MLS Small Libraries Forum: The Storymakers

As the days grow shorter, my work life shifts to attending large meetings.  In late October, I attended the Small Libraries Forum hosted by the Massachusetts Library System (MLS) in Sturbridge, MA.  Less than a week later, I attended another MLS event—the Annual Meeting held in Worcester, MA.

Forum for Small Libraries in Massachusetts

These meetings are an opportunity to meet with librarians from all over Massachusetts .  I admit that my natural inclination is to walk up to people that I know, maybe share a story containing elements that they are already familiar with.  I am less comfortable with sitting at a table with people I don’t know, and either launching into an introductory story of who-I-am-and-what-I-do, or even to asking them to introduce themselves to me.  Many librarians are introverts by nature, and disclosing even the most surface information is visibly difficult for them.  But, I give it my best shot.  And we all breathe a sigh of relief when we can turn our attention to the featured speaker.  As a collective of introverts, we are drawn into the tales of a single storyteller.

Here’s a list of storylines to keep track of:

At the Small Libraries Forum, Dianne Carty, Director of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC), encouraged small libraries to move beyond maintenance and toward thriving.  Take a look at this report from the Aspen Institute, Rising to the Challenge:  Re-Envisioning Public Libraries.

Jessamyn West, freelance library consultant and blogger at,  spoke about the expanding tech-y side of small libraries.  She acknowledged that some rural folks aren’t that interested in being online.  Remaining outside of the madness is a source of pride for them.  Others are frustrated by the internet.  As librarians, we can help them through that.  And some folks are just waiting to be invited to the “Internet Party”. Jessamyn offered several fantastic ideas for digitization projects.  Check out her slides.

Representatives from three small libraries in Massachusetts (Rochester-Marion-Mattapoisett) told the story of their collaborative project MYOB = My Own Backyard.  Here’s a great news article about the project, and another about the concept of Citizen Science.

In the afternoon, Jessamyn returned to the podium to talk about elevator pitches.  She recommended this resource from the Knight Foundation for pitch ideas.  These are mini stories, meant to capture the attention immediately.

Greg Pronevitz, Executive Director of MLS, opened the Annual Meeting on November 3.  He announced that the first “Stronger Together Award” was granted to Wellesley Free Library.  I loved this story, honoring the staff  and trustees!

Michael Margolis of  delivered the keynote address.  He asked the audience, “What story are YOU in?”  Referring to the elevator pitch concept, Michael warned us that most of our audience is responsible for or complicit in the problem that we are talking about.  This leads them to be defensive or shut down, not listening to our stories.  His conclusion is that problem/solution storylines will inevitably lose the interest of our audience.

Michael recommends eliciting stories instead.  What are the stories of our patrons?  How are our funders re-inventing themselves?  Do we spend time receiving stories from our co-workers?  We shifted into a group exercise that I describe as the most meaningful 90 seconds I’ve spent in a long time.  Curious?  Check out this link.

Reminded me of Steven Covey’s 5th Habit.