Oral Histories with Podcasting a “sounding” success!

“Archive the Wisdom of Generations.” How can any librarian not be attracted to StoryCorps’ tagline? A great group of school and public librarians were intrigued enough to find out more about oral histories and podcasting at the Media Smart Libraries workshop held at Rochambeau Library in Providence on February 8th.  

 A team of oral history experts delivered an informational and motivating experience. Leah Lubman, the manager at the Washington Park branch of the Providence Community Libraries, started the session giving a background on the what and why of oral histories. She then described the IMLS StoryCorps grant project that she directed last year. From learning the equipment, training staff, promoting and hosting the event, learning interview techniques, developing audio editing skills, and managing archival strategies, Leah provided lots of information and advice.  The biggest impact to her was how the recording of heartfelt stories brought a diverse community together in unexpected ways. Please take a look at some of the examples of podcasts from PCL’s “Our Stories” StoryCorps project.

 Maureen Nagle and Yulie Lee, two incredibly inspiring teachers from Moses Brown School, followed by sharing how they partnered with Leah and PCL to create an oral histories unit for 9th graders. This multi-week unit consisted of cross-disciplinary 

lessons with the Drama, English, and History teacher. Who knew how much interviewer skills were akin to entertainment and public speaking? They shared tips and lessons learned, and encouraged participants to contact them for advice on implementing a similar program.  For them, the highlight of the unit was reading the students’ reflections on what they learned and having them present their final oral histories at the culminating “Listening Party.”

 Participants then had a chance to practice their interview skills and use the StoryCorps App on an iPad or iPhone. In groups of two, they used sample interview questions found in the resources/tips section and created short podcasts of each other.  The most surprising outcome of this exercise, was how personal and even emotional, the experience of telling your story to someone can be.

When people came back as a group, they enthusiastically shared ideas of how they could do podcasting programs in their libraries. One librarian wanted to organize an event around a historical quilt from their town, an example of object based oral histories. Another librarian wanted students to research and record stories of prominent locations in their town. 

Although the StoryCorps App is adequate and easy to use, the recording quality from high end audio equipment and editing software can’t be matched. Leah ended the program by telling participants that PCL loans out their StoryCorps Podcasting equipment and would be available to help train library staff.