The literacy stories that people tell speak to us. The stories people tell us about their personal reading and composing activities bring alive our scholarly understandings of these socially constructed narratives, as well as the complex cultural, political, ideological, and historical contexts that shape and are shaped by literate practices and the values associated with them. Such stories animate personal and familial literacy values; they reveal the effects our educational practices have on the thinking of young people; they illuminate personal perspectives and multiple identifications in ways that statistics and experiments simply cannot.

This curated exhibit represents one theorized response to our professional understanding of narratives. It is also an account of why we created the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives (DALN) in order to preserve peoples’ narratives about literacy. We use the following pages to explore why we think literacy narratives are important and exactly how they carry valuable information about reading and composing, not only for scholars and teachers, but for librarians, community literacy workers, individual citizens and organizations. Such narratives, we maintain, are rhetorically powerful accounts through which people fashion their lives and make sense of their world, indeed, how they construct the realities in which they live. These narratives are sometimes so richly laden with information that conventional academic tools and ways of discussing their power—to shape identities; to persuade, and reveal, and discover; to create meaning and affiliations at home, in schools, communities, and workplaces—are inadequate to the task.

One studies stories not because they are true or even because they are false, but for the same reason that people tell and listen to them, in order to learn about the terms on which others make sense of their lives:  what they take into account and what they do not; what they consider worth contemplating and what they do not; what they are and are not willing to raise and discuss as problematic or unresolved in life.

(Brodkey, 1987, p. 46)