Too often, libraries only receive news coverage for something bad. It is the nature of modern media to seek out bad stories. Therefore, it is imperative that libraries seek out their local media to tell good stories.
Good can be as communicable as Evil
I remember listening to This I Believe audiobook from NPR. There was an essay by Norman Corwin called Good Can Be as Communicable as Evil. Here is a quote:
"Because of the principle that a calm sea and prosperous voyage do not make news but a shipwreck does, most circulated news is bad news. The badness of it is publicized, and the negative publicity attracts more of the same through repetition and imitation.
But good can be as communicable as evil, and that is where kindness and compassion come into play. So long as conscionable and caring people are around, so long as they are not muted or exiled, so long as they remain alert in thought and action, there is a chance for contagions of the right stuff, whereby democracy becomes no longer a choice of lesser evils, whereby the right to vote is not betrayed by staying away from the polls, whereby the freedoms of speech, assembly, religion, and dissent are never forsaken. "
In telling the library's story, it is imperative to find interesting positive news stories that demonstrate the library's impact. We cannot wait for the media to create a bad story. They inevitably will if we remain mute.
What are your stories?
What good stories does your library tell? At my library, we tell about impact. We can tell about the joys of reading, the available technology, and what we are able to do for the community. Developing the workforce so that there are better qualified applicants for jobs which, in turn, draw more businesses into the community. We provide a literacy program so that more adults and read and write in English, thus further bolstering the economy. We provide public space where free thought and discussion can take place. It is where everyone is welcomed and a community is built and joined together from all walks of life. We welcome teens and create spaces, services, programs, and materials for them. We are a space that represents the community and assists in its construction. Everyone knows our story and knows about the library because of our efforts in getting the message out. Yet, I was still surprised when I received the call from Westcor in conjunction with Channel 3 and Good Morning Arizona.
Going on Good Morning Arizona
What was amazing about it was that when Channel 3 was trying to find a story about our community in conjunction with the opening of a new regional mall, the library was suggested. I received the call several weeks ago that it was a possibility, but wasn't sure if it would happen. Then, two weeks ago, it was confirmed. I would be on the show at 8:15 with Brad Perry. I was really excited about it at first, but then I began to worry. What would happen on the show, how much time would I have, and how would this all work out? I began to worry a bit more about it when they called and said that some people request questions ahead a time, but that they weren't going to do that. I didn't think it would be a problem, but then I began to think about what I would be asked, how would I respond, and how would I be able to convey our message with no preparation and nothing but my wits?
I think my performance went well. I rolled up to the site and staged the bookmobile, satellite dish running, laptops, books on display, library cards, and anything else I could think of. Brad came over about five minutes before we began and looked at the Inglis Sin Barreras, wondering what it was. I told him that it was a English acquisition kit for Spanish speakers and that it meant English without barriers, without borders. He liked that and used it as the lead in. I think I did fine in my response.
Elevator Talk vs. TV Talk
Afterward I was reminded of a story about advocacy called elevator talk. If you were stuck in an elevator and someone asked you about libraries, what message could you convey in the few minutes you had? In this case, it was a TV talk in which I had even less time to respond and advocate, plus it was on live television so appearance plays a bigger role.
Will it make impact or is it the result of already good work?
In the end, I had about one minute. I doubt it could have conveyed any message in that short period of time. Anyone I told who was actually waiting for me to come on probably would have missed it. Luckily, my wife recorded it for me and I was able to post it to my blog and share it with my board, library staff, and the general public. The actual piece hasn't had the impact as other media formats. When the library made the front cover of the local paper, our phones rang off the hook for literacy volunteers, questions about the library, and increased usage.
I realized though, that it wasn't the television appearance that was really the impact, it was an outcome of the library's good press. When Channel 3 was looking for a story, everyone suggested the library. The movers and shakers in our community know the library is place to get a good story. There is no mystery as to how we operate, what our resources are, and why we are successful. We also have 90% of our community owning a library card. That is often twice as many as the average community. One of the other tests I personally do, is to see what people are reading. It is really neat to go into the public schools and see that the teacher has a whole bookshelf of the public library's books for their kids to read. It is wonderful to be out in public and see a child reading a book, and knowing it came from our library. I always check for the spine label. That is a better result than going on television.