Saturday, April 6, 2013

The library's role in edutainment: Supporting learning through fiction

In this blog post I wish to clarify an issue arising from a previous posting on this blog. The issue is the place of libraries in the 21st century. In a previous blog post, I argued against libraries seeking to establish themselves as places or spaces for recreation, and rather seek to market themselves as places and spaces for job creation and support for entrepreneurship. I was in conversation with a librarian, that hinted that libraries have always had a recreational role, which need to be reclaimed and not just an informational role. As such, I would like to take this opportunity to extend on the views, indicating that I do see value in libraries getting involved in what I call an edutainment role.

From my interactions with older librarians (especially school and public librarians), I know for a fact that we as librarians have understood for a long time the value of fiction in helping students learn to read and become literate. However, providing recreational material in my opinion is subsidiary to the goal of the intellectual development of users.

Hence there is a place for the provision of fictional stories and even games and gaming in libraries.
I recently read this article by Barack (2013) in the School Library Journal that illustrates how students can learn better writing and computer coding skills from fictional storytelling and even gaming. In Barrack (2013) students create interactive fiction game based on natural language that in turn helps them improve their writing skills by doing so.

The whole idea of learning skills from fictional storytelling is something that I am discovering for myself as I conduct research on storytelling and how such storytelling is being used by institutions and organizations (including the military) to prepare and train people for the future roles and work. It is within this framework, in which I am re-examining even the library's traditional organization of materials into fiction versus non-fiction shelving systems. While we currently separate these materials, I question the need to do so, especially in the online environment.

Two experiments that I have done using a small metropolitan Canadian library's Online Public Access Catalogue (OPAC) has confirmed to me that we can as librarians provide multiple ways for users to know about their world, through both non-fiction and fictional information sources.

For example, how would you like to learn survival skills if lost in a forest? Through reading a How to guide book for living in a forest? A newspaper article or a novel? Well it so happened that I was searching for a book on rivers (for my graphic novel idea) and came across a fictional book with the title The river that based on reviews seem to teach survival skills or at least it feeds the imagination for one to imagine the scenarios where they may actually need to learn to cope and survive: (See Another experiment can be seen in my Narrating the OPAC presentation, where I discovered based on the OPAC entry for a fiction book based in a restaurant setting, that there was a section in that book containing recipes.

Further, after reading Roger Schank's Dynamic Memory, where he makes the case that people learn by indexing stories in memory, and being able to later retrieve something from such stories when they need to deal with a problem that calls for such information, I am convinced that one can learn much from reading fictional stories, especially those based on reality as opposed to fantasy (with the exception of science fantasy/fiction of course). This I even understand better as I attempt to research and gather information to inform my graphic novel.

Hence even fictional stories based on real experiences do convey some information and truths about our world. Hence fiction storytelling has an appropriate place in libraries for the purpose of informing readers about their world and preparing them with the problem solving skills needed for future societal roles. Hence, like Laurel (2001), I am definitely concerned about the stories that are told today. For while art imitates real life, people in real life, also imitate art.


Barack, L. (2013, April 3). California 10th graders improve their writing skills—Through an interactive fiction game. School Library Journal. Retrieved from

Laurel, B. (2001). Utopian entrepreneur. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Schank, R. C. (1999). Dynamic memory :A theory of reminding and learning in computers and people. Cambridge Cambridgeshire; New York: Cambridge University Press.

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