For many years, public libraries have partnered with StoryCorps, a nonprofit founded in 2003 by radio producer Dave Isay to record, preserve, and share the personal stories told by Americans from all backgrounds. Maura Johnson, a community training specialist for StoryCorps, gave an overview of the organization’s recent activities and initiatives on Saturday morning as part of the Symposium on the Future of Libraries at the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits in Denver on February 10.
“Everyone has a story to tell,” Johnson said, and StoryCorps’ technique of pairing an interviewee with a family member or loved one as an interviewer results in a “conversational experience that captures deep relationships.” Segments of StoryCorps interviews are frequently played to a wide audience on NPR’s Morning Edition. Listening to these interviews has a “ripple effect” that spreads from the interviewee to friends and family, the community, listeners, and ultimately to future generations.
Johnson played several examples of StoryCorps interviews that have had a wide impact, most notably one with Ronald Clark, whose father Raymond worked as a custodian of the Washington Heights branch of the New York Public Library. Three generations of the Clark family lived on the top floor of that library until Ronald’s father retired in the late 1970s. His story is available online in narrative form (2:29) and as a StoryCorps animation (2:47).
One new initiative is StoryCorps DIY, an online course developed with libraries in mind, that provides do-it-yourself resources to help organizations develop their own interview collection projects. The course covers planning, recruiting interviewees, interviewing, recording equipment, ethics and consent forms, archiving, editing, sharing, and promoting.
StoryCorps also offers an app to make it easier for libraries and other groups to add voices from their own communities. Participants have the option of uploading their conversations to the Library of Congress, which archives all the StoryCorps interviews. Thousands of interviews are also being added to the StoryCorps online archive for free access to the public, making them sharable on social media or available for embedding on websites.
“Storytelling is an important tool for libraries to engage their communities,” Johnson said. “Public libraries can demonstrate the roles they are capable of playing, and they are an ideal place to record and preserve these memories and experiences.”