Saturday, July 7, 2012

How storytelling can be used for library development? Part 1

To my small but loyal readership, I want to share with you my exciting discovery of the first library professional book that discusses storytelling as a tool for library development. That's right! I have discovered the first authors from the library and information discipline that discuss the application of storytelling to developing the library as an institution. And it was discovered in a serendipitous way, while physically browsing the library's newly acquired books for LIS and flipping through the pages. Meet Nyström and Sjögren (2012) who covers 2 whole chapters on how storytelling can be used to advance libraries. This is part 1 of my review on chapter 6 of the book that covers this topic.

While Nyström and Sjögren’s work is not wholly related to the theme of storytelling, the authors do provide in their book, two chapters that outline the use of storytelling for the development of libraries. In a chapter on customer surveys, Nyström and Sjögren outline storytelling as a both method of gathering research or collecting data from users and as a method for report and presenting data collected from surveys and interviews. In Nyström and Sjögren’s conceptualization, stories and narratives are essentially the same, and can refer to accounts of experiences that actually happened or are imagined. They conclude that stories do not provide an exact account of happenings, but are subjective, personal interpretations or constructions of events that took place.

Nyström and Sjögren focus on building a case for librarians to use storytelling in research methods to capture customer stories.   They begin this case by first establishing the history of the storytelling as a research method, explaining that narrative method was first used by historians for sharing knowledge. They provide a further timeline of the adoption of the method by other research disciplines, indicating that in the 1980s, social scientists adopted the method, using it in anthropology, ethnology, pedagogy, psychology and organizational theory.  They then discuss that in the 1990s, corporate storytelling developed especially in the United States where it was used primarily for marketing, but adapted in the 2000s as a tool for communicating internally to employees as well as externally with customers or the wider environment in which the organization existed.

Nyström and Sjögren also in building their case for the use of storytelling in library research on customers, also discuss that there is consensus on the value of studying stories to gain new perspectives and be able to analyse facts in new ways. They propose and demonstrate the use of storytelling in customer surveys as a method of obtaining information that questionnaire surveys could not collect, concluding that customer stories are rich sources of information about users’ library experiences. They suggest that these experiences can be used as a metric of quality demonstrating whether the library is of value to users and whether or not it is meeting users’ needs. As such, this information can provide the library with data to identify what needs to be improved or even generate new ideas. The authors affirm that libraries can learn from dialogue with users and from listening to customer experiences, while mentioning that storytelling can be used as both a marketing tool for libraries, as well as useful in meetings with funding organisations as well as in annual reports.

From this, I see the profession is on its way to repurpose storytelling from just an activity or service offered to our young users, to a tool that we use internally and externally to advance our noble institutions.


Nyström, V., & Sjögren, L. (2012). An evaluation of the benefits and value of libraries. Oxford, U.K.: Chandos Publishing.

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