Be Memorable: Library Advocacy through Compelling Storytelling

This article came on my new “Google Alerts” feed. It is a summary of a session at the American Association of Law Librarians Conference. It has a lot to say to public libraries, too.

Be Memorable: Library Advocacy through Compelling Storytelling
BY: Grace Feldman | August 03, 2012 at 12:15 AM TOPICS: library advocacy, storytelling, AALL 2012
Presenters: Carol Watson, Director, University of Georgia Law Library, Jason Tubinis, IT Librarian, University of Georgia Law Library, Suzanne Graham, Catalog Librarian, University of Georgia Law Library

“Why do you need money for books when everything is online?”

It is an unfortunate reality that more of us hear this question (or a version of this question) in the course of our work, so it was appropriate that the session, “Be Memorable: Library Advocacy through Compelling Storytelling” began with Carol Watson, defining library advocacy as engaging in dialogue about an issue that you care about. Watson explained how storytelling, a tradition shared by all cultures, is a legitimate and effective method in responding to the growing frequency of the above inquiry. She reminded the audience of the tale of George Washington and the cherry tree as an example of how stories stick to the listener on a more personal and persuasive level that moves them to action. Watson then introduced the audience to the concept of a “Sacred Pawnee Bundle”, a collection of precious objects representing a Pawnee family. The bundle is passed down through the family to represent stories to identify their tribe. Watson challenged the audience to consider what stories they might put in their library’s sacred bundle to represent the library.

Almost everyone has heard elements of good storytelling but the presenters refreshed traditional ideas of good storytelling and used examples to help the audience develop their own personal stories. The presenters introduced the audience to “Six Stories”#, a compilation of different types of stories that a librarian should develop:

1. The “Who Am I?” Story
2. The “Why Am I Here?” Story
3. The “Vision” Story
4. The “Teaching” Story
5. The “Values in Action” Story
6. The “Overcoming Objections” Story

Jason Tubinis gave direction on how to develop one’s own stories to fit the “Six Stories” list, while Suzanne Graham encouraged the audience to keep these stories in their back pocket so they could be ready at a moment’s notice to advocate for the library.

The session and presenters were excellent in conveying that sometimes even concrete facts and figures are unconvincing and that making an issue personal through storytelling can be more persuasive. I was drawn to this session because I have always found that I learn best through analogy and usually analogy through storytelling. Stories have a way with sticking with us and hitting us on a personal level. The session emphasized recognizing and harnessing the power of storytelling to benefit the library.

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