There are a lot of causes and organizations out there that feel like they don’t have any stories to tell. Libraries are one of those organizations that frequently struggle to create stories that engage their community and ultimately lead to donations.
Lucky for us the Kent District Library is not only telling great stories, they have a very talented former journalist on staff that is very knowledge about storytelling. Morgan Jarema has been working with the Kent District Library to help tell library patrons’ stories. Today Morgan is sharing what she’s learned about storytelling in the non-profit setting and how
“I developed our patron stories page on the website, which are used in our board packets, go out as press releases to relevant school districts and community leaders and are posted in “library love bomb” form on our social media channels. Just as I thought, it is astounding all the reasons people have for using their public library; these stories go far, far beyond the “warm fuzzies” I think my superiors were expecting (and everyone has been more than willing to have their full names used, a huge credibility boost that really puts a face on advocacy). My methods caught the attention of the Illinois Library Association, and last year they brought me to their annual meeting in downtown Chicago to present.”
What inspired you to start telling library patrons’ stories?
What inspired me to start telling patrons’ stories was my background in journalism, and knowing from that that everyone has a story. I also used to teach journalism at the college level, and every semester would show my students how to pull (truly newsworthy) stories out of one another. Another reason Kent District Library (KDL) started telling patron stories is that at the time I joined the staff here, KDL was beginning participation in a nation-wide effort to show libraries why those stories were their stories, and how they could make a difference. The timing just worked out that, again, a nosy reporter showed up who wasn’t at all shy about getting all up in patrons’ business. The real beauty is I didn’t have to; just read a few of the stories on our patron stories page (Cynthia Worden and Alexei Salazar are two that spring to my mind): stories have always been voluntary, and what people are willing to share astounds and touches me – we thought others would feel the same.
What results/impact have you seen from sharing these stories?
As for results/ impact, I’d say collecting these stories (and holding contests to encourage submission) has not only shown our Board of Directors, funders and patrons that people use the library for heaps of reasons most of us never think about, but it is a great boon to staff; reading how what they do in the stacks every day changes lives is a shot in the arm for those who don’t always get to be in on seeing their impact.
As a former journalist, I’m sure you have lots of tips on writing and interviewing. What are your top 3 tips for interviewing someone when you are collecting their story?
As for your last question, my dream job is to tour the planet teaching library (and other) staff to collect patron stories. Interviewing is an art and a skill, and it’s harder than it looks. Most inexperienced reporters (myself included), try to have a prepared list of questions, and do not deviate from that list. What should be an interview comes off as a questionnaire, and we miss so much when we do it that way. So my first piece of advice is to have a conversation. Really listen to people’s answers and build from there, letting the conversation meander as it will. Keep quiet and let them talk! And finally, writing patron stories is showing, not telling. There’s no reason to hard sell your library and its services; let the patron’s story “sell” them simply by recounting their experiences. That’s the difference between Sue Smith loves all the services she gets at the XYZ public Library and Sue Smith has learned to create and manage her one-woman accounting firm’s blog, helped inspire both her children to become lifetime readers through the Reading to Doggies program and met her husband, Joe, at the weekend Book Club for singles – all for free, and all at the XYZ Public Library.
Morgan – thank you so much for joining me today on the blog! I’ve learned so much for you and really enjoyed seeing some great examples of library storytelling.