We know that libraries are more than just books. They’re places to learn, create, and find community. But many of our stakeholders don’t have a clear idea of what the library offers, or why it’s important. Although we can regale them with statistics on how much money the library can save a taxpayer, or how many children attend our early literacy programming, it’s more convincing for them to hear personal stories from the patrons themselves.
Alameda County Library, in the Bay Area of California, uses their “Tell Us Your Library Story” campaign to do just that (full disclosure: this is my library system!). For this campaign, library staff recorded interviews with real patrons and created videos to share their success stories. One patron shared how she invented a product for nursing mothers and tested her design on a library sewing machine. Another patron achieved her dream of earning her high school diploma with the library’s support.
I asked Public Information Specialist Alicia Reyes to explain just how the library did it (our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity).
Q: How long has it taken to get “Tell Us Your Library Story” off the ground?
A: When I first started working at Alameda County Library, I was amazed to discover how libraries have evolved beyond books. Staff and our community partners expressed the need to tell stories of impact that reflect how libraries have evolved as community hubs and places of innovation, connection, and learning.
The project began when the Alameda County Library Foundation awarded us a grant in November 2018. I initially proposed to feature stories of impact through library members’ positive written testimony that would be shared on our website and social media channels. After taking several online storytelling classes, I reevaluated my approach to the project. I decided that telling a fuller story about their experiences would be more appealing than simply sharing positive written testimony.
I interviewed library members in May, June, and July of 2019. We completed video editing and production during July, August, and September of 2019. We premiered our first video on September 24, 2019, when the Alameda County Board of Supervisors recognized September as “Libraries Build Thriving & Resilient Communities” Month. At the proclamation event, Library Member Rupal Asodaria personally shared her story with the Board of Supervisors.
Q: How did you find your first patrons to interview?
A: Staff who shared library members’ success stories with me when I first started working at Alameda County Library.
Q: If someone in another library system was interested in trying a similar campaign, what advice would you give?
A: Approach the campaign with a learning mindset to be flexible and open to change.
Thanks, Alicia! Whether you choose to celebrate your patrons’ success stories in video, or in simple photographs and quotes, nothing demonstrates the meaning of the library quite like our creative, inspiring patrons themselves.
Chelsey Roos is a member of the ALSC Advocacy and Legislation Committee. She is a Children’s Librarian with the Alameda County Library in Castro Valley, California.
This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competency: V. Outreach and Advocacy.