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December 07, 2016
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Telling stories, preserving traditions

Library patrons can check out simple-to-use audio recorders from the Western Sullivan Public Library to use for conducting oral history interviews.

MORAN: Often, people wonder why they are being interviewed—“I’m no expert.” But that in itself is a very powerful reason to capture a recording; oral histories collect memory and experience, a day-to-day cataloging of life the way we live it. We all have stories that connect us not only to our families, but to our community, too. A collection of recordings also creates a body of knowledge; many recordings by one person and recordings by many townspeople give a fuller perspective on a particular event or time. We also capture “vernacular,” a fancy word for the particular ways different regions speak. Every place has its own music and imagery in its language. Many recordings allow us to hear more clearly what our word-music sounds like. Many recordings over time, also show us how things change, give us a deeper knowledge of what lies beneath the surface. (That’s why we called the WSPL’s oral history program “Unearthed.”)

TRR: What can families do (or what DO families do) with oral histories once the stories have been recorded? How do they share them, who do they share them with?

MORAN: Families add the recordings to scrapbooks, or use them with digital photo frames and slideshows. Recordings can be long or short, serious or fun. Short, fun recordings make great low-cost audio cards for birthdays and holidays. Oral histories of older family members are great gifts to younger generations, and oral histories of younger members are great gifts for older generations, too!! They can be uploaded and shared on family websites. And–don’t forget–local historical societies are very interested in them as a record of place and time, as are genealogists. I do think though that beyond a physical, tangible gift, oral histories create or renew relationships. That is one of the things our training includes. Oral history recordings are not just objects; they are a record of time spent together, face to face, asking questions about our experiences and lives. Always, people come away changed from an interview. Connections have been made.