Suffolk Speaks project looks for stories

Published 6:57 pm Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Suffolk Public Library system has lots of stories, but it is currently looking for the stories of Suffolk residents to add to its collection.

Everyone has a story, and Suffolk residents are invited to record theirs for posterity as part of the Suffolk Speaks project.

Library staff have been recording conversations with local people in hopes of gathering a wide variety of stories to add to the collection.

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The project has been ongoing for a few months, but so far, library staff have found that not a whole lot of people want to participate.

“I’m a little surprised we haven’t gotten more,” said Megan Mulvey with Suffolk Public Library. “People are kind of nervous about the whole idea.”

Ashley Reed with Suffolk Public Library also said many people don’t think they have anything interesting to say.

“People tend to devalue their own experiences,” she said.

So far, eight stories are loaded to a SoundCloud playlist. Seven more are recorded and coming as soon as they undergo a few edits to make them more listener-friendly, such as removing background noise.

The process of recording your story is simple. Folks can go to an open recording event at one of the libraries, make an appointment to record their story or catch library staff at one of the events where they have been recording stories.

Library staff come equipped with an iPad and microphone and have a list of conversation-starting questions. They might ask interviewees about a significant memory they have created in Suffolk, how the city has changed over time, what their favorite restaurant or outdoor spot in Suffolk is and what they would change about Suffolk, among other questions.

The point isn’t to get all positive stories, Mulvey said. In fact, some negative experiences are expected, perhaps from military veterans or people who were involved in the Civil Rights movement, for example.

“We want to get a real slice of life,” Mulvey said. “Suffolk has gone through a lot of changes.”

“We want to be honest to the experience, whether it was good or bad or in between,” Reed said.

In addition to recording stories, Reed sees a secondary benefit to the project — recording not just what people say but how they say it.

“The Tidewater dialect is pretty distinct,” Reed said, noting that it is dying out in many parts of the region due to urbanization and the heavy military presence. “Suffolk is kind of one of the last holdouts.”

Eventually, the hope is that the recorded stories will become part of the library system’s permanent collection.

“We have books and digital things, and now we have a new aspect to our collection,” Mulvey said.

Recording will go on likely through next May, Mulvey said.

“We’re going to keep going until nobody will talk to us,” she said.

Open recording events are set for 6 to 7:45 p.m. at the following dates and locations. No registration is required.

  • June 27, Morgan Memorial Library
  • July 6, Morgan Memorial Library
  • July 12, North Suffolk Library
  • Aug. 3, Morgan Memorial Library
  • Aug. 9, North Suffolk Library

Those who can’t make one of the open recording sessions can set up an appointment through the “Contact Us” form on the library’s website,