Everyday Existence - Page 2
The founder of StoryCorps talks about the central role of libraries in this national oral history project that records the lives of ordinary people.
Posted Sun, 04/11/2010 - 13:42
The Lower Manhattan StoryBooth at Foley Square. Design credits: Michael Shuman, Eric Liftin, Michael Wiemeyer; Photo: Dalton Rooney.
From there it was a matter of figuring out the details and finding the right partners. I hoped beyond hope that the StoryCorps collection might live at the Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center, home to the WPA interviews I so admired. I made a cold call to the center’s director, Peggy Bulger. I told Peggy about this crazy idea I had called “StoryCorps” and asked if the Folklife Center might consider housing the collection. Miraculously, she had the vision and foresight to say “yes” on the spot. And so it began.
StoryCorps opened its doors on October 23, 2003, in Grand Central Terminal. The great oral historian Studs Terkel, who was 91 at the time, flew in from Chicago to cut the ribbon.
“Today we shall begin celebrating the lives of the un-celebrated!” Terkel proclaimed. “We’re in Grand Central Station. We know there was an architect, but who hung the iron? Who were the brick masons? Who swept the floors? These are the non-celebrated people of our country. In this booth the non-celebrated will speak of their lives. It might be a grandmother speaking to a grandchild. It might be a kid talking to his uncle. It might be a neighbor talking to a neighbor. And suddenly they will realize that they are the ones who have built this country!”
Since launching more than six years ago, we’ve become a national project with booths, mobile booths, and Door-to-Door teams (facilitators armed with recording equipment in backpacks) gathering stories around the country, year-round. To date, StoryCorps has recorded more than 30,000 interviews with around 60,000 participants. Each session represents an act of love and respect: 40 minutes set aside to ask important questions and listen closely to the answers. The interviews honor our families, friends, and elders: ordinary people we find all around us who, in their day-to-day acts of kindness, courage, and humanity, embody the true spirit of our nation.
The broadcasts, podcasts, books, and animations we produce from these interviews remind us how much more we share in common as a nation than divides us; that if we spent less time shouting at each other and more time listening we’d be a better, more thoughtful, and compassionate nation.
We are only at the very beginning of a long journey with StoryCorps. In the coming years, we hope to touch the lives of every American family with the project. We hope that much of this work will be done in concert with libraries and librarians. I can imagine a day when libraries across the country have StoryCorps listening stations; a day when teams of StoryCorps facilitators rotate through libraries every day of the year recording this nation’s story; when libraries and librarians help students and families record their own stories—bringing StoryCorps Do-It-Yourself to millions. I hope and believe that public radio, libraries, and—with a little luck—StoryCorps have the potential to become infinitely more important to this country and its people than they are even today: forming three of the most trusted, safe, and valued cornerstones of our communities and our society at large.
StoryCorps and libraries both stand as strongholds of authenticity in a culture where phoniness often rules the day. They are about permanence in an evermore-disposable society. They remind us of what’s really important in the midst of all of life’s distractions. They encourage us to connect despite endless temptations to detach and disengage.
We consider each StoryCorps session sacred, and we place great value on every story that’s been recorded as part of the project. It is a joy and honor for all of us at StoryCorps to do this work and a privilege to work so closely with libraries and librarians to bring this project to the nation.
Hear StoryCorps founder Dave Isay in person at the American Library Association’s Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., Sunday morning, June 27. Following the program he will sign copies of his latest book, Mom: A Celebration of Mothers from StoryCorps. Enter American Libraries’ “Win a Spot with StoryCorps” essay contest by April 15.