The best perk of working in a library is hearing that we positively impact our patrons’ lives. How do we know? They tell us – and often, they tell others. Whether you hear a patron’s story after mentioning where you work, or you see it in a letter to your local newspaper or in online comments, we are surrounded by proof that a place for learning and enrichment is a vital part of a community.
So how can we capture these stories for a larger purpose? Maybe we have a project coming up that will need significant local support, or maybe we just want to contribute to the history of our library and our town. Having stories and memories in concrete form is extremely helpful, especially to the marketing staff, but also to any library advocate. However, getting people to give you their stories in a storable, displayable, reproducible format can be a challenge.
I’ve done it once as part of a fundraising project, and I am doing it again to help celebrate a milestone. Both times have been successful on different levels, and have required different approaches.
At the Downers Grove Public Library, we sell bricks for our Garden Walk as a way to solicit patron stories (and raise money). Bricks were first installed in 1999 when the library was renovated. The funds we raised were used to purchase art for the library’s interior. In 2007, a new section of the brick walk opened and we wanted to sell more bricks. To encourage this, we decided to do more with the stories we had been collecting since 1999.
The stories collected in 1999 were on paper and displayed in a binder in the lobby. We needed to get them online, so a summer intern digitalized the stories and they were added to the DGPL Foundation’s website.
Reading other stories encouraged new brick purchasers to tell their own. Here’s one of my favorites (and one that illustrates how simple a story can be):
“A weekly trip to the Downers Grove Public Library was an important part of our life. Our five children always remembered to take along shopping bags to carry home their choices. My husband and I have always known the library contributed to the success of all our children and for that we thank you.”
Now I work at the Mount Prospect Public Library, and we are celebrating our 70th Anniversary this year. We decided this would be a great time to solicit memories from patrons – something that was also done for the 50th anniversary.
The 70th commemoration is a year-long celebration (because we anticipate the 75th will require a bigger splash) so we have had to prime patrons for most of the year with requests for stories and memories. We created a web page with photos and also posted photos on Facebook. We are also planning a program in October where four long-time residents will talk about growing up in the village.
It’s working. We are getting stories in different formats, from a mom who shared an old newspaper photo to a former resident who wrote about us in her assisted-living facility’s newsletter to comments on Facebook. We will be awarding a prize to one contributor and are sharing what we collect as we go. Mostly, the memories we collect will be used to help tell our story going forward. Someone will be using the memories in some format for our 75th and 100th anniversaries!
My main piece of advice is to provide multiple formats for patrons to use to tell you their memories. Online, email, a specially designed sheet of paper, a display, verbally, something they can send you – be open to however they want to communicate.
Collecting stories allows your library to curate its own history, but it’s also another service you can provide for your current and future patrons.
Carol Morency is the PR/Marketing Director at Mount Prospect Public Library. She, along with Morgan Jarema, Kent District Library, and John Capecci, Capecci Communications, will present Patron Stories: Utilizing Your Best Advocates at 10:15 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16 at the ILA Annual Conference at Navy Pier.