Libraries Collect Oral History Stories Between Loved Ones


Two People, One Conversation

A year before my grandfather died, I sat with him and asked him questions about his life. He told me stories about his childhood and his immigration to the United States that I had never heard before. We laughed over funny vacation stories from when my dad was a kid. Those conversations with him were some of the best times we ever spent together. Thankfully I had a recording device with me, so I can go back and listen whenever I want to.

Life doesn’t often give us the opportunity to sit down with the ones we love and share our stories. Yet this connection is what makes our relationships stronger and helps us all feel seen and heard. Since October 2021, librarians in Waukesha and Jefferson counties have witnessed the positive impact of sharing memories through the “Gathering and Sharing Stories” initiative, which offers people the opportunity to share and record their stories with a loved one. It started with a grant from Bader Philanthropies, Inc. in partnership with StoryCorps, a national oral history non-profit. Staff from nine libraries were trained as StoryCorps Facilitators and so far, they have recorded a total of 87 stories from people across both counties.

“This project has been extremely rewarding,” said Angela Meyers of Bridges Library System. “A lot of people don’t think they have a story, but we all do. Your story matters. Future generations will be so grateful to hear your voice and learn about your journey.”

Two people sit across from each other at a wooden table. They are both wearing masks and both have a microphone in front of them.

How To Share Your Story

How does it work? All it takes is two microphones and two people to have one incredible conversation. All recording sessions are held privately at a library with a trained librarian facilitator there to handle the equipment. Participants choose their conversation partner and what they’d like to talk about. It’s audio only (no video!) and they get up to 40 minutes to chat together. Both participants get to keep the recording to pass on to their families or friends; if they want to make it public and archive it at the Library of Congress, they can choose to do so.

A black recording device with knobs and dials sitting on a wooden table.

“We have heard some amazing stories so far,” said Meyers, “from a daughter who interviewed her dad who is fighting cancer, to a best friend duo who shared laughs about how they started their acting career over twenty years ago.”

Mothers and daughters, siblings, uncles and nephews– it’s wonderful to see who has come to connect through a conversation and share their histories. Sometimes people know what they want to talk about, but question prompts like “What did you want to be when you grew up?” can help the conversation along. You never know where the conversation will lead.

One participant recently recorded a conversation with his children and told us, “Not only was it fun and interesting, but my boys and I bonded on a whole new level! And now, after I am gone, they have something to share with their children and grandchildren. Thank you so much!”

Are you interested in recording a conversation with a loved one? Or would you like more information? You can call Angela Meyers at 262-896-8245 or visit bridgeslibrarysystem.org/storycorps.

Written by Jill Fuller, Marketing & Communications Librarian for Bridges Library System. A version of this article appeared in several local newspapers in October 2022. We are sharing those pieces here on our website a few weeks after each piece has been printed.