Technology at the Library: StoryCorps Goes Global

(The following is an article by Nicole Saylor of the American Folklife Center for the March/April 2016 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM. You can read the issue in its entirety here.)

The StoryCorps oral history collection is growing through a new mobile app and website.

IMG_0395In a matter of months last fall, the StoryCorps collection of oral histories more than doubled. The majority of new interviews were conducted during the project’s first annual “Great Thanksgiving Listen,” which encouraged students to record interviews with their families. But the project also got a boost in participation following the recent launch of a new mobile app and website.

Housed at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, Storycorps is one of the largest oral history projects in existence, with more than 50,000 recorded interviews. Selected interviews have been featured regularly on NPR’s “Morning Edition.”

StoryCorps was launched in 2003 by documentary producer Dave Isay in collaboration with the Library of Congress to capture the stories of ordinary people throughout the nation. Interviews have been collected in mobile recording booths across the country, as well as in permanent StoryBooths located in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Atlanta. The mobile booth will return to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., from April 15 through May 18, 2016.

In 2015, Isay was awarded the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Prize, given annually to an exceptional individual with “One Wish to Change the World.” The prize comes with $1 million to invest in a powerful idea. Isay’s vision was to create an app, with a companion website at StoryCorps.me, which guides users through the StoryCorps interview experience from recording to sharing the story online. The website serves as a home for these recordings and provides interviewing tips and editing tools.

Technology has made it possible for anyone to participate via the app or through the StoryCorps.me site. The ability to conduct and share interviews independent of a StoryCorps recording booth provides a global platform whereby anyone in the world can record and upload an oral history.IMG_0398

Using the microphone and speaker in most contemporary mobile devices, the new app “can give you instructions. It can send audio files. Those are the key ingredients,” says Isay. “It helps you pick questions, and gives you all the tips you need to record a meaningful StoryCorps interview, and then with one tap upload it.”

The Library of Congress is able to meet the challenge of acquiring tens of thousands of interviews at a time thanks to the ability to harvest them via the web. This process involves using StoryCorps’ application programming interface (API) to download the data—something Library and StoryCorps technologists spent months engineering. The Library will regularly gather copies of these uploaded interviews from the StoryCorps.me site for long-term preservation.

While traditional StoryCorps interviews can be accessed onsite at the Library of Congress, access to the do-it-yourself recordings will be through the StoryCorps.me website.

“We are excited to see our decade-long collecting partnership with StoryCorps go global,” said American Folklife Center Director Elizabeth Peterson. “This effort is an exciting next step in the project, which is a living record that is truly of, by and for the people.”

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