I am fascinated with history. My fascination shows in my undergraduate coursework in history. When I decided to teach, I started with high school social studies. I always thought my love of history came from my father. Then I realized this year that my mother was what librarians and information scientists refer to as an archivist.
I went through a briefcase that she sent to me and was surprised. There were trinkets, pictures of me as a child, letters that I sent her while I was in college, and remnants of moments that I had long since forgotten. Then in between my papers, I found evidence of my life with my husband and children. I was amazed by the way that she saved my story.
Perhaps someone reading this post thinks that it is normal for a parent to save their child’s memories. However, her gift for preserving records went beyond our family. Although she did not attend a library school, she documented life within our community. My mother spent her career carefully digitizing materials for a school district.
Many days after school, I watched her search through papers and microfilms. She carefully updated each to a digital format. Today school records are born digital. But, it takes people like her to save our past. Her job was unique because many of the documents she saved were generated when the school district was still segregated.
She felt that her job was an honor because of the need to save history and help people find themselves when they get lost. For her, this was vital because her birth records were misplaced. So when she needed proof of her identity to retire, her school records and family documents saved her. Those records told her story.
The story of life was of the utmost importance to her. She emphasized that stories need to be told accurately. Who knows your life more than you? When she knew someone perceived my story the wrong way, she would encourage me to speak life into the truth. When I was a child, it did not matter if it was an adult speaking. I was taught that our stories are important because we get lost in history without them. If stories are not saved, the true essence of a person can vanish.
In 50 years, the pandemic will become a part of history that is just as important as the Declaration of Independence and the Great Depression. During the pandemic, we have lost so many wonderful people. Imagine the personal narratives that were within them. The question is, how will the story of survivors be told. And let’s be honest with ourselves: we are survivors.
This brings me to the point of this post. School librarians can teach students how to research, curate, and share their personal accounts. Let me connect my thoughts to AASL’s National School Library Standards (AASL 2018). Besides the fun factor, providing students with the chance to use digital storytelling to preserve their history during this time has many benefits. Here are examples of five digital storytelling ideas, along with the standards that support them.
- Create an “evening of storytelling” program for students to share their stories with an audience of community members (I. Inquire, C. Share 4; II. Include, D. Grow, 2)
- Partner with a teacher to have students reflect on an event such as the 1918 Influenza Pandemic to compare history with their recent experiences (I. Inquire, D. Grow 3)
- Encourage students to gather historical perspectives for their stories from family and community members (IV. Curate, B. Create 2)
- Teach students how to research facts in various formats (i.e., audio, pictures, websites, and books) to support their digital stories (V. Explore, A. Think 1)
- Educate students about how to cite and use resources ethically when sharing their digital stories (VI. Engage, D. Grow 2)
In all, the story that is told makes the difference. The stories of a generation are the way a period in time will be remembered. It is not enough to share a story without ethically considering the facts in which they are embedded. As the future of our society, our students need to know how to discern varying perspectives and how they impact our global community. Stories can be manifestations of the past that can empower or devastate their subjects. As such, school librarians have a fantastic opportunity to bridge societal divides by bringing our students together to share their experiences. In doing so, we can support STEM and multiple literacy skills. We have the potential to spark the creativity of a new generation of dynamic leaders. The chance to responsibly preserve stories awaits us. Will you seize it?
AASL. 2018. National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries. Chicago: ALA.
Author: Daniella Smith
Daniella Smith, PhD. is a former school and public librarian. She is currently the Hazel Harvey Peace Professor in Children’s Library Services at the University of North Texas.