Badass storytelling for libraries

“I’m telling you stories. Trust me.” – Jeanette Winterson, The Passion.


Humans are natural storytellers. Stories engage us, help us understand, and connect us. The Moth live story telling events are huge. Podcasts such as Serial have a cult following. Even in the corporate world, storytelling courses and presentation techniques are the new black. It’s no surprise then that cultural institutions, including libraries, are thinking of ways of using storytelling as a way to connect with their audiences.

I recently experienced two brilliant storytelling events which got me thinking about how to apply some of what I experienced back in my library.

It all started on a steamy summer day in Manhattan. On a reprieve from the heat and Pokemon Go players outside, I was lounging in my very tiny and poorly air conditioned hotel room flicking through the Time Out, New York magazine when I landed on an ad for a tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The tour was titled Badass Bitches of the Met and it was run by a crew called Museum Hack. I was pretty much sold on the title alone. I booked my ticket for a two hour tour that promised me I would:

FALL IN LOVE WITH SOME AMAZING WOMEN YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF

TAKE ACTUAL STEPS TO DISMANTLE THE PATRIARCHY

COMPETE TO FIND THE BADDEST BITCH IN THE MET

HEAR PLENTY OF ‘F’ BOMBS (‘FEMINISM’, THAT IS)

LEAVE INSPIRED TO CHANGE THE WORLD

The next day I turned up at the Met after having being lost in the Ramble in Central Park and then caught in the most spectacular afternoon downpour. I stood ringing my dripping hair and clothes into a puddle on the marble floor of the very crowded Met foyer. I was spotted by one of the Museum Hack guides who whisked me into the bathroom to pat myself dry with paper towels. Then onwards to my tour. Two energetic, knowledgeable, fun young women raced us around the museum telling us stories of women artists, women muses, and women art collectors represented (or not) in the collection. We played games, took photos and were encouraged to share our own stories. It was renegade and subversive and by far the most fun two hours I’ve ever had in a museum. I learnt about a bunch of inspiring women I had never heard of and left with a head full of fascinating stories.

The second brilliant storytelling adventure wasn’t in a cultural institution. This time it was in the tourism industry. Onboard the Rocky Mountaineer, I travelled through the snow dusted peaks of the Canadian Rockies from Jasper National Park through to Vancouver via Kamloops. In between spotting coyotes, bears, bald eagles and big-horned sheep (and being fed North American mega-portion meals) the highly-skilled storytelling staff narrated a fascinating tale of frontier life, the natural environment and adventure. Their rich stories brought the landscape to life with human endeavour, loss, love and triumph.

Both the Museum Hack tour and the Rocky Mountaineer guides highlighted for me the colour, life and emotional hook that a highly-skilled storyteller can bring to an experience – whether that experience is an artwork or a landscape.

Libraries are institutions that are full of stories. Stories about collections and collectors, stories about communities, stories about people. The challenge is how libraries can tell stories in playful, engaging ways to appeal to broader audiences.

What would a badass library hack tour look like?

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