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Somerville Public Libraries Selected as One of Ten
Sites Nationally for StoryCorps Oral History Project (as heard on National
Public Radio); Library to Record Teen Stories

SOMERVILLE – Anyone who lives in Somerville knows
the city has a million stories to tell, and now, thanks to a national StoryCorps grant, the country will get to
hear—and preserve at the National Library of Congress—some of the least heard
stories among them: those of teenagers.

In March, the Somerville Public Library was
selected from more than 200 applicants nationwide
to be one of just 10
libraries chosen for the “StoryCorps @ Your Library” pilot program with the
American Library Association with funding from the Institute of Museum and
Library Services. Using the same approach and professional equipment used for
the StoryCorps broadcasts heard by millions on National Public Radio, Somerville
will record oral histories shared by teenagers and their loved ones. A host of
community partners and volunteers were trained this fall by StoryCorps to
conduct and record interviews. Now, teenagers are being sought to share stories
about their daily lives, their hopes for the future, what they like and what
concerns them, what inspires them, and what it’s like growing up in Somerville
or immigrating to Somerville. And, of course—since this is a library project—they
may be asked about their favorite book or media.

“StoryCorps organizers are very excited about our
project because we are the only library in the country that will be focusing solely
on teenagers,” said Somerville Library Director Maria Carpenter. “Even though
we are far smaller than most of the other libraries chosen, we were recognized
for being innovative and awarded this competitive grant, so it is a point of
pride for Somerville.”

According to the wishes of interview subjects and
their parents, recordings of the interviews will be preserved for the future at
the National Library of Congress, and some will also be shared locally via a
listening station at the library and through short clips online, and some may be
reviewed for airing on NPR. The recordings will also be preserved in a private archive
at the library.

“A collection of oral histories can offer insights
with a directness that no other media offers,” said Kevin O’Kelly, who is the
library’s local history expert. “It shows the vibrancy and the thinking of a
time, and it captures the hopes and dreams and fears and concerns from a
certain point in time with an immediacy and emotional nuance that is often lost
on paper,” said O’Kelly. “Teen voices are part of Somerville’s rich community
and we want to make sure their voices are heard both now and in the future,”
said Carpenter.

As part of the grant, Somerville was given $2,500
for project expenses, free StoryCorps training sessions, professional recording
equipment, and a StoryCorps kit that the library will keep for future use.

“Our vision related to this project is for this to
be the first step in the library becoming a hub for oral histories in the
city,” said Carpenter. “We’ve heard from many community groups that have done
small but excellent oral history projects, but who don’t have the resources,
technical support, and archival options needed to sustain their programs. But
with the resources and access provided by StoryCorps, we can begin to help to
address this need. There are so many other stories to gather, from experiences
of Somerville veterans and immigrant stories to perspectives on how national
events like 9/11 or the Great Recession affected Somerville, and so much more.”

The Somerville “Every Teen Has a Story to Tell”
project was conceived of and developed by Carpenter with Reference Librarian
Kevin O’Kelly and Teen Librarian Ron Castile. Community partners include The
Somerville Public Schools, the Teen Advisory Board of the Library Teen Space, The
Welcome Project, Books of Hope, Simmons College Graduate School of Library and
Information Science, Harvard University’s Awesome Box Project, the Somerville
Community Corporation, and members of the Council on Aging LGBT Board, Friends
of the Somerville Public Library, and community volunteers, among others. 


Somerville teens interested in conducting interviews of loved
ones or being interviewed, or both, may sign up by calling the Library Teen
Space at 617-623-5000 ext. 2936, email,  or just stop by the Teen Space in the Central
Library, 79 Highland Ave.

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