2016 National Medal for Museum & Library Service Honorees
In February 2016, we completed our trip to the Madison Public Library, the final trip in a series of adventures that took us from Santa Ana, California to Exeter, Rhode Island, and many places in between as we preserved the stories of the ten institutions awarded the Institute of Museum and Library Service’s 2016 National Medal. We are honored to share some of these recordings below.
We’ve been preserving the stories of all National Medal for Museum and Library Service winners for the past eight years and are thrilled to announce we’ll soon be on the road recording 2017’s honorees.
Mid-America Science Museum (Hot Springs, Arkansas)
At the Mid-America Science Museum, participants ranged from patrons to mentors, congressmen, and volunteers, and reflected the can-do spirit of the community as well as its diversity. In this story, Niles Ellis, who is a designer for the museum, talks with his colleague Lori Arnold about how he impressed the senior leadership of the museum with his ingenuity and ability to make things work on a shoestring budget.
“I could turn an area of the museum into a primordial existence…”
Brooklyn Public Library (Brooklyn, NY)
Brooklyn Public Library serves an extremely broad community — over 2.5 million people benefit from the system. Among the many diverse stories recorded with the library this past fall, Richelet Jean brought his young daughter Abigail to record and reflect on the impact that librarian Hasina Islam has had on their family.
“You see that spark that you’ve put in this child?”
Tomaquag Museum (Exeter, RI)
Tomaquag Museum is Rhode Island’s only museum dedicated entirely to telling the story of the state’s Indigenous Peoples. The museum invited Narragansett youth, adults, and tribal elders to tell the stories of their families and lives, and of their culture and traditions. In this story, brothers Lonnie (left) and Robert Shumate talk about their memories of some of the old characters in their family. The two remember attending powwows, cooking johnnycakes, and sharing food together. We hear first from Robert.
“We had somewhat of a battle as to who made the better johnnycakes…”
Otis Library (Norwich, CT)
Otis Library worked with a local community member to help them identify storytellers that would create a representative picture of the Norwich area. Among the people suggested were David Burnett (left) and his friend Joe. David is the Executive Director, and a former therapist, at Reliance Health, a facility that has helped people diagnosed with mental illness in Norwich, CT for more than 40 years. In Joe and David’s interview, they discuss why David was tentative to begin their client-therapist relationship 30 years ago. They also talk about how much they have helped each other throughout their friendship.
“They look at it as a sad thing but they don’t know what can become of us…”
Lynn Meadows Discovery Center (Gulfport, MS)
Throughout our trip to Lynn Meadows, we heard a wide range of stories, touching on everything from the lasting impact that Hurricane Katrina had on the museum to the creation of the WINGS Performing Arts and Education Center. In this story, LaWanda Jones speaks about why she brought her son, Joseph, to the WINGS program. They share members of Joseph’s first audition on stage and speak about how his love of singing evolved.
“I realized I had a voice.”
Santa Ana Public Library (Santa Ana, CA)
Santa Ana is roughly 80% Latino, and the library’s services and programs provide an anchor for the community and respond to the community’s needs. In this story, Elizabeth Campos (left) speaks with Zulma Zepeda about Elizabeth’s experiences as a young woman living across the street from the library, her progress as a volunteer, and her reflections on how the library touches young people in particular.
“You could be the rocks or you could be the sand…”
The Chicago History Museum (Chicago, IL)
StoryCorps’ Chicago facilitators traveled up the road to the Chicago History Museum to record stories with a range of community members and contributors. Many participants shared stories of where they came from, including Bernie Wong, who contributed a coat to the Museum’s “My Chinatown” exhibition. As she explained, she was only allowed to bring one suitcase on her flight from Hong Kong to the United States, so her mother, a skilled tailor, made her a coat with seven coats inside, “that was so heavy it stood up by itself.”
In another story about personal history, Jean Mishima (left) reflected on her experience in a Japanese interment camp during World War II and the impact it had on her and her family. Jean also reflected on how her life changed after they moved to Chicago.
“That feeling of total isolation is still very vivid in my mind.”
North Carolina State University Libraries (Raleigh, NC)
NCSU Libraries’ conversations that touched on the things that make the NCSU Libraries really unique — their emerging technology collaborations, their visualization services, and their fearless director Susan Nutter.
In Saul Flores’s conversation with Marian Fragola, he explained how he came to be a photographer of work that represented his history as an immigrant. Before the library exhibited Saul’s photography, he was a student at North Carolina State University.
“It’s through my relationship with the library where I learned to speak…”
Columbia Museum of Art (Columbia, SC)
Members of the greater Columbia arts community told their stories during our three-day visit to the Columbia Museum of Art. Participants included a pair who helped procure a Dale Chihuly chandelier for the museum and Columbia’s poet laureate. Childhood and lifelong friends Brandolyn Pinkston (left) and Burnett Gallman spoke about memories of their church congregation and of segregation. They also shared memories of how their friendship evolved overtime through their mutual love of South Carolina’s music scene.
“I don’t think we could be closer if we were actually siblings.”
Madison Public Library (Madison, WI)
Madison Public Library featured interviews with community members, volunteers, and stafff, ranging from a hip-hop artist and producer to the mayor of Madison. One of the many stories we heard was from Char Braxton, who spoke about how her early experiences with libraries provided a road of experience and a road to college. Char spoke about taking a writing course and how that led her to explore her creativity and trauma she experienced as a young child.
“I felt like a butterfly in that I was free.”
Happy 100th Birthday, National Park Service
On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the Organic Act of 1916, establishing the National Park Service as a federal agency under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior. Today the National Park Service (NPS) maintains 412 areas over 84 million acres, and is a leader in preserving U.S. history and culture—including awe-inspiring natural parks and monuments such as Hot Springs National Park and the Mount Rushmore National Memorial.
Over the past 15 months, in partnership with the National Park Service Midwest Region Centennial Committee, StoryCorps has visited many of these important sites to document the place-based stories of over 300 NPS staff and visitors. The region oversees a diverse number of sites, and we have spent time at nearly 30 of them attempting to preserve the meaningful connections between the people who work in and visit our national parks and monuments, and the agency dedicated to maintaining and preserving our resources and history.
Stretching from Minnesota to Arkansas, we have visited towering sand dunes on Lake Michigan, a sacred pipestone quarry in Minnesota, and the Illinois home of Abraham Lincoln. StoryCorps facilitators zigzagged across the country, witnessing unique natural formations such as the huge glacial potholes near Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway, and conducted interviews at Pea Ridge National Military Park—home of one of the Civil War’s pivotal battles—while the sound of historic cannon fire went off in the background.
In keeping with one of our overarching missions, the diversity of the sites drew participants from all walks of life allowing us to record the stories and experiences of interpreters, law enforcement officers, local craftsmen, administrators, long-time volunteers, and visitors.
Below is a sampling of some of those stories.
Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, (St. Louis, MO)
“I begged my parents to take me back here as soon as possible…”
David Newmann first visited the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site with his family when he 9 years old. When he was 11, he became the youngest volunteer the site had ever had. Over time he has witnessed the site develop and change describing his work as a “cool dream come true.” With his friend and former coworker, Chiffontae Ross, they discusses the importance of remembering the history not just of the Grants, but also of the enslaved people who worked and lived at the site. StoryCorps visited the site and recorded their conversation in September 2015.
Nicodemus National Historic Site, (Nicodemus, KS)
“When I come back I get a feeling of refreshing my freedom…”
For some, visiting a national park site is an opportunity to come home. Founded in 1877 by freed slaves, the town of Nicodemus was once the only all-black community west of the Mississippi and today it remains a functioning town. In 1996, Congress designated Nicodemus a historical site. In August of 2015, StoryCorps joined the annual Nicodemus Homecoming Celebration to record recollections from visitors such as Barbara Christian and her half-brother, Thomas Wellington, who are descendants of the town’s original settlers. They sat down with StoryCorps to remember family gatherings in Nicodemus and their ancestors who founded the town.
Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, (St. Louis, MO)
“Our job doesn’t have a lot of praise to it, and we don’t really mind that…”
Roger Smith (left) and Terry DiBlasi (right) are tram mechanics at the Gateway Arch. Roger remembers seeing the 630-foot high arch for the first time on a high school trip and being afraid to go up to the top. According to Roger, the “tram is one of a kind, and we are one of a kind.” With more than 2 million visitors a year, the most common question they are asked is, “Will it make it to the top?” It always does and that’s why they have a saying: “If it doesn’t break down and it runs, we’re doing our job.” In September 2015 they sat down with StoryCorps to talk about their roles as veteran mechanics working on the tram that takes visitors up and down.
National Park Service Midwest Regional Office, (Omaha, NE)
“I tell people that I’m Smokey Bear without a costume…”
At the National Park Service Midwest Regional Office, J. Michael Johnson talked with his wife, Joyce Van Horne, about his unique role as a wildland firefighter and media relations coordinator for the National Park Service. He describes the grief and sadness that comes with the job and recalls comforting residents of a California neighborhood, whose homes had all been destroyed by fire. He also tells her about the joy he gets from moments of solitude, sitting alone in the parks, listening to the birds and appreciating the vast beauty. They recorded this StoryCorps interview in June 2016.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, (Empire, MI)
“We ingrained in you, early on, that this was a special place…”
In unique and individual ways, the National Park Service has changed millions of lives. For Steve Yancho, it redirected his entire career. Steve came to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore thinking that he would be there for a short period of time, but ended up staying for over 30 years. Today, he has passed the torch on to his son Sam, who is also a park ranger at Sleeping Bear Dunes.
In the coming months, StoryCorps will travel to Arkansas, North Dakota, Indiana, and Illinois stopping to record at nine more sites; from the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, to the Pullman National Monument on Chicago’s Southside, this growing collection will continue to celebrate significant moments in U.S. history, and preserve the stories of those who keep it alive.
Happy 100th Birthday, National Park Service!
StoryCorps Tribal Libraries: Selected Stories
Note: StoryCorps Tribal Libraries is not currently accepting new applications.
StoryCorps Tribal Libraries is a program that provides tribal libraries and libraries that serve Native communities with the resources and training to implement our interview methods within a framework of high-quality library programming and cultural preservation. The program is made possible with generous support from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).
Misty Cook (Coast Pomo) and Sky Road Webb (Coast Miwok) came to StoryCorps as part of the San Francisco StoryBooth’s partnership with the Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival (AICLS).
During their interview, friends and musical collaborators Misty and Sky share their experiences of learning their native language through music. They sing a song that they co-wrote about mourning, or, as Sky describes it, a song about “getting out of your mourning” — a beautiful reminder of the potential for joy and connection even in the midst of sadness and loss.
This interview was facilitated by Geraldine Ah-Sue and produced by Dan Collison.
Since early 2015, the Nisqually Tribal Library has been recording interviews within their community as part of both the StoryCorps @ your library and StoryCorps Tribal Libraries programs. With support from Nisqually archivist Shannon Kravitz, Kurtis Bullchild has interviewed more than 20 community members.
In 2015, Kurtis (Nisqually and Blackfoot) invited his sister-in-law, Betty Pacheco (Nisqually, Chehalis, and Potawatomi), to talk about her experiences as a master weaver and how her craft connects her with both her family and her culture.
This interview was facilitated by Shannon Kravitz and produced by Dan Collison.
Irene Lopez-Casillas talks to her 11-year-old granddaughter, Cordelia McDaniel, about the importance of learning about Native American culture and traditions.
Irene describes the discrimination that she faced as a child and how her grandmother told to stay out of the sun so that people would not know she was Native, and shares her happiness at seeing Cordelia dance at the Potawatomi Gathering and embracing tradition. In conversation with Cordelia, Irene emphasizes the importance of practicing everything that she has been taught as a way of preserving her language and cultural heritage.
This interview was facilitated by Morgan Fiegel-Stickles in partnership with American Indian Higher Education Consortium, which represents 37 tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) in the United States.
STL Advisory Council
StoryCorps Tribal Libraries is supported by an Advisory Council comprised of tribal library leaders, community members, and experts in indigenous ways of knowing. The Advisory Council has been instrumental in providing guidance on how StoryCorps can provide culturally competent trainings and facilitate an archival process that is respectful of tribal laws and indigenous knowledge.
Advisory Council Members: Patricia Billings, Kurtis Bullchild, Faith Hagenhofer, Jennifer Himmelreich, Janice Kowemy, Shannon Kravitz, Dr. Loriene Roy, Bari Gayle Morehead Talley
Quapaw Tribal Library (Quapaw, OK)
Karuk Tribal Library & Museum (Karuk, CA)
Laguna Public Library (Laguna, NM)
Hale Noelo (Honolulu, HI)
Nisqually Tribal Library (Nisqually, WA)
Juneau Public Library (Juneau, AK)
StoryCorps is committed to supporting tribal and public libraries interested in documenting and archiving community stories or oral histories. We have created a free, downloadable Toolkit for Success that specifically provides libraries with the resources they needed to begin their oral history collection. Access it here.
Celebrating Black History with the National Park Service
In the 1860s, six all-black cavalry regiments were created to help rebuild the country following the Civil War. According to legend, Native Americans on the western frontier called these troops “Buffalo Soldiers” because their dark curly hair resembled the coat on a buffalo, and the soldiers embraced the name because of the buffalo’s fierce reputation. Long before Bob Marley sang about them, the nickname was taken on once again by all-black U.S. Army troops in the days before the armed forces were desegregated in 1948.
As part of our ongoing partnership with the National Park Service Midwest Region Centennial Committee, StoryCorps has been recording at the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument, which was established in March 2013, in Wilberforce, Ohio.
This past November, Harold Warren (pictured at left), now 92, one of the few surviving WWII “Buffalo Soldiers,” traveled a mile from his home to the monument to record a StoryCorps interview. Joined by his son, Lee, he recalled being drafted into the Army in May 1941 and being assigned to the 92nd Infantry (an all-black unit except for the officers). Soon after he found himself dodging bullets on the front lines in Italy while being shot at by German soldiers.
See original photos and listen to Harold and Lee’s interview below:
Freed slaves founded the town of Nicodemus, Kansas, in 1877. At the time it was the only all-black community west of the Mississippi, and today, it remains a functioning town. In 1996, Congress designated Nicodemus (pictured at top) a historical site and more recently, StoryCorps joined the annual Homecoming festival celebration (held since 1878), to record recollections from visitors.
Two of the people who chose to share their stories were Barbara Christian and her half-brother Thomas Wellington. Their ancestors are from Nicodemus, and they discussed the childhood memories that arise whenever they return to Nicodemus, and the emotional pull that this national historical site has over their lives.
See original photos and listen to Barbara and Thomas’ interview below:
In addition to the Charles Young National Historic Site and the Nicodemus National Historic Site, StoryCorps has also sent facilitators to other important Midwest black historic sites. This month, we recorded at the Brown v Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kansas (pictured below), where Linda Brown’s attempt to attend third grade at the Sumner Elementary School set the stage for the Supreme Court’s 1954 landmark ruling that put an end to legal segregation in public schools.
We also recorded at the birthplace of George Washington Carver in Diamond, Missouri. This national landmark honors Carver, who was born into slavery in the 1860s and became an influential agriculturist, scientist, and educator. And later this year, we will send facilitators to the Central High National Historic Site in Little Rock, Arkansas, to record stories on the spot where a governor attempted to defy the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v Board of Ed and keep his state’s public schools segregated.
Individually, we have captured amazing personal stories and recollections of defining national moments that would otherwise be lost to time, and as a collection, these place-based stories provide an invaluable context to turning points in American history.
Click here to listen to more stories from our recordings at national parks across the Midwest.