Storytelling is a way of creating connection. Any librarian who has read to a class of rapt students has felt the power and magic of a good story. You have transported them to another place and into the life of someone else. Although not as obvious, telling your story also has the power to move your listeners. The ability to tell the right story at the right time is an often-overlooked skill in building relationships. Relationships are personal, and stories can make personal connections happen. They can also help your administrators understand the vital role you and the library play in the success of the school and its students.
There is vulnerability in telling your stories even if you’re not sharing intimate details of your life. But when you offer a truth about your life, you offer an opportunity to build trust, which is the foundation of relationships. You don’t truly have a relationship with someone unless there is a level of trust.
I once had a conversation with a very well-known library leader whose position had been terminated. Although he had secured another place, he was worried about how he would fare. I told him I had just changed districts after 22 years in the same place and had felt as he did, only to discover that I was more valued in my new school. I further shared that I had grown in my old job in ways I didn’t realize. I did not recognize my own value, but the new district did. Six months later, I saw him again. He shared that his experience mirrored mine. We made a personal connection through story.
On another occasion, I told a librarian of what a failure I was in the early part of my career and mentioned some of the turning points. She told me later how much she appreciated hearing it. She had been having some self-doubts and saw me as someone who never failed in my journey to leadership. I became more human in her eyes. The connection was made.
When giving a presentation, stories are a way to connect with your audience. As Jeff Davenport says in Why Should I Tell a Story?, stories engage listeners. Hammering people with data may seem to give them what they want, but the story connects them to you and your message. It touches emotions, and emotions guide our decisions more than we like to believe. It gives them a reason to listen.
This is not to say you shouldn’t bring in data but consider using story to share it. Davenport observes that talking about a situation and how it was handled gives directions to listeners far better than a list of instructions or numbers. For example, telling a story about working with a student who struggled and their triumph after first failing will resonate. When you follow up with the research studies, the audience is in a place to receive it.
According to Davenport, you can and should also use story to describe the future. Your Vision Statement is a look into what the library might be. Share the vision as a story. Think about starting it with something like, “Imagine what it would be like if…”
When sharing with teachers, principals, and parents, finding ways to use story brings them closer to your purpose. Consider using pictures and videos to enhance your story, creating vivid images of a potential future. As they are watching, share stories that emphasize the benefits to students and teachers. The story of your Vision will help move them from their current (and potentially dated) mental and emotional image of what a school library is and help move them into considering what is possible. The story you share can guide them there.
No one knows the power of story better than librarians. We use it to captivate students; we teach them how to use it to draw a teacher into the work they create. We can use it ourselves not only in developing the one-on-one relationships that strengthen our programs and enhance collaboration, but to increase the interest and support of the library’s key stakeholders. The next time you need to talk to teachers, your principal, or others – start by telling them a story. They’ll keep listening to find out how it ends.