Yarmouth librarian hopes to preserve local voices, memories

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YARMOUTH — In an era when digital files can be recorded, sent and deleted instantly, librarian Jeff Eastman is striving to create something more permanent.

Eastman is behind two new Merrill Memorial Library audio projects called Audio Clips and Storytime Forever.

His inspiration for Audio Clips, an oral history project that will allow Yarmouth residents to have their stories recorded for an archive at the Yarmouth Historical Society, came from the nonprofit StoryCorps.

The organization was launched in 2003 and records people’s stories to be broadcast weekly on National Public Radio. Its archives are stored at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. 

Eastman said when he was enrolled in a leadership program through the Maine State Library one of his assignments was to choose another organization in the community and work with it on a joint project.

Because he has been interested in oral history, he thought Audio Clips would be a worthy initiative.

“(It) would give the library and the history center something to work on together in the community,” Eastman said. “Hopefully making at least a little bit of difference, just getting some stories down that otherwise might not have been recorded.”

The other audio project, Storytime Forever, was inspired by one of Eastman’s colleague’s experiences.

The project invites residents to have Eastman record them reading a story for future generations of their family to enjoy. Participants will receive a CD of the recording. 

Eastman said a fellow librarian had a cherished tape of her grandmother reading a story, and suggested he launch the project for others to have the same experience.

“I really hope people do that because you don’t realize how much you miss the sound of somebody’s voice until you haven’t heard it for a long time,” he said.

Eastman’s love of oral history also has a tie to his own grandmother, who grew up in Germany before immigrating to the United States in the 1930s.

She recorded an interview about the experience for an initiative launched by film director Stephen Spielberg in the 1990s. His goal was to collect and preserve testimonies of survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust.

Spielberg’s effort yielded the Shoah Foundation at the University of Southern California, which now houses nearly 55,000 audio-visual testimonies conducted in 65 countries and 43 languages.

Though oral history pieces typically relate to specific events, Eastman said with his Audio Clips project, he hopes people will share general stories about their experience living in Yarmouth.

“I guess I’m kind of curious about what were the turning points in your life? What was the before and what was the after?” he said. “If there’s a local aspect to what it was that changed in your life, I think that’s something that historians in the future and Yarmouth residents in the future will be glad that somebody captured.”

He will likely send out prompts during special times of the year, such as the holidays or election season, to invite people to come in and share related memories.

Eastman also said he is interested in hearing stories about being a young person in Yarmouth, including high school stories.

Sports stories, such as people’s “most glorious day as a Yarmouth Clipper,” for instance, would be welcome. Stories about less-talked about parts of high school, such as where teens gather on the weekends, could also be interesting.

“I wonder if there are unofficial places in the town, unofficial landmarks that could really be highlighted by somebody’s personal story,” he said. 

He also hopes some people who come in to record for Storytime Forever decide to tell their stories for Audio Clips.

Ultimately, he said oral history is a “social history.”

“It’s not the history of dead, important, rich people or something like that,” Eastman said. “It’s sort of along the lines of a diary, and how that can provide rich and important historical information from a different aspect of life.”

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-9123 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente

Jeff Eastman, a librarian at Morrill Memorial Library, is launching two audio projects to preserve the voices of Yarmouth residents: Audio Clips and Storytime Forever.

Librarian Jeff Eastman is launching two audio projects at Morrill Memorial Library in Yarmouth to preserve the voices of town residents for the future.