Typically the holidays are a time for connecting with others. With the current pandemic limiting our ability to gather together, StoryCorps is one way people can maintain their connections and create new connections in a new and memorable way. StoryCorps is a national non-profit organization dedicated to recording, preserving, and sharing the stories of people of all backgrounds and beliefs. Conversations recorded are preserved for future generations at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress and become instantly accessible and shareable through the StoryCorps Archive. Earlier this year, AASL partnered with StoryCorps to launch StoryCorps Connect.
Dave Isay, the founder and president of StoryCorps, e-mailed me his thoughts about StoryCorps and how this public service platform can create a lasting legacy by bringing people together.
Can you tell us the inspiration behind the creation of StoryCorps? How does it work?
When I was 22, I found my calling as a radio documentary maker. I did a lot of work in prisons and homeless shelters and housing developments and learned, for instance, when I was doing work in the Louisiana State Penitentiary interviewing men who had served the longest prison sentences in American history, how important — even transformative — it was for them simply to be listened to.
I wanted to make that experience available to everyone. In 2003 I founded StoryCorps. The idea is simple: two people meet, either face to face in one of our booths, with our app, or over our video-chat service, StoryCorps Connect. For forty minutes they share a conversation about the important things in their lives: their family, their dreams for the future, how they want to be remembered. At the end of the recording each participant gets a copy and another goes to the StoryCorps Archive at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.
Today, more than 600,000 people have recorded with us. You can hear their stories at our online archive, at archive.storycorps.org.
Did you ever think StoryCorps would become so widely used and beloved as it has become? Why do you think it has resonated so deeply with the public? Why do stories matter?
Stories matter because they’re how we understand and share our life experience with others, and how we learn from others, too. It’s how wisdom gets passed on.
Everyone loves a story because we’re all trying to figure out who we are, why we’re here, and how to live.
I knew StoryCorps was something everyone could benefit from. Every new idea has a big chance of failing, but I always had hope that this would catch on.
Can you tell us about StoryCorps Connect? How can this be used by school librarians?
Everyone is meeting up over video-chat these days. StoryCorps Connect allows you not only to meet up, but to record a conversation, then have it archived at the Library of Congress.
StoryCorps Connect is the perfect antidote to “social distancing” because it leads people into these intimate conversations that bring people closer together.
This holiday season is going to be a difficult one. So many high schoolers may be missing their grandparents or other loved ones. We’d love for them to use StoryCorps Connect to add a dose of humanity and connection to this year’s Thanksgiving.
In addition to our 2020 Educator Toolkit, which includes lesson plans and intergenerational stories, we’ve created a special handout for librarians. We invite all school librarians to download a copy and share it with their students and colleagues!
I know equity, diversity, and inclusion is an important facet of StoryCorps. Can you explain how this commitment and focus is evident?
Equity, diversity, and inclusion are at the heart of StoryCorps. We work each year to ensure our archive mirrors America. We do this by opening our doors to anyone who can make an appointment, download our app, or access StoryCorps Connect.
We also do an incredible amount of outreach to communities who are traditionally underrepresented in the American narrative: people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and so many more. About half of our signature facilitated interview slots in our mobile and permanent booths are held for people who may have heard of us through public broadcasting and other media. The other half are filled with people who are served by the hundreds of non-profit community organizations we partner with each year, across the country, to ensure the archive represents the vastest swathe of voices, stories and experiences possible.
Our weekly Morning Edition broadcasts make a point of surfacing voices and stories that you might not hear in traditional media. We take that very seriously.
Finally, we couldn’t do any of this without our diverse and passionate staff. I have to give them all the credit.
Using StoryCorps with Learners
StoryCorps can also be used to create authentic engagement for learners for real-life audiences and is a perfect complement for teaching primary documents. To assist school library professionals in using the site, AASL and StoryCorps collaborated to produce the webinar “How to Use StoryCorps Connect as a School Librarian.” The archive is available for free on the AASL Learning Library.