DC Public Library has a new space for digital projects and some incredible folks working to connect people with one another, information, and the tools to tell their own stories. Peter Timko reached out to share the workshop series he’s developed, drawing on the library’s resources and his own skills in audio production.  Read on to learn more about what he’s up to and download handouts he created for the course. Enjoy! ~Erinn

MLK_Library exteriorAudio Storytelling at DC Public Library

by Peter Timko

In July 2013, the DC Public Library opened the Digital Commons, an 11,000 square-foot space dedicated to expanding access to state of the art equipment and software. The Commons features 48 public access PCs, 12 express computers; 12 iMacs; four iMacs with high-end design software; three 3-D printers; an Espresso Book Machine for self-publishing; and a Skype station and videophone for customers who communicate using American Sign Language.

But the Commons isn’t just about connecting people to technology– it’s also about connecting people to each other. 

Digital Commons1But the Commons isn’t just about connecting people to technology– it’s also about connecting people to each other. We offer a space for traditional library users, entrepreneurs, developers, designers, students, and educators to meet, collaborate, co-work, and learn together. Staff members help the Commons achieve this goal by creating programs and classes based on their own interests and expertise. We’ve offered classes in everything from 3-D jewelry design, to resume writing, to computer programming.

I came to the DC Public Library with a background in radio and audio production. Inspired by the diverse and lively atmosphere of the Commons, I decided to put my skills to use collecting interviews with some of the many patrons. I talked to American studies professors, card-playing teens, and nomadic political activists. These interviews resulted in a StoryCorps-style series called Voices of the Library, which allowed patrons to hear the stories of their fellow library users.

However, I wanted to do more than just collect other people’s words, so I created the digital audio storytelling workshop to give patrons the tools they need to tell their own stories.

Meeting once a week for four consecutive weeks, the DAS workshop was a first attempt at creating a sequential, hands-on course that challenged to students to create their own work. I wanted the class to be open to people of all backgrounds, so I designed the content be accessible to absolute beginners and to have very low barriers for entry. I teach how to record and interview using basic tools like a smart phone or laptop; how to edit using a free program called Audacity; and how to access and make use of easily available resources like public domain sound archives.

I try to run the course more like a workshop or writing group than a class. I keep the groups small, only about eight students per session, and try to limit the amount of straight forward teaching I do. In the first class we listen to examples of different types of audio – including examples like RadioLab or Memory Palace – and talk about how sound is used to create stories. The second class is dedicated to the technical aspects of editing, and the last two classes are about sharing ideas and work. Students play audio they have collected and are encouraged to give feedback and commentary.

Students have made a wide variety of pieces reflecting their own personal lives. Char H., an older woman who grew up in DC, created a radio diary about her experience watching the city change from the windows of the buses she has ridden for decades.

So far, students have made a wide variety of pieces reflecting their own personal lives. Char H., an older woman who grew up in DC, created a radio diary about her experience watching the city change from the windows of the buses she has ridden for decades. Another student created an audio tour of DC, exploring all the ways Puerto Rican heritage has touched the city, from food and music to the 1954 shooting conducted by Puerto Rican nationalist Lolita Lebrón.

I plan to keep running the course and hope to expand it this winter when our new maker space and recording studio opens. Ideally, I’ll be able to help students create some really polished work and find an outlet for them to be played publicly, either at a listening lounge event at the library or as a series on a local station.

Want More?

 

HeadshotPeter Timko is a library associate at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library and a member of the From Block2Block audio collective.

Pin It