Power of Stories


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.


Get a Carbon Monoxide Alarm


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.


The past and FUTURE of libraries


thanks to dottorpeni on flickr

I really enjoyed reading the Darien Statements on the Library and Librarians. It succinctly puts in perspective the place of libraries and librarians in the world.

It came out of a gathering called: In the Foothills: A Not-Quite-Summit on the Future of Libraries (which I wish I could have attended). This group, composed of some very bright library enthusiasts, undertook the task of thinking about the library in big picture terms. It’s often easy to lose this perspective when you’re going to meetings or sorting through mountains of email, but I find this statement invigorating, and something that we as librarians, archivists, etc. can really draw strength from:

The Role of the Library

The Library:

  • Provides the opportunity for personal enlightenment.
  • Encourages the love of learning.
  • Empowers people to fulfill their civic duty.
  • Facilitates human connections.
  • Preserves and provides materials.
  • Expands capacity for creative expression.
  • Inspires and perpetuates hope.

I hope that when I and my colleagues are making decisions about our library and what we should be doing, that we don’t lose sight of this big picture perspective. I know personally I will try to keep in mind that my mission is bigger than just myself or my institution. It is about all libraries together and about humanity.