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Public Library to collect oral stories

Posted by boston.com  December 21, 2013 10:00 AM

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The following was submitted by the Somerville Public Library:

Anyone who lives in Somerville knows the city has a million stories to tell, and now, thanks to a national StoryCorps grant, the country will get to hear-and preserve at the National Library of Congress-some of the least heard stories among them: those of teenagers.

In March, the Somerville Public Library was selected from more than 200 applicants nationwide to be one of just 10 libraries chosen for the "StoryCorps @ Your Library" pilot program with the American Library Association with funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Using the same approach and professional equipment used for the StoryCorps broadcasts heard by millions on National Public Radio, Somerville will record oral histories shared by teenagers and their loved ones. A host of community partners and volunteers were trained this fall by StoryCorps to conduct and record interviews. Now, teenagers are being sought to share stories about their daily lives, their hopes for the future, what they like and what concerns them, what inspires them, and what it's like growing up in Somerville or immigrating to Somerville. And, of course-since this is a library project-they may be asked about their favorite book or media.

"StoryCorps organizers are very excited about our project because we are the only library in the country that will be focusing solely on teenagers," said Somerville Library Director Maria Carpenter. "Even though we are far smaller than most of the other libraries chosen, we were recognized for being innovative and awarded this competitive grant, so it is a point of pride for Somerville."

According to the wishes of interview subjects and their parents, recordings of the interviews will be preserved for the future at the National Library of Congress, and some will also be shared locally via a listening station at the library and through short clips online, and some may be reviewed for airing on NPR. The recordings will also be preserved in a private archive at the library.

"A collection of oral histories can offer insights with a directness that no other media offers," said Kevin O'Kelly, who is the library's local history expert. "It shows the vibrancy and the thinking of a time, and it captures the hopes and dreams and fears and concerns from a certain point in time with an immediacy and emotional nuance that is often lost on paper," said O'Kelly. "Teen voices are part of Somerville's rich community and we want to make sure their voices are heard both now and in the future," said Carpenter.

As part of the grant, Somerville was given $2,500 for project expenses, free StoryCorps training sessions, professional recording equipment, and a StoryCorps kit that the library will keep for future use.

"Our vision related to this project is for this to be the first step in the library becoming a hub for oral histories in the city," said Carpenter. "We've heard from many community groups that have done small but excellent oral history projects, but who don't have the resources, technical support, and archival options needed to sustain their programs. But with the resources and access provided by StoryCorps, we can begin to help to address this need. There are so many other stories to gather, from experiences of Somerville veterans and immigrant stories to perspectives on how national events like 9/11 or the Great Recession affected Somerville, and so much more."

The Somerville "Every Teen Has a Story to Tell" project was conceived of and developed by Carpenter with Reference Librarian Kevin O'Kelly and Teen Librarian Ron Castile. Community partners include The Somerville Public Schools, the Teen Advisory Board of the Library Teen Space, The Welcome Project, Books of Hope, Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Harvard University's Awesome Box Project, the Somerville Community Corporation, and members of the Council on Aging LGBT Board, Friends of the Somerville Public Library, and community volunteers, among others.

To participate: Somerville teens interested in conducting interviews of loved ones or being interviewed, or both, may sign up by calling the Library Teen Space at 617-623-5000 ext. 2936, email Somerville@minlib.net, or just stop by the Teen Space in the Central Library, 79 Highland Ave.

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