STANWOOD — Rob Branigin wants to hear as many stories as people will tell him.
The librarian is working on an oral histories project for the Stanwood and Camano Island area. It’s a team effort by the Stanwood Library, Stanwood Area Historical Society and Stanwood Camano Community Resource Center.
The goal is to talk to people about their memories of the area and record the interviews. The audio would be archived through the nonprofit StoryCorps and made available online.
“I’m interested in hearing about people’s youth in the area, childhood experiences, stories about what it was like being a teenager here in the mid-20th century,” Branigin said.
He wants to know where people were and what they were doing when they heard about national events such as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy or the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It’s not just about the big stuff, though. He also wants to talk about favorite local restaurants that have closed, or high school teachers and coaches who made a difference in kids’ lives.
The first recording has been scheduled. It’ll be an interview of Mary Margaret Haugen, the former lawmaker from Camano Island. She’ll share her stories during a free public event at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the community center.
Branigin plans to talk with Haugen about growing up on Camano, how she’s seen the area change over time and about her career as a legislator.
“Once this program is done and dusted, I’ll be asking attendees to make an appointment with me at the library to tell their own stories,” Branigin said.
The way people record and share history has changed in recent years, said Richard Hanks, president of the historical society. It’s not just the leaders or celebrities who matter. There’s a desire to capture everyday experiences.
“Oral histories are one of the first threads we have,” he said. “It’s not that they’re pristine. They have to be corroborated in some way, names and dates, but it’s that initial thread.”
Most cultures are, or used to be, rich in storytelling. That’s largely been lost in Western society, and programs such as StoryCorps aim to revive storytelling with the advantage of modern technology.
Hanks encourages anyone who is thinking of participating to shake off their nerves and focus on memories that are important to them.
“People think, ‘Nobody cares about who I am, nobody cares about what my family has done,’ ” Hanks said. “The point we try to get across is that everybody’s story matters. When you walk out the door today … you’re making American history.”
Whether someone has lived in the area for decades or a few years, Branigin and Hanks are interested in their tales. As the community grows and changes, it’s a good time to capture the past.
“When you get into collections of historical records online, it seems like things come to a crashing halt around the mid-20th century,” Branigin said.
There’s a gap from about the 1940s until the 1990s in terms of accessible, in-depth information on local history. He suspects it has to do with the types of records kept, and how they’ve been stored and shared.
“What I’m interested in preserving are people’s personal experiences,” Branigin said. “So often these digital collections are official records, vital records, newspapers. They don’t always have that personal touch to them.”
There’s no cost to the library to put together the oral histories. The StoryCorps platform is free, Branigin said. For now, only audio will be recorded and uploaded. Video might be added in the future.
He hopes to see the oral histories become an ongoing effort.
“As long as people are willing and able to tell their stories, we are willing and able to record them,” Branigin said.
The first oral histories will be available by the end of February at archive.storycorps.org/communi ties/stanwood-camano-oral-history-project.
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; email@example.com.
Oral histories kick-off event
Mary Margaret Haugen plans to share stories during a public event at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Stanwood Camano Community Resource Center, 9612 271st St NW. For more information, call the Stanwood Library at 360-629-3132.