Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Narrating the library catalogue revisited

This post emerges as reflection on discussions with various persons about the library's reader advisory services and how the OPAC can help in this process. If you have been following this blog for a while, you will recall that I have been working on papers as well as presentations on how one can narrate (or use storytelling techniques) to present OPAC results. From the varied interactions with persons on this subject, my thoughts on this subject matter has evolved considerably.

A fellow PhD, after attending a presentation on my thoughts on the idea of using storytelling in the OPAC, mentioned to me that  many catalogues are adding readers' recommendations and advisories. For example, she noted Toronto Public library, sending me this example. She further suggested that by using readers' recommendations and advisories, librarians do not have to be responsible for the content; instead the content will be supplied by the system and the users or readers that generate it. She further pointed out that summaries and reviews incorporated in OPACs can be retrieved from APIs (e.g., Amazon, or some other sites). I have also personally attested to this myself in a previous blog posting, whereby using readers' reviews from goodreads.com, I was able to construct some picture of what a particular book was about. The same is true for Amazon.

In these cases, user generated reviews, stories or narratives about what a book or document is about, are already to some extent being incorporated into library OPACs  as alternatives information sources to inform or signal to other readers the potential content one can expect to find in a book. This is important, because for some books, like graphic novels, one needs to be made aware in advance, what one might see (or not see). However, I will get back to this point in another post, in which I hope to tackle graphic novels in libraries as a separate reflection.

Library helps homeless "bum" to earn from Web technologies

In a previous post, I gave my unsubstantiated opinion on the role for libraries in the economic sphere. Well, in this post, I just want to substantiate my viewpoint using a story published in the Publishers Weekly. Hanagarne (2013), in an article published by Publishers Weekly details the story of a friendly homeless gentleman, called "Scott", who was a patron of the Salt Lake City Public Library at which Hanagarne is employed. This regular patron of the library would often rent a laptop computer. One day he asked the librarian for advice, and Hanagarne was sent to help him. In this encounter, Hanagarne learned that the homeless gentleman has all these years of renting the laptop, been using it to work on building his own game. In the words of Hanagarne:

[Scott] explained to me that he’d been dividing his time between the Salt Lake City Public Library and the University Library up the street, teaching himself computer programming languages. Each time I’d seen him with a game on his computer, it wasn’t a game he was playing; it was apparently a game he was building.
“What gave you the idea to do this?” I said.
It was like he had stepped out of a library advocacy brochure. “Just decided that I didn’t want to be a bum anymore,” he said. “Got sober and decided to try to learn how to be around people again, so hopefully I can learn how to be useful. This city’s got services I can use, and it’s nice to have a shelter for sleeping and showering, but education’s how you get off the bottom.” He spread his arms and gestured around the building. “And this is the education I can get. And I’m trying to teach what I’ve learned to some of the other homeless so they can have a little dignity again.”
“So you feel like the library can give you dignity?” I said.
“I don’t feel like it can,” he said, “I feel like it does, no matter what, no matter who you are. If you’ve never been in a situation like mine, you might not be able to need this place in the same way I need it, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need it just as much, in a different way, you know what I’m saying?”  
After hearing Scott's story, the librarian took the opportunity to suggest means whereby Scott could earn from his website and eventually the homeless gentleman started to profit from ad clicks. This lovely true story illustrates that the library is indeed an institution positioned to play a role in improving the economic opportunities of those who are impoverished. In fact, Hanagarne provides evidence that it was even the printout, from the library’s website, of the Salt Lake City Public Library’s mission statement that helped to inspire this homeless man to educate and teach himself. I quote:

The City Library is a dynamic civic resource that promotes free and open access to information, materials and services to all members of the community to advance knowledge, foster creativity, encourage the exchange of ideas, build community and enhance the quality of life

Pay attention to these last words "enhance the quality of life". While improving people's quality of life is not our only purpose, it is and should be a purpose of all public and even academic libraries. At the end of the day, our patrons, through using our resources should be able to impact their economic well-being and thereby improve the quality of their lives, of which Scott's testimony should remind us all.


Hanagarne, J. (2013, Apr 26). How becoming a librarian saved me. Publishers Weekly Retrieved from

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The library's function in the economic sphere

This week, I have been doing some reading related to teaching a course to MLIS students on Managing and working in information organizations. Some of the readings I have been doing involve the critical theories. Notwithstanding the interesting critical perspectives that I have read, I have a longstanding bias when it comes to library services, that is functionalist and supportive of neo-liberal economy. It is on this subject that I would like to rant on a bit.

Someone once gave me a simple explanation of business theory. Businesses either want to save money or earn money. And it is this philosophy that I take with me to libraries, that libraries are supportive to the economy by either helping people to save money or earn money. While we have a role to play in the public sphere towards supporting democracy and informed citizenship, these higher ideals, if we adopt the Maslow's hierarchy of needs, are secondary when people are concerned about basic economic survival in a turbulent economic environment and global recession. In this regard, the impoverished citizen is more concerned about savings, investing and earning, than in accessing information to make informed choices for participation in the public sphere. Those who are indebted,  unemployed, or even underemployed, need to be provided with information to help them turn their situation around, and I believe that libraries are institutions in a position to do this.

For those of you familiar with the story of Andrew Carnegie, you should be able to agree with me that libraries have been places to support the economy since the creation of public libraries for the masses. From Carnegie's story, I have seen libraries as places that help to create industries and entrepreneurs. Those who are willing to come in and search for information about gaps in the market or documented unmet needs and opportunities, can be in a position to think about new ways to meet those needs or seize those opportunities. In providing such seekers with the space and information to do that, libraries can offer support to budding entrepreneurs (whether in public, special or academic libraries).

For me, libraries function as spaces to reduce the imperfect information that exist in markets. Consumers by approaching the library can be better informed about the goods and services they wish to purchase or consume. Government, can publish neutral information on suppliers and make it available for consumers, as well as information on regulations and compliance by suppliers in the markets to standards. Further, persons can use the library to find information to lead them into becoming members of the labour market or even disruptive entrepreneurs themselves, bringing change, new products and services to the market.

Libraries also employ persons as well as purchase and consume information and technology products, supporting publishing and technological industries. Yet, for me this is the subsidiary role of libraries. Our major economic role should be creating spaces for the public to participate in economic activity, as well as to reduce the imperfect flow of information in markets. This I feel can be an effective defence of libraries to economists and to those administrators working within the neo-liberal paradigm.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Brief thesis update and "Storytelling on Blogs?"

It has been a while that I have blogged, since completing my comprehensive examination. I have now started the proposal. So, the new topic/title of my proposed thesis proposed is something like this:

"A study of entrepreneur blogs as social information spaces, information sources and sources of personal and organizational storytelling/narratives ."

Essentially, I am looking to do a content analysis of entrepreneur blogs to see the types of information they provide and if stories are also included. I am currently working on the proposal. Right now I am at the point in the proposal, where I am conceptualizing and theorizing about storytelling in blogs. One of the essential question is: Can blogs tell stories? Another question is: How does storytelling in blogs differ from oral storytelling? I would like to spend the rest of this blog posting beginning to frame answers to these two questions.

Blogs as platforms for storytelling

Without a doubt, there are persons out there that view blogs as being a platform for telling stories or personal narratives, especially for stories or narratives based on one's own life experiences. This idea is prevalent in a 2006 Pew Internet study on American bloggers that referred to bloggers as being the ‘Internet’s new storytellers’ in reference to their blogging mostly about personal life stories and experiences (Lenhart & Fox, 2006). Arguably, prior to the emergence of blogs and blogging, the Web was a place for hypertextual and hyperlinked documents, and to a lesser extent, a place for conversations through chat rooms and discussion fora. Laurel (2001) further suggests that the Web became a platform for storytelling largely due to the birth of blogging. Blogs in her view enriched the Web as a significant development in computer-based  or computer-mediated storytelling. Laurel argues that blogs enabled personal meta-storytelling on the Web, transforming Web search from a publishing and storage medium of hyperlinked documents to one also enriched by blogs with shared life experiences. Laurel’s views are also supported by Langellier and Peterson (2004), that argue that “one example of storytelling on the Internet” is the growth and emergence of “online journals and diaries” (p.160). These according to Langellier and Peterson (2004) recapitulate past experience and personal narratives of events.

How does blog storytelling differ from oral storytelling?

Langellier and Peterson suggest that blogs, while not being the same as oral communication, approximate oral communication more than traditional documents and written communication. They make the case that blogs are more like personal correspondence and writing than novels or newspapers.  Blogs make one's personal experience public. Yet the making of that experience public, does not change the intimate storytelling feel that accompanies oral storytelling. One by reading a blog, feels that a person is speaking personally to them. Blog readers express the views that while reading a blog, they feel that they are in the company of the blogger. Bloggers on the other hand, reveal the view that when blog readers respond to their blog posts, they feel a connection of familiarity as if those persons hanged out with them.

Langellier and Peterson make the case that blogs are like another window to real life, and that reading or writing blogs require bodily participation and is not a question of disembodied communication. People bodily participate in blogs by “the labour of vision” and through participation with their hands and keyboards, but forgoing "the obligation of reciprocal exchange” (Langellier & Peterson, 2004, p. 167). For Langellier and Peterson, blogs "extend the body's capability for storytelling", enabling storytelling to not be limited by geographic separation of the storyteller from the audience.


Langellier, K., & Peterson, E. E. (2004). Storytelling in daily life: Performing narrative. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Laurel, B. (2001). Utopian entrepreneur. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Lenhart, A., & Fox, S. (2006). Bloggers: A portrait of the internet’s new storytellers. pew internet & american life project. ( No. 2012). Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/~/media//Files/Reports/2006/PIP%20Bloggers%20Report%20July%2019%202006.pdf.pdf

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The library's role in edutainment: Supporting learning through fiction

In this blog post I wish to clarify an issue arising from a previous posting on this blog. The issue is the place of libraries in the 21st century. In a previous blog post, I argued against libraries seeking to establish themselves as places or spaces for recreation, and rather seek to market themselves as places and spaces for job creation and support for entrepreneurship. I was in conversation with a librarian, that hinted that libraries have always had a recreational role, which need to be reclaimed and not just an informational role. As such, I would like to take this opportunity to extend on the views, indicating that I do see value in libraries getting involved in what I call an edutainment role.

From my interactions with older librarians (especially school and public librarians), I know for a fact that we as librarians have understood for a long time the value of fiction in helping students learn to read and become literate. However, providing recreational material in my opinion is subsidiary to the goal of the intellectual development of users.

Hence there is a place for the provision of fictional stories and even games and gaming in libraries.
I recently read this article by Barack (2013) in the School Library Journal that illustrates how students can learn better writing and computer coding skills from fictional storytelling and even gaming. In Barrack (2013) students create interactive fiction game based on natural language that in turn helps them improve their writing skills by doing so.

The whole idea of learning skills from fictional storytelling is something that I am discovering for myself as I conduct research on storytelling and how such storytelling is being used by institutions and organizations (including the military) to prepare and train people for the future roles and work. It is within this framework, in which I am re-examining even the library's traditional organization of materials into fiction versus non-fiction shelving systems. While we currently separate these materials, I question the need to do so, especially in the online environment.

Two experiments that I have done using a small metropolitan Canadian library's Online Public Access Catalogue (OPAC) has confirmed to me that we can as librarians provide multiple ways for users to know about their world, through both non-fiction and fictional information sources.

For example, how would you like to learn survival skills if lost in a forest? Through reading a How to guide book for living in a forest? A newspaper article or a novel? Well it so happened that I was searching for a book on rivers (for my graphic novel idea) and came across a fictional book with the title The river that based on reviews seem to teach survival skills or at least it feeds the imagination for one to imagine the scenarios where they may actually need to learn to cope and survive: (See http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2915.The_River). Another experiment can be seen in my Narrating the OPAC presentation, where I discovered based on the OPAC entry for a fiction book based in a restaurant setting, that there was a section in that book containing recipes.

Further, after reading Roger Schank's Dynamic Memory, where he makes the case that people learn by indexing stories in memory, and being able to later retrieve something from such stories when they need to deal with a problem that calls for such information, I am convinced that one can learn much from reading fictional stories, especially those based on reality as opposed to fantasy (with the exception of science fantasy/fiction of course). This I even understand better as I attempt to research and gather information to inform my graphic novel.

Hence even fictional stories based on real experiences do convey some information and truths about our world. Hence fiction storytelling has an appropriate place in libraries for the purpose of informing readers about their world and preparing them with the problem solving skills needed for future societal roles. Hence, like Laurel (2001), I am definitely concerned about the stories that are told today. For while art imitates real life, people in real life, also imitate art.


Barack, L. (2013, April 3). California 10th graders improve their writing skills—Through an interactive fiction game. School Library Journal. Retrieved from http://www.thedigitalshift.com/2013/04/k-12/kids-game-class-teacher-approves-jason-sellerss-students-build-interaction-fiction-games-and-improve-their-writing-skills/

Laurel, B. (2001). Utopian entrepreneur. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Schank, R. C. (1999). Dynamic memory :A theory of reminding and learning in computers and people. Cambridge Cambridgeshire; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The future of readers' advisory: Will technologies usurp this role of libraries?

So I am now back from my social media break and ready to blog again, especially about the interesting things I am reading and discovering on the Web. One such reading that I found interesting this week is the article by Grant (2013) on  Trapit (Siri's relative) and an iPad app that uses natural language processing to recommend content to read. In short, Trapit offers the possibility of readers' advisory, a service that has traditionally been offered by libraries.

For the uninitiated, readers' advisory is a service provided by libraries, whereby librarians, based on an understanding of the reading or information needs and preferences of their users, provide guidance or advice about resources or readings that users should consider reading next.  Reitz (2012) explains that such a service is provided by:
an experienced public services librarian who specializes in the reading needs of the patrons of a public library. A readers' advisor recommends specific titles and/or authors, based on knowledge of the patron's past reading preferences, and may also compile lists of recommended titles and serve as liaison to other education agencies in the community.
While traditionally, reader advisory would be a service offered by libraries, technology is rapidly usurping that role. With Internet developments, such as recommender systems provided by Amazon and Google Books, users do not need to interface with library personnel in order to get suggestions about what to read next. Technology now offers to look at what we have read in the past and our preferences, using these to predict what else may be of interest to us.

Going back to specific app called Trapit, I already see application of this software within large companies with many documents. Grant (2013) suggests that Trapit has the capability to personalize business news and internal reports, for employees to quickly access information relevant to them without searching for it.

Prior to learning about Trapit, I was of the view that artificial intelligent conversational agents (or chatbots) could also play roles as readers' advisors if programmed to ask questions and recommend books based on user responses. However, to explain this, I will need to write an entire technical paper and not just a blog post. Sufficient to say that Rubin, Chen & Thorimbert (2010) have already proposed that libraries use agent for storytelling and for even leading book discussions. Hence, agents can talk about books, though requiring initial and continual human investment in time to update and make them useful. Trapit in contrast, promises to require little or no input from staff, but only end users.

To conclude, the readers' advisory service of libraries seems to be one that will change in the near future. As more persons adopt tablet and other computing devices, our libraries will perhaps play a role in training users to use and customise the technologies for content recommendations, rather than actually engage  in face-to-face dialogue for making recommendations of titles for reading. In fact, such services could also be built automatically in our future (if not present) online catalogues and other electronic systems.


Grant, R. (2013, April 3). Content-recommendation app Trapit grows up, enters formidable world of publishing. VentureBeat. Retrieved from http://venturebeat.com/2013/04/03/siris-little-brother-trapit-grows-up-enters-formidable-world-of-publishing/

Reitz, J. M. (2012). ODLIS: Online dictionary for library and information science. Retrieved from http://www.abc-clio.com/ODLIS/searchODLIS.aspx

Rubin, V. L., Chen, Y. & Thorimbert, L. M. (2010). Artificially intelligent conversational agents in libraries Library Hi Tech, 28(4), 496-522.