“Stories” are kind of a hot topic in library marketing these days. Many public libraries, including the New Jersey State Library (with library marketing extraordinaire, Nancy Dowd) and Wisconsin’s 53-library South Central Library System, have successfully implemented stories into their library advocacy plans. I think we can, too.
Stories, in this context, are like testimonials, but better. They can come from patrons or staff. They are voluntary, and offered in the teller’s own words. They share significant or life-changing library experiences. And they are very common.
Remember how your mom used to take you to the library in the sweltering hot summer. You’d sit cross-legged on the floor in the cool quiet and look at the illustrations in the Caldecott winners. Then you’d go out for ice cream. To this day, your mouth waters when you see certain watercolors and you get a sense of calm and quiet when you eat ice cream. Or, remember the year you decided to read all the Pulitzer Prize fiction winners, starting with 1918? You wouldn’t have been able to afford to if it wasn’t for your local free library. That year turned into four and now you write a successful blog about literary lists and the joys of reading. Maybe you met your spouse at the university library. Maybe your special librarian provided the research to back up the case that made you a partner. The stories, like the patrons who depend on us, are varied and practically infinite. Stories in special libraries will be full of success and achievement, learning and discovery. They will highlight some of the hard work that our patrons and clients are doing every day.
Also, these stories already exist, formed by work we have already done. Now, we just have to collect and display them.
Gathering stories is pretty easy. We just have to ask. This can be done in person, of course! Or you might set out a form with a brief explanation and a lot of blank space. You can solicit stories online, similar to the way most companies already collect complaints. Check out our own Mid-Continent Public Library’s online form for ideas.
Wisconsin’s SCLS reminds us: “We often spend more administrative time responding to negative comments or criticisms, and fail to take full advantage of the positive comments. How you respond to the negative comments or complaints says a great deal about the kind of organization you are. But how well you capitalize on the positive comments and good will that already exists in your community may well determine your future.”
Displaying them is a little trickier. Make sure you have the appropriate permissions and respect for privacy. Is it OK with your patrons to display their words in the library or online? It is OK with your management? You may want to attribute the stories to first names and last initials, or, if your organization is very small, you may need to leave them anonymous. Beyond that, though, you have a lot of options. You can post the stories to a side-bar on your library’s website. You can publish them a few at a time in your newsletter. You can print them on card stock and post them around the library.
By acknowledging these stories, we show appreciation for the patrons who have been with us from the beginning, and we show some of the promise libraries offer to potential patrons. We can demonstrate to our administration that we touch people’s lives and productivity in a real way. This narrative evidence of our hard work can supplement and enhance the dry statistics we’ve already been collecting for years. And, really, which one is more expressive of the hard work we do?
You can get more ideas and examples of storytelling through NPR, which has been gathering stories through its “This I believe” campaign for decades, and through the StoryCorps, who want to remind us of our humanity and significance to each other. StoryCorps is currently working on a truly moving 9/11 tribute.
For more on stories as they directly relate to library marketing, check out this book, Bite-sized marketing: realistic solutions for the overworked librarian, or this blog, The M word: marketing tips and trends for libraries and non-profits.
By Julie Timmins, MLS