A university-wide transformational restructure in 2014 provided a rare opportunity to change the organisational structure of La Trobe University Library, as well as the services offered and the way in which we worked. By mid-2015, the new structure was in place, but the library did not have a documented strategy to provide a clear direction for library staff or to articulate how the library contributes to the university’s strategy and goals. We needed to communicate the positive impact of the changes, and what the library could now achieve, to the university community. Therefore the strategy had to be meaningful, tell a compelling story and be easily understood by all stakeholders, particularly library staff.
A storytelling method was used to elicit stories from a range of library staff that illustrated real examples of both why a change had been needed and the positive outcomes that had eventuated. A narrative framework using these new stories helped the library staff envision a new future for the library. Library stakeholders were asked for their stories of the library: what was meaningful and important for them now, and where the library should focus to provide value, enhance the work they do and actively contribute to the University strategy. The conversations that we had highlighted positive support for the library but also key issues of communication and understanding that posed a real risk for the library. The outcomes of these conversations informed and helped to identify key initiatives and focus areas for the library for the coming years.
The end result was a strategy – but not just a strategy. We now have a vehicle for telling a story that others can understand, that library staff and stakeholders can engage with and see themselves as part of. Our strategy provides a starting point for communicating the work of the library in words that others (and not just library staff) can understand. It provides clear measures of success for the library and a coherent basis for annual operational plans. It is a living document which will be reviewed annually to ensure that our story is still relevant.
Collecting and telling stories through a storytelling/narrative approach can create a strategy which is meaningful for all stakeholders and which they can relate to. The strategy itself can become a storytelling tool as it anchors the stories and the communication about the library; it provides a simple, focused, repeatable and very effective base for communication. Storytelling has also had the added advantage of identifying words which personalise our values and make them more meaningful; we can continue to collect stories to demonstrate how we embody our values.
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