Narrative Inquiry, Autoethnography, and Reflective Assessment

I continue to think about qualitative assessment methods that may prove useful in my librarianship practice.  My research has led me to

Graf, A. J., & Harris, B. R. (2016). Reflective assessment: Opportunities and challenges. Reference Services Review, 44 (1), 38–47.


Behar, R. (1996). The Vulnerable Observer:  Anthropology that Breaks Your Heart.  Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Both of these texts have been useful in thinking about ways that I can write myself into my own story, recognize the meaning in what I do, and create narratives/artifacts that may be valued by a greater collective.  Ruth Behar writes, “Vulnerability doesn’t mean that anything personal goes.  The exposure of the self who is also a spectator has to take us somewhere we couldn’t otherwise get to.  It has to be essential to the argument, not a decorative flourish, not exposure for its own sake.”  These words deliver a personal challenge to me – I am determined to be vulnerable and to make that vulnerability count.  My internal monologue returns to the fact that every research and writing practice is one saturated by choices and personal values.  I believe that transparency related to my role in research and assessment reveals the values embodied in a final product. However, I also feel that Behar is warning of ulterior motives to incorporating oneself into a text – the allure of the ego, perhaps.

Anne Jumonville Graf and Benjamin R. Harris encourage assessment through community reflection and describe case studies in which librarians consider the unintended outcomes of their class instruction and, in another experiment, risk (in the tradition of bell hooks (Teaching to Transgress, 1994) – “…empowerment cannot happen if we refuse to be vulnerable while encouraging students to take risks” (p. 9)):

  1.  What risks did you encourage students to take in today’s instruction session?
  2. What risks did you embrace, yourself, in today’s instruction session?
  3. If you were asked to ‘take a risk” when teaching this class again, what might you do?
  4. Having considered these questions, do you have anything you’d like to add? (p. 15)

I find these forms of reflective assessment to be in line with my values (vulnerability, risk taking, teacher as learner) and am inspired to try them as a method of assessment in an upcoming internship experience I am providing to a Master’s student.

As I pursue this line of questioning, it occurs to me that narrative inquiry, autoethnography, or reflective assessment are all appropriate methods, but to use one may also require my being able to articulate the reasoning behind the choice of one tradition.

What is valued? What is meaningful?

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post, which isn’t to say that I haven’t been writing.  Over the summer I completed three article drafts, which are in various stages of the editorial process for future publication – a new milestone that I’ve been very proud to pursue.  Simultaneously, my colleagues and I have been thinking about the ways that we measure our success as librarians and are experiencing some frustration at the differences between librarian and faculty acknowledgement and promotion.  For example, faculty on our campus are promoted when they demonstrate dedication to service, scholarship, and teaching – librarians are not.  My own investment in these areas is not leading me to additional financial stability.  I am interested in participating, but should I be compensated for this work?  Is my interest in pursuing compensation or recognition a drive towards neoliberal values and the cult of productivity or am I advocating for change in an inequitable system?

My questions have led me to begin to think in earnest, again, about assessment.  How can I advocate to for the representation of the work my colleagues that increases visibility and demonstrates value?  How can I assess students and instruction in a way accounts for the value of diverse human experiences and ways of knowing and being?

This past year, I’ve been turning towards some methodologies that appear (to me) to be outside the standby methods of the social sciences, but have value in representing the complexities of what is occurring in life and education:  autoethnography and narrative inquiry.  I have a lot to learn, but I’m aiming to grow towards the regular creation of field texts and in greater understanding of the tensions in creating research texts from them.

My first reading about narrative inquiry was Clandinin’s (2006) “Narrative inquiry: A methodology for studying lived experience.”  Clandinin (2006) provides an easy-to-read, engaging overview that has me excited to read more.  Next I’m going to explore the dimensions of field texts that Cladinin and Connelly (2000) uses to situate a narrative (interaction, continuity, and place) and consider the differences in methodologies in order to determine what will suit our/my library needs (Clandinin & Rosiek, 2006).

Clindinin (2006) refers to Nigerian storyteller Ben Okri, who says, “We live stories that either give our lives meaning or negate it with meaninglessness” (pg. 51).  I believe that there is meaning in the experiences that lead us to location of ourselves, our need to know, and our path to growth.  Here I am, once again, standing in a place where I do not know – declaring my current motivations, position, and inspiration and where I hope this drive leads me.

Clandinin, D. J., & Connelly, F. M. (2000). Narrative inquiry: Experience and story in qualitative research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Clandinin, D. J. (2006). Narrative inquiry: A method for studying lived experience.  Research Studies in Music Education, 27(1), 44-54. DOI: 10.1177/1321103X060270010301

Clandinin, D. J., & Rosiek, (2006). Mapping a landscape of narrative inquiry: Borderland spaces and tensions. In D. J. Clandinin (Ed.), Handbook of narrative inquiry: Mapping a methodology (pp. 35-75). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Statistics and Assessment (and how they’ve changed my career path)

One of the things that I really appreciate about librarianship in higher education is the current focus on assessment.  From the ACRL’s Assessment in Action programming to my own Library Director’s collection of statistics on every facet of the library’s use and facilities, librarianship is a number-based profession.  I enjoy having a foundation of facts to back up my own work, and am working more and more on writing learning objectives and collecting assessment information for each class that I teach.  Obviously, this isn’t a change from any other way of doing things (because I’ve been doing this librarian thing for 8 months), but I have made it a priority in my work.

Collecting information on the learning process, the use of our databases, the number of students in the library, the length of librarian reference assistance, etc. generates a lot of numbers.  The resulting challenge has to do with the relationship between data, information, and knowledge.  All of these numbers, on their own, are of no use to anyone.  Given a bit of context they become enlightening, but are still not very valuable if they sit in a file in the depths of a network drive.  Somehow we need to get get the numbers within a contextual setting that provides them meaning and gets them into the minds of our patrons and administrators.  Graphic design has become a
stats infographic fun way to get our statistics in front of the patron population.  Our administration also receives statistics much more positively in a colorful poster format.  No one is above being influenced by a good design done in pleasing colors.

Librarian Design Share has been exceedingly helpful to me because they provide me with a platform to receive peer feedback, and also have great ideas about projects, techniques, and tools.   I decided to utilize Adobe Illustrator for my design endeavors, primarily because it was provided by the University and didn’t take me too long to feel comfortable within the work space.  Most of my time working on poster or infographic design is time spent happily in the library.  I enjoy the process, the change of pace, and the opportunity to be creative.  This is a component of my job that surprises and delights me.  I did not realize that I would have this opportunity, but I hope to continue to progress throughout my career.