Advocacy, Community Building, Library Management

The Why and What of Storytelling for Libraries

By blg3 | January 11th, 2012 | 1 Comment

Pawnee Story BundleTuesday’s webinar on Organizational Storytelling for Librarians answered two burning questions about the topic: why the library should use storytelling and what makes a good story.
[Photo: Pawnee Story Bundle, courtesy of Kansas Historical Society]

First, the why.

“If you don’t tell your story first, someone else will.”
When you write your own story, you share your vision and select the elements that convey the vision most vividly. If you let someone else control the narrative, it will probably not be the picture you want to paint about your organization.

“Touch the heart to facilitate change.”
Facts, figures and dry logic don’t convince people to change. We all have “confirmation bias,” but stories can penetrate those entrenched beliefs.

“Stories are sticky.”
The brain is “neurologically organized to remember narratives” better than statistics and bullet lists. Even more so if the story engages the emotions of the audience.

“Stories build community.”
The concept of belonging to a community is powerful for people. When the library tells stories about its role in the community, it strengthens the ties among its members.

What makes a good story?

Most of us are not naturally gifted or trained as professional storytellers. Presenters Kate Marek and Chris Rippel both provided sound and reassuring advice for developing your ability to relate an effective story without formal training.

Kate outlined 7 basic ingredients for creating a good story:

  1. Be authentic; speak from the heart; be yourself.
  2. Use broad strokes; be accurate but not bogged down in detail.
  3. Consider your audience and your goals.
  4. Be brief; beware of TMI (too much information).
  5. Be consistent.
  6. Listen to others and to other stories.
  7. Practice!

Chris analyzed some of the key characteristics of story that draw us in and compel us to listen. I recommend reading his full article on How to tell library stories. Some elements that may be surprising include:

  • In a library story, the main character is the community member, with the library and staff as secondary characters. So it is not just a description of the good service provided by the library; it’s a story of change and a restoration of balance for the protagonist.
  • A good story can be as short as 6-8 sentences. A “springboard story” presents a very short but evocative situation in order to lead in to longer discussion about an issue.
  • There are situations for which a story does not need an ending. When the library is enlisting support for a new project or seeking funding, it is an effective strategy to engage the audience in the drama of the effort, asking them to participate in the positive resolution of the “heroic struggle.”

There’s much more to this story. To watch the entire webinar and connect to related resources, go to:
Organizational Storytelling for Librarians: Using Stories for Leadership, Community, and Advocacy

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