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Power of Stories

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flickr creative commons from Honou

Everyone loves stories. Whether it’s your children listening during story time, your mom reading a mystery novel, your dad reading the morning newspaper, or your friend telling you about their crazy weekend, stories grab our attention, help us relate to others, and transport us into new situations.

Stories can help convey your message in a way that a simple relation of facts cannot. Listening to Ira Glass, of This American Life, deliver a keynote speech this year at the ACRL National Conference made me realize how powerful stories can be. The way he works is that he relates a narrative with a certain direction and breaks it up every now and then with a bit of insight or something with emotional meaning. The story doesn’t even have to have a specific point or moral, just a direction.

Narrative is powerful because that is what our life is—a giant story. It goes in a specific direction but we’re never sure what is going to happen next. There is also (hopefully) some meaning and insight thrown in along the way. This is why everyone easily relates to stories and they’re a large part of any culture.

I listened to business consultant Stephen Shephard talked about something similar last week at a conference called Leadership in a Connected Age. He said that to be an effective leader one needs to create a vision for the future of your organization so remarkable that people can’t help but ask “what can I do to make this a reality?”

This is very similar to telling a story. You’re crafting a vision of a possible future that people can relate to. Rational arguments are important, but they don’t have the power of a well fashioned story. Whether it’s a vision of the future or a spy thriller, their power lies in that we put ourselves in those situations. That is why our heart races a little at horror movies. You identify with the person getting chased by zombies.

Therefore, the story should not be overlooked. It should consciously be used as a tool in your personal in professional life. You can use it to lead as in Shephard’s idea of a vision for the future. You can also use it to market your services to users. Tell the story of what you are doing. Make a video, use social media, relate what you or your institution is accomplishing by using narrative.  Your users will feel that much closer and be able to relate better with you and what you’re trying to achieve.

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Get a Carbon Monoxide Alarm

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This post is not really library related. It’s a cautionary tale but important nonetheless.

This morning at around 2:50am I was rudely awaked to some annoying beeping. After dragging myself out of bed and investigating I realized that it was my carbon monoxide alarm going off. I thought it may be the battery but that was only one beep. The four quick beeps in succession that I was hearing meant go outside and call 911, so that’s what I did.

I went out into the dark, rainy night and dialed 911. The dispatcher got all my info and said he would send out the fire department. They arrived about ten minutes later. First one huge engine showed up, then another. At one point there were about six firemen in my place just hanging out 9probably going through my stuff). They used their CO Geiger counter, or whatever it was, and informed me it was my stove. This was after they knocked on all the doors of the rest of my apartment neighbors and woke them up (I am gonna get beat up).

They called the Vermont Gas company and a technician arrived about 45 minutes later.  All the while I was hanging out in my car. He did some detective work and realized that one of my pilot lights was abnormally high and burning/melting the metal above it. It was this that was causing the release of soot as well as carbon monoxide. After some quick adjustments and dusting off the soot created by the malfuction, I was told that the problem was resolved. I thanked the technician and quickly went back to sleep.

This was pretty annoying gettting roused in the middle of the night, but it was also lucky that I had that alarm and there were fuctioning batteries in it. So I exhort you: unless you want to wake up dead, get a carbon monoxide alarm and make sure that it is working properly. Ialso want to thank the Burlington Fire Department and Vermont Gas for the reasonbly quick and professional response.

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Leadership in a Connected Age

The Leadership in a Connected Age conference i recently attended was really successful. Ideas and inspiration abounded, so I figured I would share some of the goodness.

One of the keynote speakers Steve Shepard has some really useful ideas about how to lead and create the future for your organization. If you want to learn more about his ideas I would urge you to check out some of his articles (especially the one on The Reverse Engineered Future).

He gave a great quote by Alan Kay. “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” This was primarily the theme of what he was talking about—creating a believable, exciting vision for where your organization.  Then it should be easy to get people to follow you and build momentum. The other quote he gave was from the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland. “If you don’t know where you’re going any road will take you there.” It is essential to have a clear vision to be able to innovate and stay relevant.

He also discussed the power of harnessing the crowd. He gave the example of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. You would always want to ask the audience over phoning a friend. Crowds are smarter than individuals. Use this to your advantage, and don’t underestimate the power of crowds.
You don’t always want to be a part of the crowd though.  Shephard said, “That warm sensation of everything going well is just the body temperature at the center of the herd.” It is also necessary to get out there and take risks. Create an environment in which failure is welcomed. Failure is the only path to innovation, and without innovation organizations become irrelevant.

There was also a lot of discussing about different social media tools. Cathy Resmer hosted a great session where she outlined a number of tools and best practices. But as Elaine Young a professor here at Champlain college states, “not everyone is using social media.”

This is very true, and it is important to keep in mind when engaging your users. Sure you’ll want to use some social media tools to engage your patrons, but also have some low tech options. Sit down and talk to a group of your patrons. Have conversations where they are. Use all the tools at your disposal, even if that tool is just a phone or you asking someone in person for feedback.