Sunday, September 29, 2013

Collecting library users' stories to showcase the impact of libraries

It has become a habit for me to apologise for not updating my blog as often as I ought to. Further, such an apology is accompanied by an explanation as to the reason for my absence from contributing to the blogosphere. Well, if it is acceptable for my limited but regular readership, let such a protocol be deemed to be observed.

A matter at hand has been my observation of the collection of library users' stories to showcase the impact of libraries. Fay Durrant, Jamaican LIS professor in 2006 said and wrote these words:
There is an interesting study of the use of one of the telecentres of the Jamaica Sustainable Development Network. One fisherman who knew how to access the weather reports on the Internet would each day get the forecast and explain it the others so that they could use the information to prepare for their fishing expeditions.
That story has been written up as Islands caught up in the Web in the UNDP magazine Choices by Barbara Blake Hannah a journalist in Jamaica. I think that it would be very useful for us as Caribbean librarians to seek out these stories from our users as a means of determining the impact of information.
Durrant is not the only one to advocate that libraries collect stories of patrons to help us understand the impact of our services. A more relatively recent publication by Nyström and Sjögren (2012) also raised this idea (see previous blog post review of this).

However, today, I report on one such practical application of this by a public library. Recently, London Public Library in Ontario, Canada collected stories from its community via it's Website and presented them via the use of social media, (Facebook in particular). Sharma (2013) in one of London's community newspaper reports  Delilah Deane Cummings, co-ordinator of community outreach and program services at the London Public Library as saying:

“The library is filled with stories in all different forms whether it is books or movies or magazines or e-books and we are inviting Londoners to share their stories with us and with the community” 
Her quote summarises my own views that the library is indeed a collection of stories that transcend media formats. Her quote also captures my viewpoint that libraries need to collect and document blogs that tell personal stories to add to the wider collection of narratives and stories that are documented in other media formats.

In this particular case, the library used the post card memoir format for collecting community stories. The London public library permitted community members to submit drawings, illustrations or text of 150 words. According to Sharma (2013):
The project, Postcard Stories, was launched... and ... in part inspired by similar ideas like the Kingston Frontenac Public Library’s “Story Me”  — a blog-based project collecting the stories of everyday people and the everyday interactions library staff have with patrons.
These comments and practices get me wondering if the ideas that I think about for my thesis are being disseminated telepathically (or perhaps through my blog). I been blogging, thinking about and discussing these topics, issues and practices of collecting personal stories or personal memoirs about library use and impact for some time now (see: Article on storytelling for entrepreneurs and [possibly] for libraries and Corporate online storytelling: for libraries?). It is so good to see my thoughts and theoretical musings being manifested in reality.


Durrant, F. (2006, November). The future of libraries and implications for the Caribbean. Address to the Library Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT) Ordinary General Meeting, National Library and Information System Authority (NALIS), Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, W. I. Retrieved from

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

Sharma, S. (2013, Sep. 12). Your stories could be part of a new public library project. The Londoner. Retrieved from

Friday, September 6, 2013

Caribbean libraries as facilitators in the governance process

This post is based on my own local experience, from which I draw lessons for libraries, but mainly for libraries in developing countries. This post attempts to address 2 questions:

  1. How national libraries can demonstrate their value nationally and in a relevant way to a nation's governance process especially in informing and educating citizens about national issues?
  2. How national and public libraries can use Facebook and other social media to engage their citizens in education on national issues?

Recently in Jamaica, there has been a debate about a proposal regarding the development of some islands belonging to the state (If you are interested in this subject see the news reports from Jamaica Gleaner on the subject). Since most of the information that I have been getting on the islands was from the mass media, I began to think it would be nice for me to see pictures of the islands under discussion, the Goat islands, that were not filtered by the mass media. Unfortunately, I was unable to access adequate images of the islands involved using Google Search, Pinterest or even Flickr. Unlike other parts of Jamaica, the Great and Little Goat islands are not well known sites and do not seem to be very well documented via photographs. Even the Wikipedia entry on the subjects at the writing of this post reveals very little information (See entry for Great and Little Goat island). This is where I began to wish for my public library and national library to step into the national dialogue.

I imagined that if my libraries (public or National) would post on Facebook or other social media (blogs, Flickr, Twitter) pictures and information sources (or quotes from them) in order to help people be better educated about these islands, this would be very useful in helping the nation be more informed to participate in the debate. So on August 28, 2013, I inquired of  National Library of Jamaica (NLJ) on its Facebook page if the NLJ could post a photo of the islands with accompanying information. On the 29th of August 2013, the NLJ obliged me by posting this photograph of a map of the goat islands on its Facebook page as well as a historical fact. But it did not stop there. By September 1, 2013, the Jamaica Observer, one Jamaica's leading printing press published some historical facts compiled by the NLJ in the article "The legend of Goat Islands". Then on September 3, 2013 the National Library posted on its Facebook page a current photograph from the Jamaica Gleaner along with another historical fact.

The event narrated here is an important illustration of how Caribbean national and public libraries can play a role of providing neutral and historical information for democracy and in the interest of the public to inform the national debate. Already, just glimpsing at the Facebook page comments on the photos shared by NLJ, I see many Jamaicans conducting information seeking, asking other questions as well as attempting to process the value of the islands. This is a clear example of what Benjamin Franklin stated about libraries in his autobiography:
libraries have improved the general conversation of the Americans, made the common tradesmen and farmers as intelligent as most gentlemen from other countries, and perhaps have contributed in some degree to the stand so generally made throughout the colonies in defense of their privileges. (Nix, 2012).
Only that this time, substitute "Americans" with "Jamaicans" and "colonies" with "nation". Another aspect to this, is the use of social media by libraries to engage citizens and provide this information to the public as well as facilitate this conversation in this social virtual information space.


Nix, L. T. (2012). The Library Company of Philadelphia. The Library History Buff. Retrieved from

The legend of Goat Islands (2013, Sep 1). Jamaica Observer. Retrieved from

Creating a good organizational story for preserving institutional memory

I have not blogged for a long time now about organizational or institutional storytelling. This has been due to the fact that while organizational storytelling is still one of my interests, it has moved to the periphery of my research at the moment. Currently, I have been thinking more about libraries, library education, library consultants and social media. However, on September 5, 2013, I got the opportunity to apply my interest in organizational storytelling at a meeting of a student club, of which I was one of the founding members, I was assigned the task to tell a newcomer about the student club. However, it was on the next day, after waking up in the quiet of the morning that I reflected on what I did and extracted these key principles.

Principles for creating an organizational story

1. Occasion for storytelling - Linde (2009) argues that for an institution to engage in organizational storytelling, it needs to create an occasion for storytelling. It is at an occasion for storytelling that we engage in what Boje (2008) dubs reflexivity (which in my words simply means reflecting on an organization's past or history). In my circumstance, the trigger for the occasion for organizational storytelling was the occasion of answering a newcomer's question about the organization, the student group. As we undertook the task of socializing the new member, we conveyed to the member the organization's history, something that we never had to do before seriously, on seeing that the club was only 2 years old.

2. Structure the narrative - From a summer course on storytelling I learned how to better create a story structure. One of the most popular means of doing so is by using a timeline. So for my student group, I created a timeline dating back to when we first began to the present. This involved dating the timeline based on the tenure of the leaders of the student club.

3. Identify the main characters or actors- According to Gabriel (2000), all good stories have characters that are portrayed in a particular light. As such, in creating a well-written or oral organizational story, one must always identify main characters. Many such characters end up being the leaders of organizations (Gabriel, 2000). Hence for my case, I identified the leaders of the student group as the main characters. As a group we began to characterise these leaders, developing descriptions of each leader to describe their personalities and idiosyncrasies that they brought to the group or organization, and how they impacted the group or organizational culture of the student club.

4. Identify key events - With the timeline and the leaders plugged into the timeline, the next aspect is to identify key events happening to the student club during the reign or tenure of each of our leaders. 

5. Provide a moral for the story -  This is where I extracted a piece of "wisdom" or advice about the organization based on its past. This "wisdom" is usually a summary in a sentence or few that gives meaning to the organization's past or puts the past in some perspective. Organizational storytelling experts like Gabriel (2000) and Linde (2009) discuss the fact that stories rarely just communicate dry facts, but also opinion or interpretation. From my interpretation and experience, the moral of these stories tend to provide for new members a perspective or lens for understanding the past events and viewing the events meaningfully as well as for use for future reference in interpreting the present and future reality.

This concludes my reflections of what I did as I facilitated the student club in creating and developing its organizational story. I am hoping though, that a year from now, I can use what I have learned to create a course on this topic. (See a previous blog posting about my ideas related to such a course in Corporate online storytelling: for libraries?).


Boje, D. M. (2008). Storytelling organizations. Los Angeles: Sage. 

Gabriel, Y. (2000). Storytelling in organizations :Facts, fictions, and fantasies. Oxford ;; New York: Oxford University Press. 

Linde, C. (2009). Working the past :Narrative and institutional memory. Oxford ;; New York: Oxford University Press.