Whether you’re helping a senior citizen use a tablet for the first time or helping a fifth grader with a research report, your library is doing amazing work every day. But does your community know it? And how can you tell your library’s story to increase public support?
Why Tell Your Story Online?
Many libraries are restricted by city or county rules on employee advocacy. When funding or programs are at risk of getting cut, staff have to get creative in promoting the value of the library in the community. Digital advocacy is a great method of not only visualizing that value, but also disseminating it to your community through social networks, email newsletters, and your website.
The Rockefeller Foundation published a report in 2014 called Digital Storytelling for Social Impact, which offers insights and ideas from interviews with thought leaders in entertainment, brand strategy, and philanthropy. One of the key quotes from the report reinforces the importance of digital storytelling or advocacy for community-centric organizations, such as public libraries:
“Stories can embody values; they can show how an organization is living its life by giving tangible examples. Putting faces and names to [an organization’s] values goes much further to promoting high-level concepts that aren’t as tangible.” 
So where to begin? One place to start is by interviewing community members or staff members about what they like about the library and what they do while they’re there. You could also frame your story around library usage data or a timeline of a project, such as a summer reading program or an event of which you’re particularly proud. Also remember that digital advocacy comes in many forms, from blogs to videos to digital slideshows.
A Few Examples of Digital Advocacy in Action
TechSoup has an annual digital storytelling contest called Storymakers, but we’re always supporting nonprofits and public libraries in telling their stories online through educational webinars, product donations, and informative content. I thought I’d highlight some of my favorite examples of digital advocacy that we’ve seen over the years.
The Norton Public Library won the prize for Best Library Video in the 2012 Storymakers contest with its video, 12 Things to Do in a Library. Teen patrons created the video to promote the library’s collection of pop-up books. This project not only gave the teens a chance to show off their video skills, but it also created a new generation of library advocates.
The Oakland Public Library (OPL) is also engaging its community to tell the library’s stories. Sharon McKellar, the community relations librarian, talked about the importance of sharing everything you do on a TechSoup for Libraries digital storytelling webinar. Much of the library’s sharing is done on the OPL’s network of blogs, where library staff and partners write about events, share new additions to collections, and answer community questions. Sharon also does a fantastic ongoing series on strange ephemera found in the Oakland Public Library’s books, which has gotten the attention of local media as well as Library Journal.
Digital advocacy doesn’t end after the creation and production of your story. The M.N. Spear Memorial Library in Shutesbury, MA got a construction grant from the Massachusetts Boardof Library Commissioners, but it needed a local match to actually receive it. The library had to privately raise funds in five months, so library staff members produced a video called Where Would You Be Without Your Library?
The staff reached out to the Massachusetts Library Association to promote the video and somebody from the association got Cory Doctorow of BoingBoing interested. After he shared it, the campaign went viral with promotions from John Hodgman, Wil Wheaton, Neil Gaiman, and other library-loving celebrities. But the video’s success wasn’t sheer luck: the library strategically reached out to cause-driven websites and newsletters, as well as library and book-related blogs, and told them about the campaign.
At the 2016 Public Library Association conference, Crystal Schimpf of Kixal and I will be presenting on behalf of TechSoup for Libraries about the ways that digital stories can be used for advocacy efforts, from raising awareness to political action. We’ll be sharing tips and ideas on how to create a compelling story for your library, and how to leverage it to show your impact in the community. Be sure to drop by Lights, Camera, Advocacy: Digital Storytelling for Your Library session at PLA 2016.
1. The Rockefeller Foundation, May 06, 2014, “Digital Storytelling for Social Impact.” p. 8. https://www.rockefellerfoundation.org/blog/digital-storytelling-social-impact/. Accessed October 26, 2015.