Memories Archived: Preserving Our Stories in the Library of Congress

I recently came across some old journals I’ve kept over the years — although I was never consistent with them, they do reflect the history of my young adult life. I flipped to an entry from around this time five years ago, May 2014. That was the month my grandmother passed away. Just days before her passing, my mom and I flew to Chicago for Mother’s Day to visit grandma Delia in the hospital she had been in and out of for months. The journal entry is sparse, a few notes on which relative shared the news, my feelings, my last memories of her – just a paragraph. That brief paragraph may be of little value to others, but to me it’s a moment I’ve recorded in my family history, a piece of my story.

Everyone records their stories in different ways, through journals, photographs, video, audio, and more. My mom keeps an old voicemail from her mother, from before her hospital days. The manner in which we tell our stories, whatever the medium, is personal to each individual. But what happens to those records once we’re gone? I haven’t digitized my journals, so if they get damaged, that’s the end of them. We have recorded histories of prominent people from historical figures to celebrities, but how do we record the histories of everyone else?

Image and caption from StoryCorps mobile application

Last summer during a trip to L.A., I visited an exhibit at the Annenberg Space for Photography, Not an Ostrich: And Other Images from America’s Library. The exhibit was partnered with StoryCorps, an organization whose mission it is to record, preserve, and share stories to build connections between people.

In one room of the exhibit was a silver Airstream trailer equipped with a table, two chairs, recording equipment (two microphones, headphones, an iPad), and a box of tissues. Visitors were free to step in and record an interview or conversation with a friend or family member, or just themselves. StoryCorps submits each recording to be included in the audio archives of the Library of Congress. Each story is an invaluable resource for generations to come. A father and son share their family history, two people share the story of falling in love, some share stories of friendship, and others of trauma and grief.

The voice of our nation comes from the stories of its people. All its people. Advances in digital technologies gives people the opportunity to record conversations, share our life stories, and preserve the knowledge of everyday lives to be passed on into the future.

Image and caption from StoryCorps mobile application

By Alexandra Srp, INFO 653-02

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Posted in Archives, Library, Preservation, Uncategorized

by Hugh McLeod

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Pratt Institute School of Information
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