Revealing ‘Who We Are’ Through Shared Stories

Posted on November 22, 2019

by Ryan D

One Astor House resident recalled life on the farm, where her family’s icebox stored milk and a fireplace warmed the home. Another shared the fear she felt with her mother as the radio broadcasted news of attacks on Pearl Harbor. A third attendee discussed moonlight storytelling gatherings as a child in Nigeria, particularly his grandparents’ tales of animals and morality.

Every account helps shape the Who We Are program. The Library story sharing program began this year with customers at branch locations. It grew to outreach with different local organizations, such as Astor House, an assisted living facility in Holland. Participants felt their stories mattered, and shared time with people happy to listen, said Julie Erhart-Walton, circulation supervisor at Sanger Branch.

Storytelling Together

“They all live together in the same community, but were telling each other stories they had not shared in their group,” Erhart-Walton said. “What I hope is, they took away more of the things they have in common amongst themselves, and it deepened their relationships.”

Prompts encourage discussion on topics such as memorable experiences and wonderful traditions while growing up. Who We Are has held 17 public events this year for 183 people. Two more public sessions are planned, including a December return to Astor House. Another 143 staff members at Toledo Library have also taken part. This first year focused on community bonding, with a 2020 goal of reaching more people.

They all live together in the same community, but were telling each other stories they had not shared in their group.
Julie Erhart-Walton
Circulation supervisor at Sanger Branch

A Civic Dialogue

Erhart-Walton said these are times when many people feel disconnected from one another. The Library is a trusted local source that can host meaningful face-to-face interactions. Storytelling builds community through empathy, connection and conversation, she said.

“We are a place that people from different walks of life congregate on a regular basis. If you think about the Library as a pillar of social infrastructure, this is one way we advance it – this idea of civic dialogue, asking people to come together and just recognize the humanity of each other,” Erhart-Walton said.

Who We Are is just one way the Library serves customers through an exchange of information and ideas. Consider the countless ways to branch out with neighbors. Book groups, movie nights and gallery exhibits are just a few of the experiences open for all.

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