New library research examines the power of digital storytelling

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Filed under Library News:  Research @ McMaster

Brian Detlor is a big fan of Hamilton. And now he’s working on a research project that he hopes will help change the way people across the region think about the city.

Detlor, the McMaster University Library’s first ever Faculty-Member-in Residence, is researching the power of digital storytelling to promote Hamilton as a place to live, work and play.

Detlor’s research focuses on “Love Your City, Share Your Stories,” a digital storytelling initiative spearheaded by The Hamilton Public Library and the City of Hamilton’s Tourism and Culture Division. The initiative, which launched last week, highlights people and places that have played a key part in Hamilton’s cultural heritage.

“The idea of researching the impact of digital storytelling resonated with me,” says Detlor, also an associate professor in the DeGroote School of Business. “Hamilton has very rich origins. People don’t always know its history and how it’s changed; telling these stories can help raise that awareness and convey a positive message about Hamilton.”

Over the past year, Detlor has been working in partnership with the City of Hamilton’s Tourism and Culture Division, the Hamilton Public Library and the McMaster University Library to study the Love Your City, Share Your Stories initiative, exploring the characteristics of an effective digital story and looking at how recent advances in technology and digital tools can be used to create, gather and share digital stories more broadly.

Detlor hopes the findings of this research will inform policy-makers and cultural institutions, providing them with insights on how to best use digital storytelling techniques to promote a city or region.

“Promotion of a city is important,” says Detlor. “You don’t just want to send people to a fact sheet; you want something that has emotional resonance that draws people in to learn more. Many of these stories are intrinsic to Hamilton’s identity. We want to flesh them out and help people to better understand the city and the potential impact those stories have in terms of promoting Hamilton.”

Detlor developed this project last year while on a research leave, serving as the McMaster Library’s Faculty-Member-in-Residence (FMIR). The program, the first of its kind in North America, is designed to give a faculty member the chance to work full-time with the Library on research projects of their choosing.

He says his research would not have been possible had he not been working closely with the library.

“I knew I wanted to connect my research to the Hamilton community, but I didn’t have a defined project. The library helped to brainstorm ideas and provide me with opportunities to try things and take advantage of projects that came along. It was enriching, it opened up my mind to new experiences and different projects.”

McMaster University Librarian, Vivian Lewis, says working with Detlor helped to connect the Library with the research mission of the University.

“Not only have we been able to support Brian on his research projects, but his expertise has provided us with a chance to better understand how the library can undertake and support scholarly research,” says Lewis. “We hope the FMIR program will help faculty engage with the library in a new way, as more than a place where you get your information, but also as a place where you can do leading edge, impactful research.”

An open call for this year’s FMIR is currently underway. Detlor hopes that Faculty will take advantage of the opportunity to work and research with the library.

“When I look back on my career at McMaster, this research experience will be one of the highlights,” says Detlor. “I hope the next person is someone completely different than who I am and makes it their own. I want people to look forward to the call.”

Learn more about the McMaster University Library’s Faculty-Member-in-Residence program and how to apply. The deadline for applications is December 31, 2014.