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Harvesting local history at the library 0

Joanne Stanbridge,(right)  a librarian of genealogy and local history at the Kingston Frontenac Public Library, interviews Deanna MacDonald, about her days as an employee at MacDonalds in her teens. Stanbridge is interviewing many Kingstonians for Story Me, a project to collect stories and memories, and to preserve them for future generations.   Rob Mooy - Kingston This Week

Joanne Stanbridge,(right) a librarian of genealogy and local history at the Kingston Frontenac Public Library, interviews Deanna MacDonald, about her days as an employee at MacDonalds in her teens. Stanbridge is interviewing many Kingstonians for Story Me, a project to collect stories and memories, and to preserve them for future generations. Rob Mooy - Kingston This Week

On a weekend stroll around town, looking at old Victorian homes, it’s not hard to wonder what the walls would say if they could talk.

Each neighbourhood has a story, and since the buildings, streets, businesses and parks are only part of the picture, the Kingston Frontenac Public Library has devised a program to capture the life and times of the people who call this city home.

Librarian Joanne Stanbridge was eating dinner with a friend one evening when the woman remarked how she had plenty of stories about a house she once lived in on William Street. She quipped about possibly having a photograph of what the house once looked like.

“It was like ‘boing,’” said Stanbridge. “What a great way of getting people to start telling their stories. Everybody likes to show a picture and tell you about it.”

This dinner conversation happened around the same time Stanbridge was mulling over ideas for Canada’s 150th birthday. The sesquicentennial celebrations are only five years away and collecting the oral stories of the community is not an overnight job.

That’s where the Story Me project comes into play. Residents can share their stories and photos in the hopes of preserving memories of the city.

“It’s fun. It’s really a relaxed sort of conversation,” she said. “It’s not a highly structured oral history interview that you have to really prepare for. And that makes it kind of candid. I’m thinking, if I’m doing my family history, if I could hear one of my ancestors laughing at a joke or just talking off the top of their head, what an amazing resource that would be.”

It’s also a goldmine for genealogists, future researchers and people that want to know about their families. There’s an abundance of primary source material to pull from.

So far the library has six people on the team who conduct the interviews. They didn’t take any special training to harness their interviewing skills, but they’ve been having a lot of fun practicing on each other, an experience that has changed the dynamic of the workplace.

“It’s really interesting. Even having done it with my colleagues, there’s a kind of bond that comes up after you’ve sat just for half an hour talking to someone about their growing up or something that happened to them,” she said. “It can kind of be a community building thing as well. It can be kind of magical, actually.”

The response to Stanbridge’s idea varies. Some people are spouting their stories as others have a little less to say, at first.

“Everyone I talk to says, ‘Oh, I have something’ or they say, ‘No I don’t, I’m just boring.’ And then two seconds later they go, ‘Well the only thing I have is…’ and then they tell this amazing thing. I think people tend to undervalue their own history and their own stories sometimes,” she said.

The entire project is being documented online. All of the raw data collected goes into the Internet Archives. It’s a huge digital database that has a lot of resources to collect media and store it for a long time. Stanbridge hopes to pull little taglines and three-minute bits on to the Story Me blog where they’ll be accompanied by photographs.

The program launched Sept. 29 during Culture Days. To book a Story Me appointment, phone 613-549-8888 ext 1529 or email kfpl.storyme@gmail.com. Keep an eye out for monthly Story Me events focusing on holiday festivities and family mysteries. The Story Me blog can be read at http://kfplstoryme.wordpress.com/.

 

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