Local stories keep coming

Published 10:37 pm Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Suffolk Public Library staff are keeping their eyes and ears open for local residents with stories to tell.

Since spring, library staffers have been recording conversations for Suffolk Speaks, an oral history project meant to gather a vast collection of Suffolk experiences from anyone who’s worked, lived or played in the city.

“What we’re really looking for is a diverse picture of Suffolk,” said Megan Mulvey, library outreach and program services manager. “We want to make sure that we have stories from every demographic.”

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Nine stories have been uploaded onto a SoundCloud playlist on the library website, and 10 more recordings will be available as soon as they undergo edits to make them more listener-friendly, such as removing background noise, Mulvey said.

“We’re backed up because of the holidays, but we’re planning to get to them by the end of the month,” She said.

Those interested can go to an open recording event at one of the libraries, make an appointment for a recording session or meet library staff at one of their outreach events throughout the city.

Staffers use an iPad, microphone and a list of conversation-starting questions. They might ask interviewees about a place in Suffolk where they made lasting memories, or how the city has changed over time.

Mulvey said the project has been a learning experience for staff members, and that the hardest part has simply been convincing people that they have something worth sharing.

“People tell us over and over that they haven’t done anything interesting, but that’s so not the case,” she said. “Everyone has a story to tell.”

Staffers have gotten creative in how they go about interviews. They’ve even used a spinning wheel at some recording sessions, according to Mulvey.

“We put different prompts on the prize wheel, like ‘tell us about your first date,’” she said. “It’s an icebreaker that gets people comfortable sharing with us.”

Some talked about their civil rights activism in the city, both recently and decades ago. Others talked about growing up on local farms and memories with their sweethearts.

Ashley Reed, adult program services coordinator, said some of the best stories have come from retirement communities.

“I always get such good stories from them,” Reed said. “One lady I talked to was a seamstress who had photos from all of her works over decades.”

Their plan is to reach more people with the help of local businesses and community partners. More open recording sessions are scheduled, and there are talks of combining the project with genealogy and local history services.

Reed hopes that the project allows people to better connect in an ever-changing city.

“Suffolk is undergoing a lot of change, and really rapidly,” she said. “Sometimes you have groups that aren’t super-familiar with one another come together. Hopefully this gives them the opportunity to find out more about people and groups they might not know much about.”

A “Suffolk Speaks” open recording session will be held from 6:30 to 7:45 p.m. Jan. 17 at Morgan Memorial Library. Visit suffolkpubliclibrary.com/176/Suffolk-Speaks for more information.