Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Proto-type of a story-based information retrieval system for libraries

Sometimes, it is easier for me to communicate my thoughts via a slide presentation, rather than textual information. This blog post is one of those post in which I find it easier to communicate my ideas in a slide format drawing on storytelling concepts to express an online information system that I am thinking of which could be applied to the new library online public access catalogues. In this slide, the inspiration for my ideas or prototype comes from two authors: Schank (1982) and Laurel (1993) (see their references below).


Laurel, B. (1993). Computers as theatre. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co.

Schank, R. C. (1982). Dynamic memory :A theory of reminding and learning in computers and people. Cambridge Cambridgeshire; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Corporate online storytelling: for libraries?

I found an interesting read on movements towards corporate online storytelling this week in my Twitter feed. In Elliot's (2012) article for The New York Times, I discovered that Coca Cola is about to rebrand their online presence as an online magazine. In doing so, Coca Cola's new Web site is to reflect its marketers recasting 'communications with consumers as storytelling rather than advertising.' I quote:

'Just as attention is being paid to developing content ...for brand storytelling, an appetite also exists for corporate storytelling.'
Storytelling on Coke's Web site will be 'subjective, not objective...favorable to the brands, products and interests of the Coca-Cola Company.'

'Although the content comes “with a point of view,” Mr. Brown acknowledged, “we want to be a credible source.”'

Coca Cola is also not afraid to make mistakes with their online storytelling and magazine type site. The informant Ashley Brown, director for digital communications and social media at the Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta, states:

“I’m sure we’re going to make mistakes,” he said, “and readers are going to tell us.”

Implication for libraries

I think I am ahead of my time in LIS: advocating online storytelling for library websites when the field's not quite ready for it. Currently there have been moves within library schools to dispense with storytelling courses from LIS curriculum and library education (Sturm, 2010). Further, within LIS, librarians have predominantly seen storytelling as a service to children (Sturm, 2010). This is despite the fact that there is a growing interest in storytelling and the professionalization of storytelling for adults (Sturm, 2010). In fact, there is also growing interest in corporations for corporate storytelling (Greene & Del Negro, 2010). Hence, while business schools are becoming more interested in offering storytelling courses (Marek, 2011), library schools are thinking about getting rid of them altogether.

In my view, there needs to be a course within library schools that will deals with institutional digital storytelling. This is because, in the age of social media and Library 2.0, libraries need to move online and tell their stories. Libraries need to find ways of connecting with their users and potential users in the online world. We need content on our websites and a social media presence that is constantly updated and engaging, reminding our users that we are a channel to credible information sources. Our Websites must now be more like blogs or online magazines, with a constant flow of information. We should not only tell users what we have, but also post commentaries and view points, to represent the information that we have within our collections. In short, we need to take a page from Coca Cola's book on corporate storytelling. If Coca Cola is thinking about becoming a publisher, why not libraries?

Libraries are already telling stories within their walls. We have countless exhibits and exhibitions within our walls and some libraries have taken these and posted them on their websites. However, our practices are all being done without examining the theories of good storytelling, digital storytelling and even the theories of institutional or corporate storytelling. My questions are:
  • Are library professionals equipped to tell good stories online and offline? 
  • Are library professionals able to recognise what stories are worthy of being told?
Storytelling can be fictional, non-fictional or a mixture of realism with fiction as in the case with life writing or organisational storytelling. Libraries can use parables to tell stories that convey a truth about how libraries work. Libraries can tell stories to workers within the libraries or even to the users and other outsiders of the library.  In fact, I have written 3 blogs posts about how libraries can use storytelling to their advantage (See blog post 1, blog post 2 and blog post 3). However, none of these posts even begin to speak to how libraries can use online storytelling to attract library users and engage them in using the library's online or physical services. This is a gap that I am also studying at current.

At least one LIS scholar, Marek (2011) has begun to develop a body of knowledge on organisational storytelling for libraries, though aimed at library managers and administrators (see my blog post on Kate Marek) Hopefully, I will be able to develop a course after completing my comprehensive examinations and research proposal that will also address this issue. For indeed, from the start of my PhD program, my original interest has always been in using the Web and folklore to design a more engaging experience for library users. And so far, I have felt that my extensive readings have equipped me with the theoretical knowledge to do so.


Elliott, Stuart. (2012, November 11). Coke Revamps Web Site to Tell Its Story. The New York Times. Retrieved from:

Greene, E., & Del Negro, J. M. (2010). Storytelling: Art and technique (4th ed.). Santa Barbara, California, Denver, Colorado, Oxford, England: Libraries Unlimited.

Marek, K. (2011). Organizational storytelling for librarians: Using stories for effective leadership. Chicago: American Library Association.

Sturm, B. (2010) Storytelling. In  Bates, M. J., & Maack, M. N. Encyclopedia of library and information sciences (3rd ed.). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press. 

Notebooks as information sources for academic libraries?

This week I stumbled upon a link to an academic conference showcasing: scholarship on note taking and note writing entitled Duly Noted: The Past, Present and Future of Note-Taking. I appreciated reading the blurb for the conference as it did provide a case that studying note taking and writing notes are important as writing does play a role in oral processes and oral communication in our modern or post modern world.

According to the blurb posted by Stockman (2012), note taking scholarship involves the study of the activity of "jotting down of things people say". To study this, researchers analyze the artifacts or objects of  note books or written notes.This area is perhaps difficult to study, as notes are meant to be ephemeral, and those surviving do so because their disposal was neglected by their creators and eventually found their way into libraries and other institutions that took steps to careful preserve them.

Another area of study in note taking scholarship is the annotation of books. This involves the study of the notes that people make in published books. Based on the blurb, it seems that one of the data source which one could use to observe note taking is academia, especially college students, who both take notes based on lectures as well as may annotate their text books. Stockman (2012) does point out that this practice is not only a feature of modern times, but indicate that note taking has been a practice seemingly as old as the history of writing.  Torah and Talmud scholars have engaged in note taking practice and textual commentary, as well as ancient scholars noted stuff on clay tablets and parchment.

Why should we care?

It is easy to note that not all persons write notes that are legible and that not all notes are useful. However, libraries have always had the knack for sorting through the universe of information and selecting very useful resources and information that are relevant to meeting the information needs of their present and even future communities.

Notes are in fact ephemeral information sources, usually done for the purpose of reminding or preserving something for memory. It is clear that today, people engage in digital note taking and that even some blogs and Twitter may function as that for some persons like myself. I note stuff to retrieve it later for future use when it becomes relevant to do so. However, even noting stuff in a public media reveals that a person believes that his or her personal notes can have some public value, beyond private use, study and purposes. This brings me to the issue of libraries and how they should view or treat notes and note books and even annotated textbooks.

Position 1: Libraries should collect notes and notebooks. Especially university libraries. And especially student notes from a course. And even notes from faculty. 

This is based on the assumption that students who have completed a course would be interested in sharing their notes or donating their notebooks to some repository to help other students. I can remember from my own university days, that students voluntarily passed on their notebooks and course materials to other students pursuing the course that they already completed.

Another assumption I have made is that university students would seek out course material from previous years and want to access such material to get a sense of what a course is like and what may be covered. Again there is no guarantee that the notes taken from a previous year will be covered in the present, but it may still be useful to the students.

Most importantly, faculty would be the greatest beneficiaries of such note taking preservation strategies, as faculty would be able to view what students noted and compare with their own notes. In addition, new and old faculty could both benefit, by reviewing what was covered in a previous course.

Position 2: Libraries should have at least one copy of an undergraduate textbook to be dubbed the annotated copy.
While libraries prefer users not to annotate their resources, they should in my opinion reserve and permit at least one resource (out of mutliple copies) to be annotated by students with pen or pencil. The rationale for this is kind of weird, born both out of personal experience and experience with the current Web 2.0 trends.

In a weird way, I believe that students like to see what others who have read the book before have to say about it and especially specific points. I myself enjoy looking at what others thought about an idea expressed by the author. I have read books annotated by others that have commented on which points expressed by the author was weak or strong. In addition I have read  a book where a student annotated unfamiliar words to a more familiar words so that one would not have to reach for the dictionary to look them up. As such, the practice I believe is a useful one for students who read the book after, depending on quality of the annotation.

In addition, Biblical scholars also annotate and intersperse the Bible with commentaries and notes. In the online world, this practice is resurrected, with many persons commenting on books read and other media and publishing those comments for other to see. It is therefore in my opinion, human and natural for persons to annotate and comment on ideas in books, and have an interest in what others found interesting, important or useful in a book. This permits conversation.

However, the problems with this is that, like the online world of practical jokers (or trolls) and the offline world of bathroom graffiti artists, we will have some useless and poor quality annotations. Quality control would be an issue, but I do not think that this has to be a limitation that prevents libraries from even experimenting with this practice.


Stockman, Sebastian.  (2012, November 9). Duly noted: The past, present, and future of note-taking.  The Altantic Retrieved from:

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Caribbean student's pre-assessment of the library school at Western University

As a library person trained in the only English-speaking library school in the Caribbean region, it is good for me to do my doctoral studies up north, where I can be exposed to another dimension of global librarianship.
My own library school at University of Western Ontario (now called Western University) is very interesting in how its organised and how it carries out the mandate of preparing the next generation of librarians and information professionals of the future.

First of all, the library school is shared with the school for journalism, media studies, popular music and culture, with the recent addition of a section for health information science. These are all included under what is dubbed the 'interdisciplinary' Faculty of Information and Media Studies.

Another interesting thing about the library school here at Western University is that the faculty tend to highly value the perspectives of political economy and critical studies. Analysis and the study of library issues by many faculty members tend to reflect Marxist, feminist and other postmodernist theoretical perspectives applied to analyzing the issues of library development. I personally come to the conclusion that the library school emphasizes that librarians must approach their work, the profession and their research with personal values and ideologies, while critiquing how the institutions of libraries and other information environments are being affected by neo-liberal agendas, ideologies and hegemony.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

My own thoughts about my future research trajectory

This is perhaps a more personal post than previous on this blog. In this post, I express my own thoughts on my own role as a scholar and academic in the landscape of social media research.

I recently reflected on my first publication of an article on Facebook, which was the first research that engaged me and made me come alive (Scale, 2008). I also reflect on my current research on blogs. Back in 2007, I consciously chose to focus on Facebook and social media as an area of specialisation in the first place because, in coming to academia, I saw myself as not being an expert on the areas that my senior colleagues were in and wanted to master an area that they themselves were not experts in. Hence, my decision to target the virgin territory of emerging and new technologies.

This has in fact become my research trajectory for the next decade or so. The research story that I want to tell over the next decade of my life (if all things remain constant) is the story of how social media makes us more human. Instead of destroying our human identity, social media is actually reconstructing how we as human beings deal with meaning, existence and life in the everyday profound and mundane events and moments.

Everything that human beings have been doing for centuries in coping with their existence, grappling with who we are and formulating our identities continue online. Whether it is playing pranks on others (online trolling), gossiping, forming friendships, attacking enemies, to the more positive of telling our stories, sharing our experiences and knowledge, we all as human beings are just doing what what those before us did, but only digitally recording our actions, stories and events in our lives.

I am reminded that posting personal information on Facebook, Twitter or on a blog makes me more human. Such acts presents me as a real person that possess experiences  thoughts, feelings and ideas that another person can relate to. Like for instance, I posted over this week a comment:
"Sometimes you work on and rewrite a paper so much that you get tired of the subject and no longer want to do it."
This attracted number of unexpected like and comments that re-affirmed to me the value of academics blogging. The fact is that scholars and academic persons can be intimidating, especially for their students. Students who see these great lecturers and professors who have many publications and come to class as a repository of knowledge, feel that these persons are sometimes not human. Caribbean students in my experience see such persons as walking encyclopedias, especially if they are able to roll of their tongues the ideas disembodied in books and other publications. However, academics, by posting personal information online can reveal the other side to their identity. That they err, make mistakes and have feelings like everyone else. That they themselves have struggles that their students can relate to.

This is why I guess that I will continue to blog and post personal stuff online despite the fact that we live in a time of surveillance, and where nothing one post on the Internet is truly forgotten. For me the issue is that what we post and share online is just a fraction of ourselves in a moment and does not represent our constantly evolving identity.

When I return to the Caribbean (all things remaining constant), I believe that my task is to be the scholar and expert on how we as a Caribbean people, like  the rest of the globe, appropriate social media to demonstrate and express our humanity, while participating in global documentary practices that leave traces or digital 'foot/hand prints' of who we are, what we have done and how we are connected to and related to the rest of the world.


Scale, Mark-Shane Everett. "Facebook as a Social Search Engine and the Implications for Libraries in the Twenty-first Century." Library Hi Tech 26.4 (2008): 540-56.