Thursday, March 28, 2013

Storytelling is a powerful advocacy tool

In the past, when discussing, presenting and possibly defending the library to your board, municipal council or other funding bodies you may have relied on your plan of service and a pile of statistics to prove that money should be spent on the library and not elsewhere. 

Maybe so far this approach has worked just fine with your board and council, but what about those in the larger community?  How do they know about the great things your library is doing?  Can you convince them that the library is worth funding?

Simply reading off stats can send a weak message about the importance of library services to the viability of the community and no message at all about what librarians are able to do and how they can help assure a citizen’s right to know.

Storytelling is a powerful advocacy tool
Once you start looking for them, you will find stories about your library and the stories you find will enhance traditional advocacy methods by showing the impact that the library has on its’ users and the wider community though real life anecdotes. Great impact stories; stories that tell what happened after a patron left the library; can provide justification for change, innovation or funding opportunities. Remove jargon, acronyms and statistics and focus on real people and families.

What makes a good story?
  • a good story is one you can relate to yourself
  • a good story doesn't leave out any key details
  • a good story is structured and can be followed easily
  • a good story is real, touching and connects with others
  • a good story is memorable and can be retold easily by others
(Source: Parkland Regional Library, Tip Sheet: How to Share Your Library's Stories, 2012)

Use your library's existing channels to find your patrons' stories.  Solicit stories from your Facebook, Twitter and other social media pages, put a notice in your newsletter or ask patrons individually.  If collecting stories for a specific purpose (like Snapshot Day or your library's upcoming anniversary celebration, for example) let patrons know why you want their stories because ultimately, people want to help.  

Ask the right questions - simply asking questions like "why did you come into the library today?" don't get at the heart of what impact the library has on people.  Ask questions like:
  • How has the library helped you or your family?
  • What are you doing in the library that is making a difference in your home, school, workplace or community?
  • What your best memory of the library?
  • Has a library changed your life in any way? (i.e. helped you find a job, helped with citizenship, etc.)
Be prepared to collect and share stories all year long (not just during special events like Snapshot Day).  Train your staff and board members to watch for potential stories unfolding or to listen for stories about the library out in the community.

Share the stories you have collected in your annual report, in brochures, newsletters and on Facebook.  Have fun collecting and sharing stories and if you need additional resources or have questions, contact Lauren Jessop (  

(Content of this post derived from a Chinook Arch Regional Library System training session entitled "Storytelling for Advocacy."  This session was developed by Lauren Jessop and Erin Baker)

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