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Lend Us Your Story
Rochester Public Library, NYGo to Website
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Innovation SummaryLend Us Your Story, a collaboration between RPL and the City of Rochester, invited residents to record stories about how the library has impacted their lives. Three winners selected from hundreds of submissions. All videos were on the City website and were used to illustrate the critical role of libraries.
Prior to developing the project, the library found itself in competition with other city departments for rapidly shrinking resources. Previous library directors had not done a good job of advocating for urban library services, and had not adequately expressed the fact that library services are as critical as fire and police. During the recession, every city department had to reduce spending, but few department heads knew about any specific library programs and services, putting the library at a disadvantage. Lend Us Your Story provided a powerful entry into the lives of city residents representing multiple ages and ethnicities, all of whom had a story to share. The value of the library in an urban environment is critical to a city’s residents, and these stories recorded specific, moving, sometimes amusing anecdotes about how access to library services has changed people’s lives. No other City department has such a direct line to customer experiences displayed in such an accessible way. These stories have provided poignant insight for City administration and City Council concerning what libraries mean to urban residents.
The process began with an idea forum, where the problem was presented as: “How do we get and share the personal stories of how libraries impact the lives of City residents.” Staff felt strongly that the project had to be multimedia in nature, and directly involve library users. RPL staff had been doing some interesting things with video recording, primarily due to a bulk purchase of Flip video cameras by the Friends & Foundation of RPL. A staff person, Ove Overmyer, who had extensive experience shooting and editing video was recruited to head the project team. City Communications was approached and asked to partner with the library on the project, which resulted in excellent media coverage and promotion of the project. Overmyer believed that the key to getting good stories recorded was to offer recording sessions, similar to Story Corps, at each branch location and at the Central Library. Branch managers were asked to advertise the project and recruit participants. Overmyer then spent a month traveling to all 10 branches and Central, where he met with patrons and recorded their stories. Almost 200 videos were submitted in total, including several from City Council members and one from the Mayor of Rochester. At the end of the submission stage, all the videos were made available on the City and library websites via the City’s YouTube channel. A media campaign encouraged people to view the videos and vote for their favorites. At the end of the voting period, three winners were revealed in a media event at the Central Library. All winners were children or teens, with two of them being refugees from Somalia and Bhutan.
The desired outcomes of the project included an increased awareness for funders of the critical role libraries play in the City of Rochester, and an improvement in the political position of the library. Both have been achieved. City managers, council members, residents, news media, and other legislators are far more aware of the role of libraries in city life today. The Rochester Mayor has stated many times that he believes libraries are critical to the cultural and educational environment of a city, and that closing or dramatically reducing library services would “culturally bankrupt” the city, something he is not willing to do. The project has prompted investment in our city libraries by city government and private donors, and has resulted in the city funding a study of branch library services to help the library evolve and provide even better services to the community. In addition, the city has applied for a planning grant to study the creation of collaborative campus of services to include a high school, library, recreation center, and neighborhood services center in the northwest quadrant of Rochester.