I have an inquisitive three-year-old grandson who adores scary books. Weeks after reading a book with me, he will remind me that the bogeyman is fake and Mr. Beast is just a dad playing a joke. Whether this is his way of reassuring himself or reliving the story, I don’t know. What I do know he – like all of us – loves a good story.
I went into public relations and marketing because more than anything else I wanted to tell stories. I still believe the best way to promote library services and programs is through telling stories about why reading and libraries matter.
As marketers we live for the moments when we stumble across the unexpected: a library member turns out to be a fountain pen aficionado with an impressive collection of antique pens; the husband of a library staff member quietly makes elaborate sets that serve as backdrops for a book club for young readers; a young woman writes a poem about going to the library as a child shares her memory with others; a staff member with a gift for writing lyrics and parody creates a musical group that sings about fines, pornography, and overdue books to well-known tunes.
The trick, of course, is uncovering those stories by sifting through the deluge of information we handle and finding that tiny nugget that makes you pause and think, hmmm. . .
This is what has worked for me.
- Read member comment cards. My department gathers up comments cards each week and reads through them, looking for those we can use as testimonials or story ideas.
- Get out of your office and walk the floor. Take time to wander through the entire library and into departments that you may rush by on your way to check your email. Watch your members. Be available for questions. Start a conversation.
- Eavesdrop. Stand where your members are and listen to what they tell staff. Before the age of self-checkout, I helped check out books, not because we were short staffed, but because I would hear the most interesting “throw away” comments from members that turned out to be a great story.
- Train library staff to be story-takers. Remind staff to jot down interesting or insightful things members say and a name to go with it. If a member says that reading mysteries made them want to be a writer and he went on to write a mystery – this is gold. Teach your staff to look for these gems.
- Wear your name badge when you are in the community. You would be amazed at the conversations my name badge has sparked in Chipotle and Staples. I’ve been asked for directions, if the printed book is obsolete, and how to register for programs.
- Host events in unexpected places. We host a storytime in Panera and a trivia quiz in a local pub. People see us differently out of the library and always want to share what they think about the library.
- Attend a program – early. Be there to greet members when they arrive and then start a conversation. People love to talk about themselves.
Somewhere, someone has a story just waiting for the right person to ask the right question. Go ahead, ask the question.
Susan Dennison is the Head of Communication Services at the Indian Trails Library District in Wheeling, IL.