Teen Librarian Toolbox
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Cordelia Anderson : Harnessing the Power of Story to Promote Libraries

Last Friday, the Fort Worth Public Library had its annual staff training day. It was designed like a mini-conference, with a couple of keynote speakers and some mini-sessions that staff got to choose to attend. The opening keynote speaker was Cordelia Anderson of Cordelia Anderson Consulting, a person who I had never heard of until Friday but I loved everything she had to say. She spoke to staff about harnessing the power of story to promote FWPL.

Karen Jensen's notes from Cordelia Anderson's presentation on Telling Your Library's Story at FWPL Staff Training Day 2019
Karen Jensen’s notes from Cordelia Anderson’s presentation on Telling Your Library’s Story at FWPL Staff Training Day 2019

You have heard me say frequently that we overly rely on statistics to communicate our worth and that isn’t always the best measurement. Data is cold, static and too often lacks context. The average person doesn’t have any idea what is a good stat versus a bad stat. It’s just a number and they don’t really have anything to compare it to. What is a good circulation number and why should members of our community care? They don’t have any context to help them evaluate this data. Adding the power of story to data helps give it context and meaning.

Cordelia Anderson talks about telling your library’s story and she speaks eloquently of how to use both story and statistics to communicate your story to the general public. For example, if we can tell one story about a successful teen encounter that demonstrates heart and how we as a library have fulfilled our mission, we can then extrapolate that data using statistics. We can take this one powerful story and remind our patrons that this is just 1 story in thousands of stories. The take away is this: This is just one story, but we had over 5,000 teens come to library programs so we repeated this story 5,000 times. (For the record, 5,000 is a totally made up number to help illustrate a point.)

Personal stories + Statistics = Your Library’s Story

It’s genius really. Think of all those testimonial commercials you see on TV. They are telling you a story about service and survival and care, and then they remind you that they don’t just do this once. They do it again and again and again. This is one story out of 1,000s they remind you. And this can be your story, because we’re here for you. Those commercials tap into the power of storytelling to promote themselves. And we’re a library, we know all about storytelling, so we too should be in the business of harnessing the power of storytelling to promote libraries. Storytelling takes data and makes it personal; it moves it from abstract to profound.

Cordelia Anderson 2014 Presentation Notes

There was a lot I liked about staff training day this past Friday, but hands down my favorite part was Cordelia Anderson, because she perfectly articulated something I have been trying to articulate for years. She took all the pieces that have been floating around in my head and put them together for me in a way that made perfect sense. I highly recommend that you check out her work.

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