Telling Spatial Stories in the Library

Telling Spatial Stories in the Library

What is your story…

This is a question Emma Slayton and Jessica Benner have been asking through our work with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) at Carnegie Mellon University Libraries. Both of us are excited to develop new services, learning opportunities, and spaces for discussion centered around spatial research. For example, earlier this year, we began offering open office hours for those with questions concerning mapping or spatial datasets (Wednesdays between 12 and 3pm in the Sorrels library, Wean Hall floor 4).

As we move forward offering new workshops and events in support of Spatial Services in the libraries, our focus will be on GIS training and spatial literacy. The first of these endeavors will be our Spatial Storytelling Series. The Spatial Storytelling Series focuses on working with the CMU community to construct spatial stories. These events support broader interaction between members of the CMU community who engage in any aspect of spatial storytelling. We hope to promote critical engagement with spatial data and concepts and learn how we can best support research and student learning by supporting the creation of spatial narratives.

The first event associated with this series was the Spatial Storytelling Series Kick Off, which happened on the 1st of November. The Kick Off featured speakers from around CMU and the broader community, focusing on bringing people with different ways of telling stories using spatial data or within distinct spaces together. We were pleased to see a wide showing of CMU students and faculty from all around the university, including the Heinz College, School of Computer Science, College of Fine Arts, and the Libraries. These participants engaged our speakers in a serious debate regarding both the topics of their presentations and the broader use of spatial data within research and teaching at CMU and the Pittsburgh Community.

Speakers included Kristen Kurland (Heinz College and School of Architecture), Jennifer Keating (Dietrich College), Chris Goranson (Heinz College), Illah Nourbakhsh (School of Computer Science), and Shannon Knapp (Quantum Theater Group). Each speaker provided a unique view of how they engage with the concept of space within their research, offering a platform for us to have a broader discussion about the impact of space on storytelling, the opportunities and ethical complications of using spatial data, and how our narratives are based in a broader community understanding of place.

We hope to continue exploring these topics through the rest of the series. Our events focus on storytelling and aim to support students through the entire process from identifying a research problem, data collection, learning specific tools, and finally crafting a narrative. Workshops offered as a part of this series include Finding Stories in Data, Getting Started with Story
Maps, and Telling Digital Stories (click here for more information).

The next workshop (November 29th), Finding Stories in Data, will be led by Bob Gradeck and is a part of the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center's Data 101 series of workshops. The workshop will discuss finding meaningful or relevant stories within data sets. This training will be particularly useful as a single dataset can contain many different stories, depending on the values of the storyteller and the context of their experiences. This workshop will introduce the typical kinds of stories that
can be found in data and give you practice in finding your own data stories.

This workshop, as well as the others listed above, all support the final event of the Spatial Storytelling Series. This will be a competition and expo that will showcase student work in these cross disciplinary applications of digital storytelling. These digital stories will be built upon the skills and techniques learned through the series workshops, and will require students to build Story Maps on a subject they feel showcases how spatial data might inspire community engagement or social change. We invite students as individuals or small teams (no larger than 3) from all colleges of CMU to create stories to submit for our series. There are three cash prizes for the best entries. Rules for the competition can be found on our website.

For examples of story maps, please refer to this link: We encourage you to look for story maps
that might be of interest to you and come speak to us about making your own at any of our workshops or our open office hours.

by Jessica Benner, Librarian, and Emma Slayton, CLIR Fellow for Data Visualization