Similarities between "Stories of Experience and Narrative Inquiry" and our visit to NYPL

One of the main similarities that came through from the different presentations at the NYPL and from the article “Stories of Experience and Narrative Inquiry” by Connelly and Clandinin is the focus on the two directional relationship between subject and researcher.  For example, the authors state, “When both researchers and practitioners tell stories of the research relationship, they have the possibility of being stories of empowerment” (4).  I think this is evident in the NYPL Oral History Project as well as the services for the blind provided by the public library.  When speaking of the Oral History Project, Alexandra Kelly said one of the main purposes of the project is for the library to use its “patrons as resources.”  Typically the library is a resource for the community, however this project, by highlighting the stories of people in the community, turns things around and the people become resources for the library. And this is not just through their stories, but also through the patrons that volunteer their time in making this project come to fruition, through conducting and transcribing interviews, among other things.  

In this way, the narrative of the story of patron and library becomes one of collaboration, just as Connelly and Clandinin describe the ideal narrative of researcher and practitioner as a story of “ time, relationship, space, and voice in establishing the collaborative relationship, a relationship in which both researchers and practitioners have voice” (4).   When Chancey Fleet described the different types of adaptive technology provided by NYPL to provide as she stated, “equity of information access” to people who can’t read, it became clear that this is another place where the library works to build a collaborative relationship with the people they serve.  Just as the authors say, “Voice is meaning that resides in the individual and enables that individual to participate in a community....The struggle for voice begins when a person attempts to communicate meaning to someone else,” the different approaches taken by the NYPL to provide information access to different members of the community highlights the ways in which the relationship between institution, or researcher, flows in two directions and can benefit and empower everyone.  

Thoughts on Narrative Inquiry

This article threw up lots of questions for me. The opening statement that “Humans are storytelling organisms” reminded me of when I worked in fundraising and we were always encouraged to tell a story to influence clients.  The example on pg. 6 chimes with this: “Phil told a story about his experiences as a child as a way of explaining one of his actions as principal at bay Street school”. What were Phil's motivations? What was the evidence-base for his decision? Who did he consult with? In this sense, as well as their emancipatory power, narrative accounts can also be problematic because they ‘romance’ the reader, and can obscure the motivations of the storyteller.

I liked the section around narrative inquiry in teaching, as it: “Encourages us to see lessons or units as good stories to be told”.  I think the operative word here is definitely ‘good’. When I was teaching high school we did a unit of work with middle schoolers based around a murder mystery. The poor students spent 12 weeks exploring this murder mystery story; doing everything from coroner's reports, to courtroom dramas, to short films. But the story was really too simple and formulaic. The story didn't capture their imagination and it was just stretched too thin. Perhaps the quality of narrative inquiry in teaching depends on the quality of the narrative and the teacher facilitating it? It’s like the “bananarama principle” in teaching: “it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it”, which circles back to the role of the facilitator/teacher.