Organizational Storytelling for Librarians: Using Stories for Effective Leadership [review]

reviewed by Laura Abbott

Organizational Storytelling for Librarians: Using Stories for Effective Leadership 
Kate Marek
Chicago, IL: ALA Editions, 2011
ISBN-13: 978-0-8389-1079-5, softcover
120 pages, $50.00

The children’s librarian should not be the only professional sharing stories in the library on a regular basis. According to author Kate Marek, a Professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Dominican University, those with library leadership positions will want to increase their organizational storytelling ability in order to more successfully communicate values and vision and to initiate change.  In Organizational Storytelling for Librarians: Using Stories for Effective Leadership, Marek points out that the power of narrative comes from the storyteller’s ability to tell his or her own authentic stories in order to create meaningful bonds and to inspire people.

Marek’s intent is to enable librarians to begin developing and utilizing leadership storytelling skills, and through her fluid writing style, solid content, and efficient organization, she succeeds with this endeavor. She writes, “You must engage a listener’s heart as well as his mind if you truly want to generate commitment for change or for a new idea.  Stories pull the listener in and make individual human connections that data and information alone cannot make” (9).

The author acts as a motivational cheerleader inspiring the reader to discover the simple power of story that is in each of us.  She divides organizational storytelling into four basic concepts that can be easily used by managers based on their library’s needs: communicating visions and values through storytelling, using stories to navigate change, using stories to build community, and telling stories through buildings.  An example of some of the useful advice Marek gives is “Telling your own personal story with honesty and humility, especially in terms of things you have learned along the way, opens you up to connections with others and at the same time provides a unique mechanism for them to understand your values and priorities” (22).

Marek sees the vital importance and potential power of libraries in the community and explains that “the library is the perfect place to facilitate sharing [of stories]. In doing so, the library expands its role from a community information resource to a key player in transforming community” (51). Throughout the book, the author gives real-life examples of library leaders who have used storytelling to improve their position and that of their library in the community. For those who need a little more confidence boosting in the art of storytelling, the last chapter includes practical tips on how to build and strengthen organizational storytelling skills.

Written in a clear and straight-forward style, this relatively quick read is enhanced with chapter notes, a lengthy current resources list, and an index. I would recommend that any public, school, or academic librarian make room for it in the staff resource collection, especially if he or she wants to find new ways to communicate ideas and to build trust whether it is with coworkers, a library’s governing body, or with the public.

Laura Abbott is the Children’s Services Librarian at the Nampa Public Library.