Office Hours: With a Little Twist

Next Library 2019 in Aarhus, Denmark was just as engaging and enjoyable as the first time I attended in 2017. In fact, it has become one of my favorite learning opportunities, informing my teaching and research. A conference that demands active participation, requires outside the box thinking, and reserves “the right to alterations and surprises” is an enjoyable challenge.

This time, it was even more so. Next Library accepted my proposal for a session on narrative inquiry, but “with a little twist.” I had been matched with three other people and charged with creating a single cohesive interactive session from the combined proposals!


Via email, I was introduced to Kylie Carlson, coordinator of community learning and partnerships at Yarra Libraries in Australia; Felicity Macchion, library manager at Yarra Libraries; and Jason Evans Groth, digital media librarian at North Carolina State University Libraries. We had to find the synergies between all three of our abstracts and, in the words of Tim Gunn, make it work! The experience was exactly what Next Library is all about: getting people together to learn and think in unexpected ways. Carlson echoed this sentiment in a follow up chat with me: “We found this approach was very reflective of the NEXT organisers’ strong commitment to collaboration, creativity, and the power of seeing what could unfold with a unique approach towards conference presentations.”

Here’s what I learned: This type of experience was transformative for us, and perhaps we should seek more ways to collaborate with our global colleagues in the field. Macchion agreed: “What we really enjoyed was that we all came from different library worlds—academic, public, university—yet our united message really shone through: involved librarianship that creates impactful conversations, services, and programs.”


Our abstracts were all about storytelling in its many forms. The common threads between them were using everyone’s voice to tell our stories and how to use stories to promote and make our libraries accessible and useful. What came out on the other side of several Zoom meetings, multiple email threads, various iterations of a set of slides, and a lot of thought and reflection, was an interactive session that ticked all the boxes of what an engaging and challenging workshop should be. Every step of the way, our audience members shared their own stories, from memories of summer days as children to personal stories about challenges we may all face in LIS.

I opened the session with an overview of the power of stories and a quick dive into narrative inquiry and its usefulness in gathering insightful stories for planning and strategic goals. We warmed up with some memory exercises and “on your feet’ sharing.

Carlson then shared her own story to open her part of the session. As the mother of two autistic boys, her work at Yarra has focused on inclusivity and creating a space for all types of children to enjoy stories. The Sensitive Storytime program affords all children, including those on the spectrum, a chance to participate. (Another initiative from Yarra—the Sensitive Santa program—shows how a library can provide a cherished holiday memory for children who might not be comfortable seeing Santa at a crowded mall.) The emotion in the room was palpable. Tip to presenters: be yourself, share your story honestly, and your audience will be right there with you.


Macchion introduced the group to the Libraries Change Lives program, launched at Yarra Libraries in November 2018. Developed by Public Libraries Victoria Network and State Library Victoria, the project highlights the economic and social benefits public libraries bring to the state and their service areas by capturing stories of impact. Machion led the group in an exercise in which they shared their own stories of user transformation and library impact in round robin fashion. “Everyone spoke from the heart,” Macchion told me, and the energy just grew, with participants chanting “Libraries Change Lives” as each group shared their best examples.

Carlson noted, “participants walked away inspired and in touch with the difference they make in their daily professional lives.” Even after the conference, they continue to receive messages with positive comments, and from people wanting to connect further.
In my next column, I’ll share the unique technological angle that brought it all together.

By Michael Stephens
Michael Stephens ( is Associate Professor at the School of Information, San José State University, CA

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