Why Stories?

Recently I was catching up on my podcast listening and was delighted to hear Radiolab’s Latif Nasser talking about how he finds stories. “I tell myself that there are 7.5 billion people on planet earth… and if you presume that one percent of those 7.5 billion people have those stories, there’s no way all those stories are getting told…There’s an infinity of stories all around us.” I truly believe that when we open ourselves to others’ experiences, we in turn reflect on our own. We have much to learn about ourselves by listening to others.

For years I have been fascinated by peer review and moving toward open peer review. I’ve thought about it, written about, and even helped develop some experimental open peer review processes. But I have truly come to believe that this work, while important, cannot have the same effects on others unless we sit down to listen to stories. To really listen. And really listening means that we will also reflect. And then we might take action.

But we cannot take action if the only way we can listen is confined. Allowing stories to filter into the open, where more people can listen, so more people can learn will better position us to take that action. It’s not just the sharing that’s important, it is that we openly share.

Peer review is essential to our work, but it is also imperfect. It introduces bias into the literature. Many publications lack clear reviewer guidelines, or reviewers do not use the guidelines to review. Reviewers in blinded review processes may not have accountability for their words or actions. Most peer-reviewing is hidden labor. Students may not learn how to provide peer review, nor do they learn what processes they may face as authors undergoing it. Our scholarly rewards system is broken and relies heavily on the tradition of peer review. This system introduces systemic bias. All this and more.

But we really don’t have that much evidence in LIS. We don’t know what people have experienced. We don’t know the challenges they have faced. We don’t know the wins. It will be in human experience. It will be in stories where we can discover evidence. That is why stories.