Mary Chute, IMLS deputy director and Denise McIver, IMLS scholar and St. John’s Univ. student 

(POSTED BY BILL DENSMORE on behalf of Mary Chute)

A Conversation between:

Mary Chute, Deputy Director for Libraries, Institute of Museum and Library Services and
Denise L. Mc Iver, IMLS Scholar and MLIS Student, St. John’s University

“When a community loses its memory, its members no longer know one another. How can they know one another if they have forgotten or have never learned one another’s stories? If they do not know one another’s stories, how can they know whether or not to trust one another? People who do not trust one another do not help one another, and moreover they fear one another. And this is our predicament now.”

–Wendell Berry, “The Work of Local Culture”

A bit about our respective backgrounds:

Mary has a wealth of experience as a professional librarian – she’s been with the IMLS for nearly a decade where she is tasked with responding to the needs of the library and museum community, and facilitating partnerships and initiatives with other Federal agencies such as workforce development with the Department of Labor. Mary has been both a State Librarian as well as a Library Consultant. She understands that librarians in all environments “have the power to empower other people – to enhance their lives in profound ways”.

Prior to entering the Special Libraries/MLIS Program at St. John’s University in 2009, Denise has been involved in the entertainment industry and has worked in story development for CBS Entertainment, in television production, and more recently as a publicist in the music industry. She is also a journalist and writer whose feature-length articles have appeared in consumer and trade magazines. In 2002, Random House published her non-fiction book Droppin’ Science: Straight Up Talk from Hip Hop’s Greatest Voices.

We both felt that the questions Bill provided offered us the opportunity to explore how we see our work, and how we hope to contribute to the conference. Denise felt that there is a need to dispel the fear that appears to be shaping our lives and especially today’s political discourse which is why Mary shared the quote from Wendell Barry which is noted above. We felt Berry’s quote was relevant to our conversation because we both sense that as a society, we’ve become so fragmented and we have somehow lost the ability to connect and share our experiences. What if instead of using the media to provoke fear that we used it to create shared experiences?

We both agreed that it was critically important, now more than ever, that community members share their stories, and we’d like to see how storytelling can be used as a bridge to understanding. Mary briefly described how the IMLS did a partnership with David Isak’s StoryCorps that in 2010 provided the winning institutions of IMLS’ National Medals for Museum and Library Services with a StoryCorps community visit. During these visits not only were stories of the power of the institutions captured, but staff members had the opportunity to observe and engage in the process of capturing oral history episodes.

It’s seems intuitive that the more we know about each other, the more we understand our commonalities, and the more cohesive and inclusive a community will be.
What we hope to bring and take away …

Mary and I both agree that Beyond Books will offer ample opportunity to develop actionable strategies to create an agenda which can make a true impact upon the lives of our community members. It is important to engage our communities, to encourage critical-thinking, and to offer more than “one-note” political discourse. Access to the information and to the expression and exchange of a wide-range of ideas allows for community empowerment.

“I would like to see that all voices have a place, and we work to encourage a desire to understand; that we use our skills and knowledge to build trust between individuals and other members of their communities,” said Mary.

We shared a great belief in the tremendous potential in today’s youth. Denise he expressed her eager anticipation with regards to her current educational program and her commitment to the role librarians can play in helping those most at risk explore, develop critical thinking skills, and self define. She added: “As one of the greatest countries in the world, I believe that ‘to much is given, much is required’. And, as a new librarian interested in issues of social justice, I’d like to use my skills to encourage the exchange of personal storytelling. I believe that when we share our stories, another thread is sewn into the fabric of our communities.”

Using the StoryCorps “model,” one idea that emerged from our conversation is to train community members in production where they interview and curate stories from the life experiences of other members of their community. The pairings could be intergenerational (e.g., a young Latina with a senior citizen) or interracial (e.g., an African-American/Latino or White/African-American). The idea is to create a “mash-up” honoring our diversity and our humanity.