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Research Spotlight

Tell Me a Story: How Librarians Use Narratives in Instruction

A few years ago, Mindy and I [Joanna] started talking about how we teach and discovered that we wove the strands of the content into a narrative.  We both got excited: our ongoing reflection highlighted for us that as librarians, we instinctively reached for narratives to engage others because, as scientists, we had been drawn into research by that same narrative of scholarly activity.

Story Time
Story Time. Photo: Squiggle (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

These parallel strands got us thinking and so our research tale began. It started with an investigation into how our brains use stories to contextualize new learning. We were entranced with the neuroscience of learning and the idea that narrative is a guiding structure for creating the context to add new information.

Then we started to wonder, if we are thinking about this, what about our librarian colleagues?

Do our peers who teach conceptualize their teaching as a story?
And if they do, do they value it?
And what about the visual stories, the ones we tell with slides, Prezis, infographics and videos?

We decided to start asking our questions by conducting brief interviews with our colleagues. This leads us directly to the middle of our story: data collection.  We are now firmly in the middle of what is proving to be a very interesting story.

If you are interested, please add your voice to our data. We are always up for a good tale. And, if not, we hope that our findings may help you think about your teaching differently, and perhaps ask questions that will transform your own teaching narrative and the contextual framework from which you draw your inspiration.

Learn more: Crossing Thresholds in Teaching with Narrative, OCULA Spring Conference 2015.

Joanna Szurmak is the Digital Initiatives Librarian at the University of Toronto Mississauga Library. . She can be reached at joanna.szurmak [at] 

Mindy Thuna is currently on secondment to the Gerstein Science Information Centre, University of Toronto Library, as the Coordinator of Resource Sharing and the Liaison to Undergraduate Medical Education. She can be reached at mindy.thuna [at]


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