Collecting the history of the Village one interview at a time

Collecting the history of the Village one interview at a time
A listening station at Jefferson Market Library. Photo by Tyler Cavallero / New York Public Library
A listening station at Jefferson Market Library. Photo by Tyler Cavallero / New York Public Library

A listening station at Jefferson Market Library.
Photo by Tyler Cavallero / New York Public Library

This past fall, GVSHP launched a new oral history project. This ongoing project was developed in order to add to our understanding of the South and East Villages, areas in which we are advocating for new protections such as landmarking and rezonings. While we have spent considerable time documenting the architectural history of these neighborhoods, we wanted to connect to the more human side of the neighborhoods’ histories. These histories will add to our current collection of oral histories, accessible on the GVSHP website, including Preservation Pioneers and Westbeth Oral Histories Collection.

While we were beginning our newest collection last fall, another oral history resource was taking shape over at the Jefferson Market Branch Library. Under the direction of Library Manager Frank Collerius and Outreach Services Assistant Alexandra Kelly, Your Village, Your Story: A Greenwich Village Oral History Project soft-launched in December of 2013.

Interviewers, storytellers, and library staff gathered on January 16 to officially launch Your Village, Your Story: A Greenwich Village Oral History Project. Photo via the NYPL.

Interviewers, storytellers, and library staff gathered on January 16 to officially launch Your Village, Your Story: A Greenwich Village Oral History Project. Photo via the NYPL.

As a community-based oral history project, both the interviewers and the interviewees, or storytellers, are self-selected. The only selection criteria put forward by the library was to collect the voices of individuals who have lived, worked or spent over 20 years in the neighborhood. Those who live or work in the Village today will recognize the over 102 storytellers that are now accessible on the New York Public Library’s website.

Oral history projects can take many forms. Most are organized, like the Greenwich Village Society’s, as a collection that focuses on a specific issue and utilizes trained interviewers. Perhaps one of the most familiar oral history projects is StoryCorps, which provides people of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve their stories. Like the Your Village, Your Story Project, StoryCorps interviews are based on an interviewer and interviewee who know each other. But unlike the StoryCorps curated segments presented on their website or every Friday morning on National Public Radio, the library’s oral histories are presented in unedited form. It is interesting exercise to compare the two.

Our thanks to the Jefferson Market Library for adding a wonderful resource about Village history to their collection. Stay tuned for more oral histories that explore the stories of the Village from both the Library and GVSHP in the near future. If you would like to learn more about the study and practice of oral history, you can visit the Oral History Association’s website.

Interviewers gather to train how to conduct an interview. Photo via the NYPL.

Interviewers gather to train how to conduct an interview. Photo via the NYPL.

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Sheryl
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Sheryl Woodruff was GVSHP's Senior Director of Operations until December 2014.

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