Using Patron Stories Add Value to your Library

When a cardholder tells you how the library has impacted his or her life, what do you do with those comments? Smile, shake hands and thank them for letting you know? Or, do you scribble it in a notebook you keep just for patron comments, then share that notebook with your staff, your higher-ups, your community? Can you really afford not to?

Shortly after I was hired as a communications assistant at Kent District Library, we started a section of our website called Branches – stories rooted in the KDL community. That page reads:

Kent District Library branches have deep roots in the communities we serve, and the stories you share with us about all the ways you use and are invested in your libraries move, inspire and motivate us. You have told us how you use your library not only to borrow materials, but to find employment, reconnect with long-lost friends and family, learn new skills and spend time with those you care about. Those stories should be told. We’re telling them here.

I think I know what one of your first objections will be. And the answer is no! If done the right way, this is definitely not blatant horn-tooting. The key: Show, don’t tell. You don’t need to tell people “Our library is so super terrific and it has made a real difference in people’s lives.” Blech. Let your patrons’ stories of their experiences show others, with concrete examples, how it has made a difference in their lives.

Your second objection: ‘That’s just nosy, and librarians are all about patron privacy.’ I was a newspaper reporter for 15 years before taking this job, so I know nosy – though I’ve always preferred the term “boundlessly curious.” And there is a difference. Understand that your patrons want to share these stories with you. Their library – and they do consider it their library – does make a difference in their lives, often in profound and unexpected ways.

There are surprisingly easy ways to keep an ear out for and to collect these stories, and to motivate patrons to contribute. Keep an ear out for the unusual or the very very concrete. When someone tells you his children loved reading to therapy dogs, that’s fabulous and should absolutely go in your “patron comments” notebook. When he tells you both his kids jumped a whole reading level when they returned to school in the fall, that’s gold. And the places you can sprinkle this gold dust o’ library love bombs are many.

Here are just a few from our library:

Last year, Wyoming branch patron Ramona Saintandre had a chance to return to her native Germany to celebrate her “Oma’s” 96th birthday and needed to refresh her German language skills. She tried using an expensive foreign language program, but they “put me to sleep,” she said. She turned to Mango Languages, and “my family could barely tell I had not spoken my native tongue for almost 20 years.”

“I’m still in school and I don’t have the money most of the time to buy the books I sometimes need, so it’s wonderful to have access to everything the library offers,” wrote Hailey Kavanaugh, who called volunteering at the library in the summers “life-changing.”

“KDL is a terrific resource for homeschooling my six children,” wrote Englehardt branch patron Heidi Stoller. “My homeschooling friends who live outside the KDL service area are jealous of the opportunities KDL provides its patrons. KDL services are remarkable.”

Of course we’ve all got enough to do without adding one more task to the list. If you aren’t the staffer for the job, look around. Any others, even those who might have a journalism background? Someone else you know to be a naturally curious, good conversationalist? How about a college intern looking for published clips? Someone who just loves to talk to people and wants to hone their writing skills?

As we near the close of yet another year knowing that there are libraries are fighting for their very existence, these stories and even single, attributable quotes, put real names to concrete examples of the exact reasons libraries matter to those who use them. Being able to share them instills in people a sense of ownership of the library. And people fight to keep what they feel like they own.

Morgan Jarema is the Communications Assistant at the Kent District Library in Michigan.

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One Response to Using Patron Stories Add Value to your Library

  1. Don Peters says:

    Kim, don’t know if you saw this. Thought it was an interesting idea. Don

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