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Street Level Stories: Using Special Collections to Re-Imagine Community Narratives Nicole Dixon

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Street Level Stories: Using Special Collections to Re-Imagine Community Narratives Nicole Dixon writer + librarian. The Bras d’Or Collection.

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Street Level Stories:

  • Using Special Collections to Re-Imagine Community Narratives
  • Nicole Dixon
the bras d or collection
The Bras d’Or Collection
  • Thousands of reports, studies, and documents on various aspects of the Cape Breton economy and living conditions on Cape Breton Island.
realizations connections

BDC = story ideas/material

creating a database is a lot like telling a story (e.g., relationships; collections)

research and creative writing ask the same questions (esp., “why” and “how”)

BDC = Cape Breton revitalization aid

Special collections, databases, and short stories are all tools we can use to re-imagine our collective narratives.

why reimagine our narratives
Why Reimagine Our Narratives?

A Tale of Two Reports:

O’Neill Report (2010)

Ivany Report (2014)

“…the commission is calling for an attitudinal change, one where the population collectively comes together to focus on an overarching goal, with each person and sector looking at what they can do to contribute to the province as a whole rather than any one particular area.”

“… [is] the province…destined for a long-term downward-sloping line or the creation of an alternative reality [?] The commission’s hope is the report will serve as a living document that people can build on and use as a guide for future work…”

changing our narrative of decline
Changing Our “Narrative of Decline”

STU gerontology professor, William Randall:

“...there is this over-arching master narrative which ... sees agingCape Breton as a downhill slide, as a decline ... We need counter-stories. Rich, more positive counter-stories of what agingCape Breton is all about…”

“What if we all cultivated our own good, strong stories and acknowledged our mutual responsibility to strengthen each other’s stories?”

Cape Breton’s story = “narrative of decline”

We need a new story. A narrative of resilience/positivity/action, etc.


Two Prevalent Negative Attitudes in Cape Breton

  • “There are two main problematic cornerstones of this Cape Breton attitude ... the first is that we really do seem to have a poor self image. As a whole, we can be quite self-deprecating … Cape Breton is a beautiful place with so many great and unique characteristics and so much potential for progress. Many ... from away see this but we ignore it. In our young people it breeds a desire to escape and not return.”
  • “How Cape Breton Attitudes Shape the Decisions of Our Youth”

Two Prevalent Negative Attitudes in Cape Breton

  • “…we have an us vs them attitude more so than anywhere I have ever been. We talk about our problems and we talk about the mainland and/or out west like they’re some demon that we’re fighting. Really, we should be trying to cooperate with these places ... This attitude... provides very easy scapegoats … It’s always someone else―it’s never us ... There’s no solutions that can be reached with this attitude. If we believe that our problems are caused by everyone else, we don’t need to address those problems―cause it’s their fault ... even if it is someone else’s fault, it’s our responsibility to fix them ... this combative nature ... negates the desire to take risks ... Risk is essential to the development of any community ... And if you don’t take risks we’re going to be stuck in the same time for the rest of eternity.
  • “How Cape Breton Attitudes Shape the Decisions of Our Youth”
using the bdc to counter negative attitudes research outreach
Using the BDC to Counter Negative Attitudes:Research/Outreach
  • history of community economic development
    • what have we tried? lessons learned? what ideas can we build upon and/or never try again? what have we yet to try?
  • record of experiences
  • example of all facets of a

community working together

using the bdc to counter negative attitudes modeling
Using the BDC to Counter Negative Attitudes:Modeling
  • database: Open Mine  open access
  • Open Mine built with Drupal
    • community-based, social
  • Drupal allows for (social) tagging; folksonomy
  • databases are a community = a collection of items with relationships (Internet Collection of Things)

image: Wilgengebroed on Flickr

using the bdc to counter negative attitudes creativity
Using the BDC to Counter Negative Attitudes:Creativity
  • stories = literal rewriting of our narrative (imagination/reimaging); ways of seeing
  • another way to disseminate information
  • art = empathy
    • “Imaging what it is like to be someone other than yourself is at the core of our humanity. It is the essence of compassion, and it is the beginning of morality.” – Ian McEwan
  • art = revitalization
    • Detroit’s Heidelberg Project attracts tourists
    • Chicago’s Dorchester Project
  • creative projects based on a community-based special collection come with a built-in audience
    • asset-based community development…
examples of community based creativity
Examples of Community-Based Creativity


Kate Beaton:“We had to go, but we want to come back. Leaving is something we learned to do, but I think now and then on what it would be if we were taught to stay instead, and shown we could. If we invited others to join us. I mean, there's a pretty nice view. And like I said, the tea is on.”

  • from “Ducks”, Kate Beaton
write what you don t know
Write What You Don’t Know

“I always say, Forget about ‘write about what you know.’ Write about what you don’t know. The point is that the self is limiting. The self—subjectivity—is narrow and bound to be repetitive. We are, after all, a species. When you write about what you don’t know, this means you begin to think about the world at large. You begin to think beyond the home-thoughts. You enter dream and imagination” – Cynthia Ozick, The Paris Review

the culture of community
“The Culture of Community”

“Every community creates its own culture –theway the community memberslearn, through time, how to survive and prosper in a particular place … Our Way is the cultureofcommunity, and something you cannot buy. Nor can it be created by programs. A culture isthe creation of people who are seriously related to each other. It takes time because serious relationships are based upon trust, and trust grows from the experience of being together inways that make a difference in our lives.” – The Asset-Based Community Development Institute


“…local assets [are] the primary building blocks of sustainable community development.”

“The basic tool for community building with the gifts of individuals and of the power of associations is making connections.”

Asset-Based Community Development Institute

The Bras d’Or Collection isn’t just a special collection of Cape Breton’s history, but, by demonstrating our successes and failures and highlighting our local assets, is also the root of and blueprint for an integrated, prosperous, more empathetic, culturally-rich community. It is a collection of our individual yet connected stories.