Photo courtesy Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library

Libraries know the power of storytelling. Most of us are literally and physically surrounded by some of the best stories in the world.

But the quest for library stories that have emotion and a compelling story arch is daunting for many libraries. A Kentucky librarian has the solution: let your patrons tell their own stories!

Levi Simonton has worked for the Jessamine County Public Library for three and a half years and is now the library’s social media coordinator. “I love this place,” said Levi when I asked him about his work experience.

In January, Levi and his library launched a video series called Share A Story. The videos were created to amplify the voices of library superfans.

Levi’s library believes that patrons’ real-life experience is the best way to increase the use of the library and relay the library’s value. “We think that a community member is more likely to visit the library after hearing a story from one of their peers rather than seeing an advertisement from us,” explains Levi.

Approaching a patron and asking them to share their story is often intimidating for libraries. But Levi has a remarkably simple approach. We typically ask other staff members if they know anyone who might be willing to share an impactful story with the library,” says Levi. “We may also ask for patrons with experience on a specific topic we plan to promote. Sometimes it’s a bit more serendipitous, though. We met the first patron we interviewed by chance at our big comic con event last October.”

The interview itself doesn’t take much time, according to Levi. He typically spends about 45 minutes interviewing his subject. Then he focuses on getting footage of the subject that matches what the patron talked about (in the TV world, this is called B-roll). The footage is used later in editing, to cover parts of soundbites and edits. It also makes the video more interesting.

Once the interview and footage are shot, it’s time to put it all together. For Levi, this is the most labor-intensive part of the process. “These particular pieces usually take 10-15 hours over a week or two,” recalls Levi. “Honestly, that’s longer than it should take. I’m just new to video editing and have a bit of compulsive behavior when it comes to getting those darn details right.”

When the library launched the first video, the reaction was positive, both from patrons and staff. “We showed the videos at a recent staff meeting,” says Levi. “They seemed to resonate with everyone. Hearing directly from patrons about the library’s impact on their lives brought at least a few staff to tears.”

So far, the library has released three videos in the series, including one from a woman who has been visiting the library since she was a little girl. “I grew up in an environment that was considered impoverished,” says Anna Kenion, who is featured in one of the videos. “However, my way of escape, to solitude time and to dream bigger was when I would go to our public library,”

The library is taking a break from releasing videos over the summer to focus on summer reading. But they are working on videos to promote their new outreach vehicle and children’s storytimes. “We may release podcasts, written pieces, or other media that fall under the Share A Story umbrella in the future,” said Levi.

Is your library telling patron stories as part of your marketing? Let me know in the comments!

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