The public library is a place of stories— stories told, stories heard, and stories unfolding. As an institution of colonial heritage, however, now, more than ever, is the time for the public library to be exploring, implementing, and making accessible, decolonial storytelling and anticolonial storytelling practices, particularly if we are to create more space for Indigenous voices. The aim of this article is to explore the relationship between the public library, and digital storytelling, particularly as an anticolonial practice that places the power of expression and knowledge creation in the hands of the storyteller(s), ultimately decolonizing the story and the knowledge within it. Making the tools for digital storytelling available is not enough; through a review of current studies and applications, this research paper states that digital storytelling should be recognized as a uniquely qualified anticolonial means of telling story, and positioned as such in the modern day public library. Applied practices of incorporating Indigenous digital storytelling in this manner are discussed.
The aim of my study is to explore the relationship between the public library, and digital storytelling, particularly as an anticolonial practice that places the power of expression and knowledge creation in the hands of the storyteller(s), ultimately decolonizing the story and the knowledge within it. When it comes to the public library, simply making the tools for digital storytelling available is not enough; through a review of current studies and applications, this research paper explores the positioning of digital storytelling as a uniquely qualified technology-based anticolonial means of telling story.
I’ll start first by positioning myself and my lived experience in the context of this research before moving on to explore the definition of digital storytelling as well as barriers to digital storytelling. I’ll explore current research that connects digital storytelling with Indigenous initiatives and tie it all together by bringing the public library back into the equation. I have some examples of applied practices to demonstrate my meaning and provide further context.
As a creative who has largely worked to understand the world (and myself) through creative practices, particularly as a form of self-expression and self-exploration, I feel passionately about exploring further ways of sharing these avenues of expression, and leveraging my own privilege to make these avenues of expression accessible to others.
As a second generation Lebanese settler, I have benefited from the colonial systems in place, and I continue to benefit from these systems. But within these systems, I have also felt myself a stranger, distant from my Lebanese heritage, and uncertain of the systems I live and work within. I have, and will continue to explore my own positionality, and in doing so, I hope to better understand the ways in which I can use my own privilege to chip away at colonial systems and create space for Indigenous voices and initiatives.
Having studied and created digital stories and stories in general from a young age, I have come to love digital storytelling for the levity and lightness inherent in the practice; there’s a sense of informality that lends itself to humor, to depth, to personality, and to perspective. There is also a sense of validity to all things, all topics, all words, all sounds, and all media. Above all else, however, there is no formula- no right, or wrong way of approaching the practice, conducting the practice, or telling the story at last. This “young” artistic practice— for its reliance on technology and software automatically makes it young in the world of creativity and expression— has always felt to me, like neutral ground, where I am not asked to follow the systems imposed around me, and I have control over the telling of the story, and where that story goes once it’s told.
Prono defines digital storytelling as “the tendency of individuals to narrate aspects of their daily lives with the use of new media technology such as podcasts, videos, blogs, and social networks” (2022); significant in this definition is the breadth of ways in which one can tell a ‘digital’ story, as there are numerous platforms and perspectives on what the ‘final product’ will look—or sound— like. Prono’s concept of digital storytelling, however broad in one sense, limits the topic of narration to the “daily lives” (Prono, 2022) of the individual; in actuality, digital storytelling can be used to “explain a concept, to reflect on a personal experience, to retell a historical event, or to make an argument” (University of Wollongong, 2022).
Digital storytelling requires a specific set of tools and skills; the teller not only requires computers, image capturing devices, and audio capturing devices, they also require software to edit their captured media, software to combine their captured media, and computer literacy to navigate learning a host of new processes and applications. The teller would also require some sort of platform for sharing the story, of which, for the context of Indigenous storytelling, would need to be culturally-sensitive and non-commercial (Shiri et al., 2022), as well as an internet connection to effectively share the story and track down media banks if those are required for the composition of the story. Viewers would also require an internet connection to view the story.
As an educational practice:
Digital storytelling can be used to promote learning for both non-Indigenous and Indigenous individuals and communities, both in the creation of a digital story, and the viewing of one. So in other words— there are a lot of ways that digital storytelling works with Indigenous initiatives.
In their 2020 article Applying Digital Storytelling for Anti-colonial Learning, Sunderland et al. studied a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students as they engaged in “immersive” (Sunderland et al., 2020) digital storytelling on the topic of social justice and First Nations’ Peoples in Australia; they found that the “reduced defensiveness” (Sunderland et al., 2020) associated with the pursuit of telling story allowed the students to better recognize issues and experiences that were otherwise invisible to them previously, while also developing connections and immersing themselves in the telling of the story, along with those that were telling the story with them. A similar study was conducted in 2013 by Casteldean et al. regarding “geographies of ignorance” in what is now called Canada; geography students attending a week-long field school titled Indigenous Perspectives on Resource and Environmental Management were asked to create a digital story based on their immersive experiences and conversations with Mi’kmaq communities. The most salient aspect of this study is the discussion surrounding the inability of traditional western pedagogical practices to communicate a rich understanding of Indigenous Peoples and the issues they face today; a means to an immersive educational objective, digital storytelling once again provided an educational scope that respected the boundaries and values of Indigenous communities.
As a form of research:
Datta’s 2017 study Traditional storytelling: an effective Indigenous research methodology and its implications for environmental research identifies the need to validate traditional Indigenous storytelling as a form of research, particularly because these stories interconnect Indigenous ontologies and epistemologies. Datta also highlights the necessary “alliance” (2017) needed between researchers/researching institutions and the communities in which they are studying, and the importance of understanding research as a type of “ceremony” (Datta, 2017). Recognizing Indigenous traditional storytelling as a research methodology is also framed as a way of building up the “research capacity” (Datta, 2017) within Indigenous communities and solidifying the relationship between these communities and their knowledge-holders in response to the disintegrative social impacts of colonialism.
Alongside the idea of traditional Indigenous storytelling as a research method, digital storytelling is also now being understood as a valid form of research. In a 2021 study conducted by Locklear & Hunt, digital storytelling is positioned as one of the foundations for an “educational design that aims to couple culture and learning” (Locklear & Hunt, 2021); in both the delivery and the creation of knowledge, digital storytelling is used here to keep Indigenous culture and Indigenous perspectives alive and thriving within the research rather than being forcibly separated, as traditional forms of western research demand.
A Path to Well-Being:
Acknowledging the lack of culturally safe and ethical spaces for engagement concerning Indigenous physical, mental, and emotional health, several studies have recognized digital storytelling as an effective strategy to creating this safe and ethical space, while also working to promote the development of connections and community.
In the context of healthcare, a 2021 study conducted by Reiger et al. aimed to explore the feasibility of digital storytelling as a way of connecting with Indigenous women and their experiences with breast cancer; Reiger et al. utilized a Medicine Wheel framework to host a series of sessions in which the practice of digital storytelling effectively supported a holistic approach to understanding a highly complex social and health topic.
The Intergenerational Dialogue and Exchange Action Program pairs Indigenous students with Elders for a period of time, and asks that students create digital stories based on the stories they are being told; a close study of the IDEA program detailed that giving the students a project, particularly one that asks them to create a story through multiple forms of media and art, resulted in a greater sense of connection and promoted social-emotional health (Rivkin et al., 2020); these students were able to better position themselves according to relevant cultural teachings, and they were able to establish that positioning further through digital storytelling (Rivkin et al., 2020).
The Public Library
Why does this matter for the LIS world? As library professionals, we need to start paying attention to the practice of digital storytelling, and in particular, Indigenous digital storytelling, because this is a proven anticolonial strategy for sharing narratives, perspectives, history, healing, and culture (Adelson & Olding, 2013). Similarly, digital storytelling is a practice that presents clear barriers to the teller, and these barriers are disproportionately experienced by Indigenous communities and individuals; these barriers include access to the internet and appropriate digital platforms, as well as software, devices, and skill development in digital literacy.
Within many public libraries today, it is viewed as best practice to provide information literacy and digital literacy workshops and programs (Inouye, 2020).
The missing piece, however, is the intentional focus on the practice— in particular, the anticolonial practice. We are not leveraging our understanding, as MLIS professionals, of the importance of information literacy, digital literacy, and the right to tell stories within the context of an anticolonial strategy, but rather, framing equitable access to technology and literacy training as an overall general mission. In providing not only the tools needed to tell a digital story, such as software, hardware, and internet, but also the skills, and the anticolonial approach to sharing perspectives, MLIS professionals could better work to create space for decolonial narratives, and the tellers behind these stories.
The ability to tell story is a key part of education, research, and well-being for Indigenous communities. Providing access to means for digital storytelling is not simply an issue of equitable access— it is the process of supporting Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Being.
My name is Emny (Em-nee) and I am a second generation Lebanese settler currently living, working, and exploring on Treaty 6 territory out of Hinton, which is the traditional home of the As’in’i’wa’chi Niy’yaw Askiy (Rocky Mountain Cree), Ĩyãħé Nakón mąkóce (Stoney), Tsuut’ina Peoples, Michif Piyii (Métis), Cree, and Mountain Métis. I am a creative who understands and explores the world best through color, story, connection, and change. I currently struggle with self-discipline when it comes to chocolate consumption and managing a work (school) life balance— There is a lot of life and living to do these days, with a lot of chocolate in the mix.
Adelson, N., & Olding, M., Y. (2012). Narrating Aboriginality On-Line: Digital Storytelling, Identity and Healing. Journal of Community Informatics Library World, 9(2), 386-402 https://openjournals.uwaterloo.ca/index.php/JoCI/article/view/3167
Castleden, H., Daley, K., Morgan, V. S., & Sylvestre, P. (2013). Settlers unsettled: using field schools and digital stories to transform geographies of ignorance about Indigenous peoples in Canada. Journal of Geography Higher Education, 37(4), 487–499. https://doi-org.login.ezproxy.library.ualberta.ca/10.1080/03098265.2013.796352
Datta, R. (2018). Traditional storytelling: An effective Indigenous research methodology and its implications for environmental research. AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples, 14(1), 35–44.
Digital storytelling. (2022). What is digital storytelling. University of Wollongong, Australia.
Retrieved from https://www.uow.edu.au/student/learning-co-op/assessments/digital
Inouye, A. (September, 25, 2020). Libraries provide a lifeline through equitable access to tech.
State Tech Magazine. https://statetechmagazine.com/article/2020/09/
Locklear, T. & Hunt, F. (2021). Indian education: Opening a space for digital storytelling. Journal of Interdisciplinary Teacher Leadership. https://doi-org.login.ezproxy.library.ualberta.ca/10.46767/kfp.2016-0033
Prono, L., PhD. (2022). Digital Storytelling. Salem Press Encyclopedia.
Rieger, K. L., Bennett, M., Martin, D., Hack, T. F., Cook, L., & Hornan, B. (2021). Digital Storytelling as a Patient Engagement and Research Approach With First Nations Women: How the Medicine Wheel Guided Our Debwewin Journey. Qualitative Health Research, 31(12), 2163–2175.
Rivkin, I., Black, J., Lopes, E. D. S., Filardi, E., Salganek, M., Newman, J., Haire, J., Nanouk, M., Philip, J., Charlie, D., & Wexler, L. (2020). Integrating Mentorship and Digital Storytelling to Promote Wellness for Alaska Native Youth. Journal of American Indian Education, 59(2/3), 169–193. https://doi.org.login.ezproxy.library.ualberta.ca/10.5749/jamerindieduc.59.2-3.0169
Shiri, A., Howard, D., & Farnel, S. (2022). Indigenous Digital Storytelling: Digital Interfaces Supporting Cultural Heritage Preservation and Access. International Information & Library Review, 54(2), 93–114.
Sunderland, N., Woods, G., & Dorsett, P. (2020). Making the Invisible Visible: Applying Digital Storytelling for Immersive, Transformative and Anti-Colonial Learning. British Journal of Social Work, 50(2), 483–505.
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