 

RL: What are you working on for the future? I hope that Library Juice Academy continue to be a partner in your vision.

KS: 2020 has made abundantly clear that while a strong vision is necessary in order to find success working independently, adaptability is also vital. I feel immensely grateful for the experience I have gained training virtually with Library Juice Academy over the last seven years. Not only have I been able to continue doing the work that I am passionate about through the online workshops that I’ve already created for the platform, each cohort of participants who have passed through my workshops has made me a better trainer. I believe this has allowed me to skillfully adapt the private workshops that organizations previously would have contracted for in-person delivery to still be high-quality training experiences in a virtual format. Though I’m known for my work with storytime programming, I have been approached by multiple organizations this year to provide training and services that focus on staff well-being. For example, naming compassion fatigue and trauma, and utilizing mindfulness practice and self-care to reduce the burden of stress that staff are experiencing. These conversations have needed to happen in the profession for a long time, and I am grateful to be able to use both my professional and personal experiences to help organizations provide such resources to their staff. Organizations that have the commitment and shared vocabulary to support staff in stress-reduction and the healing of secondary trauma will be positioned to help the children and families they serve build these skill sets as well. 

I believe it will be critical going forward to better understand the role of trauma in library service, and to commit to making the services we provide to children and families more trauma-informed. I am very excited to be building a new workshop for LJA on this topic that will be offered beginning in 2021. I’m also working on my third book for ALA Editions around this topic, to be titled Moment by Moment: A Trauma-Informed Approach to Embedding Mindfulness into Library Service to Children. So even though it seems at this point that it will still be quite some time before I return to offering in-person training and consulting services, I still feel connected to my passion for this profession, which I know will come through in all of the work I am fortunate to still have going. 

Finally, I want to say that I have so much respect and appreciation for you as the leader of this organization, Rory, and I truly appreciate how you run the Library Juice Academy business. I find it remarkably easy to efficiently work with you through any challenges that arise, and you never micromanage me as an instructor. I feel that even though we come from vastly different perspectives within the library profession, you understand my dedication to this field and from that space have been willing to take chances with me that I see benefiting everyone involved. How fortunate as an independent consultant to have that kind of long-standing partnership! I anticipate and certainly hope that this will continue well into the future.  

RL: Well it’s been great working with you too, and having you as part of our project. Thanks for doing this interview. I look forward to where the work takes us.

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