Telling the Library Story Toolkit
Once upon a time there was a state with a mix of rural and urban areas. The people of the state were served by 543 public libraries and media centers in nearly 1600 school buildings. The people loved their libraries, but as times got harder and people began to use computers and the Internet more they began to think that perhaps the libraries were not as important as they once were. The state and the counties and the cities tightened their belts, and that pulled the libraries' belts tighter, too. But the keepers of these centers of the communities went forth across the land and began to do what they do so well: tell the story, the library story. And the people remembered why they loved their libraries, these centers of their communities, and they returned, and fought for their libraries. And everyone lived happily and productively ever after.
Fairy tale? Well, we don't have the fairy tale ending -- yet!
There is something special and memorable about a story that is told--something magic happens between a storyteller and her audience. Numbers and facts are a part of telling the story, but the story they tell is the heart of the matter. As with telling any story, preparation and tools are essential to effective presentation.
The Plot: Libraries build dreams and community--and libraries need to tell that (their!) story.
The Characters: The State Library of Iowa and the seven Library Service Areas who, understanding the importance of libraries telling their story, developed a plan to help them. Goal 1 of their own Plan of Service is: Iowa libraries will be able to explain and demonstrate the value of their services in order to increase use of and support for libraries.
Audience: Librarians and trustees of 543 public libraries, media center specialists and aides serving nearly 1600 school buildings.
Technique: At workshops, in meetings, and in consulting, encourage librarians and trustees to not just present numbers, but to tell the story of those numbers--of the impact on the community, and on individuals. What do all those numbers really mean? What does the library ultimately mean to individuals and to the community as a whole? Tell the story all the time, in everything you do.
Props: The crux of our story here today--the Telling the Library Story Toolkit on the web:
Access to a host of tools is key to the plan, and the World Wide Web provides an essential method to deliver the tools--what the librarian or trustee needs, when they need it, wherever they are. Almost 80% of Iowa public libraries now have high-speed access to the Internet (up from 20% before the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grants), so the Web is a highly viable medium for delivery.
The Telling the Library Story (TTLS) Toolkit is organized by the elements of telling a story:
Plot (What is the story?)
Characters (Who are the important people in the story and what makes us care about them?)
Setting (What is the environment in which the characters find themselves in the story?)
Audience (To whom are we telling the story, and why are we telling "this" story to "them?")
Script (What are the words that fit together to make the story?)
Technique (How are you going to tell the story? Will you write it? Speak it? Live it? Find your own style, hone your delivery, consider new methods and ideas for telling your library's story.)
Props (What can you use to help effectively tell the story? What makes the story believable?)
The Toolkit offers librarians and trustees a variety of tools, from sample news releases to customizable brochures they can download. Here are some tools available:
Templates. The layout and skeleton for a two-page annual report that tells the library story in words, graphics, and numbers.
Customizable brochures, posters. "You and Your Library: Partners in Helping Your Child Read, Achieve, Succeed!" is a brochure for parents about ways in which their school and public libraries help them to help their children; it can be downloaded and customized with local information.
Scripts for speeches. Sample speeches are provided, to give librarians and trustees ideas for speech topics, as well as sample wording they can adapt for their own community. Examples of scripts are: "Why Are Libraries Important?" and "What Do We Do With Your Tax Dollars?"
Sample news releases and ideas for newspaper columns. "Your Library--One of the Best Bargains in Town," "Numbers Aren't the Only Way to Gauge a Library's Success," and "What It Would Cost You" are just a few of the ideas for columns.
Statistics and Studies. Useful background information and statistics are provided for libraries to use in telling their stories: "Amazing Facts About Iowa Libraries,"
"Iowans Give Public Libraries a Big Thumbs Up in Community Service," and "Make the Connection: Quality School Library Media Programs Impact Academic Achievement."
Links to Other Sources. Throughout the toolkit there are links to other resources on the web, such as 'Strategic Marketing for School Media Centers," clip art sources, and downloadable photos from ALA.
Success stories from libraries
When legislature passed the Reinvention Bill last spring, cities' budgets were cut, which translated to cuts in libraries' budgets. A sample news release was part of an effort to let the people in communities know that their library was facing cuts, but acting responsibly and professionally in a difficult time. Many libraries across the state adapted and used the news release in their local papers.
The Atlantic Public Library used a template to create a two-page annual report presented to the board, to the newspaper and radio stations, and to the city council. Carole Stanger, the Director, is also preparing a report with the same format that tells the story of all the libraries in the county.
We know that librarians are using the Toolkit. During November alone, for example, the November bookmarks (downloadable templates with monthly themes) were downloaded 223 times, the sample speech about the importance of libraries 137 times, news release templates 100 times, and the annual report template 53 times.
What's ahead for the TTLS Toolkit? We are continually adding to the Toolkit and have plans to add Power Point presentations; more downloadable posters and brochures;
more information and resources for school media centers--more of everything. The Toolkit has had more than 6,000 hits so far this year, and we want to have more for the visitors to find and use each time they visit!
Karen Burns, Administrator, Southwest Iowa Library Service Area, is one of seven LSAs in Iowa who provide support services to libraries by "Helping Iowa libraries provide the best possible service to Iowans."
This work is licensed under a  Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License