Stories, StoryCorps, Libraries, and Ferguson

Storytelling is among the oldest means humans employ of understanding, remembering, and transmitting knowledge. The art of storytelling and the content of shared stories are key elements of education – even if hard to place within the structure of the Common Core and other contemporary curriculum guides. In the ancient world, story was the backbone of what we now call history, geography, science, and literature – to name just a few subjects – and the essence of what we now consider entertainment and culture. It remains one of the most basic ways human organize and share thought.

Some adults in U.S. culture were shortchanged on the range and depth of the art. We might imagine story as the realm of the Library Lady with a room full of six-year-olds or an old uncle repeating family lore at Thanksgiving. But contemporary schools, libraries, and other institutions are working to broaden that understanding and make storytelling in all its power accessible to all ages.

Here’s just one example: The Municipal Library in Ferguson, Missouri – along with some 40 other libraries around the country – has been partnering with an organization called Storycorps to help residents tell essential stories and to house those stories for future generations.

“StoryCorps @Your Library” is a partnership between the American Library Association and StoryCorps. It helps communities create multiformat public programs on themes of oral history, local and family history.

Materials for communities interested in pursuing this kind of work are available for free from Storycorps. (Toolkit here.) And the project collaborates with National Public Radio and others to share the stories and promote National Listening Day, a relatively new annual observance scheduled for the day following Thanksgiving.

Ferguson and StoryCorp

Communities like Ferguson, MO, are using Story Corps @Your Library to help community members tell, share, and preserve stories as ordinary life and complex, momentous events unfold. For example, Scott Bonner, director of Ferguson Municipal Library, Tweeted the following message yesterday:

Thinking about this past year? We all are. Now is the time to tell your story. Storycorps at the #Ferguson library.

As the first anniversary of the killing of Mike Brown, and the uprising that followed, approaches, Ferguson Library is using the structure of its months-long recording period to help residents understand, remember, and transmit their individual and collective stories. An ancient art in active use.

More Resources

For more on storytelling, see also Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance and Story District, formerly “Speakeasy DC” (Education Town Hall interview).

…In another form of storytelling: We Act Radio co-owner Cliff Schechter has produced a feature film, The Algerian, which opens this Friday.

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