Photo of children reading courtesy the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County's Digital Collection

As you well know, libraries have changed, evolved, and adapted in some remarkable ways, particularly in the past 19 months.

But past perception continues to be a real hurdle for libraries. Plenty of people who would call themselves a fan of the library don’t know all the things the modern library does.

We must make sure our community understands who we are right now. And there is a movement to do that through storytelling.

One of those storytellers is Evelyn Shapiro, Promotions Manager at Champaign Public Library in Illinois. As I was preparing to speak at Content Marketing World, I reached out to Evelyn to ask for details about her content marketing campaign, A Library for Life.

Evelyn graciously shared the story of how she compiled this amazing YouTube playlist of patrons who shared the relevance and importance of the Champaign Library’s work. And she’s permitted me to share what she wrote with you.

I hope you will find inspiration in her words. But also, I hope you will see how practical and, frankly, easy it is to gather and tell stories about the ways your library is changing lives.

“Libraries are one of the best ideas humans have ever had.”

Danielle Borasky, Vice-President, NoveList


“Friends and colleagues have told me that connecting with amazing people is one of my superpowers. It’s funny because I can’t help thinking—doesn’t everyone feel like they know truly remarkable people?”

“So, part of the genesis of the project came through the #LibraryLove shared by Karin Markovitch, the parent I interviewed. She had been sharing the most fantastic comments and stories with us in social media posts, tagging the library, also in person with the desk staff. She is just a natural library ambassador, brimming with appreciation.”

“I kept thinking about how I wanted to share her enthusiasm and appreciation of what we offer with the world, but especially with local community members who might not know about or use the library, and with staff because we never tire of hearing that our efforts and expertise result in a positive experience and impact for customers.”

“Our Teen Librarian Kathie Kading was keen on introducing me to Mallory Morris, the educator I interviewed. Mallory’s energy is pure magic, and she can speak with authority about the impact the library has on teachers’ and students’ lives. Interviewing her would mean other people would get to hear her stories, in her words. She was able to put together our group of teen interviewees, drawing from students at her school (across the street from the library) which turned out to be powerful testimony as well.”

“Also, a colleague in the children’s department introduced me to an area artist, Stacey Robinson, who was using the study room next to the children’s desk as his studio, coming in regularly and drawing illustrations for a graphic novel he was creating. She had gotten to know him over time and wanted to be sure I knew his story. (He ended up surprising her by thanking her by name in the acknowledgments of his book!)”

“I connected with him, and it turns out we know people in common in town in the art/design/theatre/dance/music worlds. Again, he was passionate about the library and spoke so well about what a treasure this place is. I wanted to be able to share his story. He also teaches on the University of Illinois campus in the Art + Design department and is a lot of fun to follow on social media.” 

“So, momentum had started building and because it was our tenth anniversary in this building, I realized I could propose the project as interviews with ten community members. It was our first video project and not part of my original budget that year, but it was the right timing to ask.”

“Once approved, I needed to build my list of who I would bring on camera. I knew about some of the range I wanted and topics I wanted to highlight including a parent and teen, a Board member, and someone who could speak about the Branch. Our director was able to recommend three of those featured—Candace, Thom, and Rajiv.”

“While working on developing our strategic plan, we invited a group of community members (around 50) to a retreat here to talk about the library and community needs. In one session I attended, Charlisa spoke up about the Douglass Branch, what libraries meant to her as a child, and how children access literacy in our community. I was so compelled by what she had to say. Charlisa has become a very active participant on our social streams as well.”

“Around this time, I’d met a new-to-the-community social media manager named Huan who worked remotely with an international org in communications and marketing. It turned out she spent a lot of time in our new walk-in co-working space for area entrepreneurs. She used it as her office and was getting involved with supporting the library in a few different ways—through a United Way young professionals project and through serving on the Library Friends Board. We met by chance in the FriendShop Bookstore. At the time, she was volunteering in the shop, and we had a chance to chat. She had an international perspective, having lived, and worked in co-working spaces in London. She could compare what we offered here with co-working amenities in a Big City.”

“I already knew Amanda personally and at this time she was heading up the local Project READ initiative and both our locations were public sites where their group offered tutoring. I love talking with her about making good things happen in our community. She had held the role of liaison for families as part of a school program our daughter participated in. I had seen how fluidly she moved in different worlds and languages and what an effective advocate she is. She turned out to be an ideal example of how the library partners with community groups and how our services help immigrants.”

“I learned to bring a stash of tissues with me each time because someone always started crying. The stories were so heartful. I’ve also thought about additional ways we could share these stories, including in print somehow. I haven’t even transcribed them yet or pulled quotes from them. There may be obvious ways to expand and reuse their stories. The key seems to be selecting people who could talk glowingly about the library, without a lot of prompting from me.”

“As communicators, we focus a lot on our messages, as we need to. However, I see our role as much as a listener—how else can we share great comments and stories?”

Evelyn Shapiro is Promotions Manager at Champaign Public Library in Illinois. Before that, she worked in graphic design and has more than 75 published books and CDs to her credit, along with numerous awards from Parents’​ Choice, University College and Designers Association, and the Chicago Book Clinic.

Is your library telling stories about your work and your patrons? I’d love to see and share those stories! Send me an email with more information.


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