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The Bridges Library System partners with StoryCorps to help preserve life stories

Hope and Jim Winship do a StoryCorps recording at the Waukesha Public Library.
Courtesy of Bridges Library System
Hope and Jim Winship do a StoryCorps recording at the Waukesha Public Library.

Last year, the Bridges Library system received a grant from Bader Philanthropies to do an oral history project in partnership with StoryCorps, a national oral history nonprofit group. Librarians in Waukesha and Jefferson counties have been trained to be Storycorps facilitators, and the project has recorded nearly 100 stories for members of the community. The project gives people the chance to connect and preserve their stories, not just for their families, but also the Library of Congress if they choose. This project is an extension of the Library Memory Project, a program for people living with memory loss.

According to Angela Meyers, the coordinator of youth and inclusive services for the Bridges Library system, the Library Memory Project started seven years ago. Meyers explains, "The primary purpose of the memory project is to provide memory cafes which are social engagement opportunities for people to come together... a great way to capture their stories for them to share with their grandchildren and future generations," Meyers explains. She spearheaded the partnership with StoryCorps as a means to expound on this mission.

The StoryCorps program allows a person to schedule a time where they have a conversation with someone, typically a close family member or friend whose story they wish to capture, then its recorded and preserved for their family archives. If they choose, they may also make the recording available for the Library of Congress.

As part of the partnership with StoryCorps, 12 librarians were chosen and trained to become story facilitators in an extensive application process. In order to find ideal candidates, the application included questions for candidates to describe their passion for storytelling and connecting with people.

Amy Christian, a librarian facilitator at the Dwight Foster Public Library in Fort Atkinson, was chosen as one of the facilitators. When describing the training process, Christian says, "It was two days of a training. We had to learn all about the process of how you facilitate an interview. You had to go through learning the equipment, the paperwork behind it [and] how to connect with people and how to make them feel really comfortable".

After a year in operation, the program has recorded 94 stories. Stories are from local community members, including an interview between Jacqueline Gratschmayr and her mother, Betty Deusic, who lived through World War II in England before moving to the U.S., and Jamie Matczak and her father, Bernard, who describes his experiences living life on a farm.

The impact of the recordings on the local community is noticeable to Meyers and Christian. Meyers says, "We're definitely building a stronger community amongst people". Christian adds, "It's just a blessing for people to reconnect with one another." While the opportunity to share stories is valuable, Meyers still understands that the concept may seem strange to people and often takes several months for storytellers to adapt to the idea before they actually sit down for the interview. The team is alright with waiting because the stories are worth the wait.

If you are interested in participating in the StoryCorps program with the Bridges Library System, please reach out to Angela Meyers at 262-896-8245. You can also visit bridgeslibrarysystem.org/recordings to get more information or sign up to record a conversation.


Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Rob is All Things Considered Host and Digital Producer.
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