Reflections on the Power of Storytelling

by Karen Burdnell, Clifton Branch Manager

I wonder if the folks who planned the Maryland State Library Resource Center Storytelling Conference knew how well the day would flow? The pieces all fit in so succinctly.

The keynote speaker, Ann Sheldon, librarian at Grace Episcopal Day School in Kensington, formerly of the DC Public Library, spoke about literary/bardic storytelling.  In this traditional form of storytelling, the literary narrative is memorized and recited. The practice is the epitome of paying tribute to the author’s lyricism and stylized language, and it preserves the story narrative.  Ann discovered her love of this type of storytelling as part of her training as a children’s librarian.

I shared how I was drawn into the study of storytelling at the graduate program at East Tennessee State University. There, I studied the history and psychology of storytelling, including some of the justification for including storytelling as an academic scholarly study, which can stand on its own merit in the academic community. I pointed out how storytelling is used actively in the fields of marketing, health and education.

We toured our very gracious host facility, the Maryland Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Then, we heard from Jake Hutton of Harford County Public Library. He explained how he is able to make his library more inclusive to people in the community, especially children and teens that have special needs. His own mission was galvanized by his experience as a member of an ever-increasing family who continually reached out and embraced children with special needs.

The final speaker, S. “Bunjo” Butler of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, related how he and the members of the Griots’ Circle of Maryland have devised a literary-based program which teaches youth about their history and culture and how to do research to create stories. The students then perform in the oral tradition in public venues. This program has been successfully conducted at the Walbrook Branch of the Pratt Library for 9 years.

What was the common thread I saw for this conference? It was the power of personal storytelling. Four storytellers used their personal stories to exhort and motivate our audience to look at storytelling as a means to engage the public. Four storytellers used their personal stories to offer best practices on ways to provide excellent service to our customers.  Four storytellers used their personal stories to challenge colleagues to recognize their own Call to Adventure and step out on their own Hero’s Journeys.


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