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Telling the Story of the Public Library

by on December 27, 2012

If there was a buzz word surrounding libraries in 2012, it would have to be “relevance.” Libraries across the country are fighting for funds and trying to prove their relevance to the powers-that-be. Libraries are struggling with the non-user: the individual who has no current experience in their public library and who is unlikely to support any increase in funding for it. This non-user is the same person who will question the relevance of the public library in the digital age.

When I was hired at my library, my director told me the story of a library in a small town in another state. He said they were very proud of being the best kept secret in town. Why did he tell me about them? Because he realized that being a well-kept secret is the most dangerous thing a library can be in this day and age.

Libraries are relevant—we know that every time we look at our statistics and see the increases in circulation, computer use, and visitors. We know our community uses the library more and more as the economy struggles and belts get tighter. We see the trends nationwide. Relevance is not the challenge for libraries. Telling our story is our biggest challenge.

The American Red Cross is one of the most recognized brands in the world. The organization is over 130 years old and has responded to hundreds of thousands of emergencies. But if you asked most people what the Red Cross does, they would only be able to tell you a few things. The general public has very little knowledge of the variety of work the agency does throughout the world.

So this year the Red Cross did something different. They decided that the best way to educate people about the many things they do is to let the people who have been helped share their stories. So they sent out video cameras—300 of them, to be exact. They asked people to record their stories and they took those videos and compiled them into short films, advertisements and PSAs. (http://www.redcross.org/stories/)

Libraries need to take a lesson from this American Red Cross project. We need to find new ways to share our stories with our communities. It is not a question of being relevant; it is a question of sharing our relevance with the world. How are you gathering your patron stories? What are you doing to show your community the transformative ways you interact with your customers? How can we better demonstrate to the non-user that every single day lives are touched and people are better off because of the work of the public library?

The answer is different for each of us. Perhaps distributing video cameras to your community isn’t the best storytelling strategy for your library. However, we must stop reveling in being the best kept secret in town and begin to focus on shouting our stories from the roof tops. No one else will do this for us. We must take the lead and change the conversation. It is not that libraries must prove their relevance; it is only that we must share it with the world.


Leave a comment


  1. Cristy Moran says:

    Dec 27, 2012

    I love the idea of a library’s story and I think that Red Cross idea is a great inspiration for our libraries. Hopefully, people can share their libraries’ stories with Public Libraries Online!

  2. Liz Hernandez says:

    Sep 21, 2013

    Ok, so why wait? I don’t know how I could live without my Public Library. I am a teacher and I check out many books for my students (when I see that they have an interest in a particular thing, I get books on the topic and we discuss them in class –my classroom is always alive with curiosity and discussions). Being a voracious reader I have about 42 items checked out (regular books, books on CDs, books on my kindle, music CDs, movies on DVD, why even books with sheet music/songs). My Librarians have become my friends and helpers. I can discuss my lesson plans and get great ideas from them, as well as share what is going on in my life. You will be hard-pressed to find a more caring and generous group of people; Librarians are living angels. As as for economy and bang for the buck, no where in this world will you ever get a better credit card! For the nominal amount we pay on taxes for our Libraries, we can have access to MILLIONS of dollars worth of items, that we can check out on credit. Find another card with such great terms! Libraries are my home away from home. I can always seek refuge there and feel good. Libraries are OUR treasures; Let’s Treasure Them!!!!

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