We’ve chatted with the crew at Mid-Continent Public Library before, particularly for a series about their serial fiction project, “The Timely Adventures of Rachel Evans”. Today we’re talking with Andie Paloutzian, Story Center Program Manager, who fills us in on the fantastic suite of resources and programs for writers known as the Story Center. Thank you to Emily Brown, Public Relations Coordinator, for organizing this feature for us!

From the Story Center website:

The Story Center will offer materials, resources, programming, and options for showcasing the print, oral, and digital stories created within. The aspiration is to build a nationally-celebrated center which houses and inspires the art of the story.

Library as Incubator Project (LAIP): What’s the elevator speech re: The Story Center?

Andie Paloutzian (AP): Our mission at The Story Center is to build the capacity of individuals to create and share stories. It sounds simple, but there’s so much to it. We offer a huge listing of workshops and events to get people started or develop their skills further. We bring storycrafters together so they can build new communities and network—with peers and sympathetic strivers alike, and we support them by having a world-class collection of storytelling resources—which includes our Espresso Book Printing Machine. It’s an extraordinary privilege to have the opportunity to assist individuals in creating content that Mid-Continent Public Library can then curate. We also promote a broader understanding of literacy by introducing opportunities to develop communication and self-expression skills through storytelling.

LAIP: Can you tell us a little bit about the impetus for the Story Center? How did it get started, what gap did it fill, etc.?

AP: The Story Center was the brain-child of our CEO and Library Director, Steven V. Potter. Initially, it was meant to be a writing center, contained within the historic home on the Woodneath Library Center grounds. The Espresso Book Machine was always part of this plan. Soon after opening the Woodneath Library Center in 2013, the Library system turned its collective attention to this project and set about expanding its boundaries to be more creative and all-encompassing. We were fortunate that at that time the National Storytelling Network was also seeking a new home. Once that partnership was solidified in November 2013, The Story Center started programming. We cater to writers of all levels, subjects, or genres, but we also develop oral storytellers, brand storytellers, and digital storytellers. Story doesn’t thrive in medium. Our programming has grown to illustrate that. We also showcase published authors who are willing to share their writing process.

Woodneath Library Center Campus. Photo provided by MCPL.

Espresso Book Machine. Photo provided by MCPL.

LAIP: Were patrons and/or members of the writing community involved in the development of the Story Center’s resources/services/etc., and how do you evaluate the resources now that the Story Center has been around for a while?

AP: Absolutely. In the very beginning, the MCPL administration reached out to The Writers Place of Kansas City, one of the best-known advocates in our area for the written word. They were the first programmatic partner. Since then, we have allied our interests with the National Storytelling Network, Rainy Day Books (a local, independent bookstore), and about 20 other regional arts advocacy groups. Additionally, the programming has evolved based on the input from customers. At the close of any given workshop or event, customers are surveyed. We use those comments to build the next season of programming. In addition to what we are doing in our own neighborhood, we also make trips to national conferences like the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention, which hosts 3,500 aspiring writers and 600 published authors every year. We are constantly seeking new perspectives and ideas for new avenues to develop our storycrafters. Feedback is always welcome.

Writers at a recent NaNoWriMo program at the Story Center. Photo provided by MCPL.

LAIP: What are some of the most popular aspects of the Story Center?

AP: Our Story Center Speaker Series is a crowd favorite. We host amazing authors for Q&As on everything from inspiration to publishing choices. It is a fan-favorite as much as it is a classroom moment. Most notably, we have seen Gillian Flynn, David Morrell, Rainbow Rowell, and Sara Paretsky. We have hosted 36 authors since October 2013. We are also onto our third year of the Local Author Fair, which is held each year in December. This is a great event that allows us to bring in authors who are newer in their careers and give them a chance to engage with customers and feel as popular as someone like Jen Mann, author of Spending the Holidays with People I Want to Punch in the Throat. In addition, we try to offer programming that appeals to teens. Our previous nine-week digital storytelling program for teens, taught by Kansas City filmmaker Brad Austin, is a great example.

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