Practicing the art of digital storytelling on the Central Coast

May 10, 2018

When you hear the term ‘digital storytelling,’ what do you think of? A Ken Burns historical documentary series? That’s one form. So are the animated videos from StoryCorps, which feature everyday folks sharing stories in an interview form. 

Joe Lambert is the founder and executive editor of StoryCenter, a non-profit arts organization based in Berkeley, California. 

“[StoryCenter] essentially invented a form called digital storytelling in the 1990s and if you haven't seen the digital story, it's sort of a mix of the family album, writing something personal and creative, and editing video,” Lambert said. “This is what we've been teaching for these 25 years.”

StoryCenter partners with educators, social service organizations and libraries to offer free workshops on creating digital stories. Here’s a short snippet of one such story, produced by Molly Miller.

[Audio from video: Strange sea creatures and old bottles on shelves. Bones and fossils and dissertations in the dusty science library of Karlova University. I looked you up in a library book and this is how I know spiders have as many eyes as legs and this is how I learned you were a common middle European spider, large but not poisonous.]

It’s three minutes of images - evocative photographs of Prague and reproductions of Czech paintings. Telling the simple story of relocating a spider from above her bed, Miller conveys a poetic impression of her year living abroad.

[Audio from video: And this was not my only regret the year I lived in the bathhouse in Prague….”]

Each digital story is as different as its creator, and a recent workshop at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo attracted a variety of individuals.

“We were really excited to get a response from all over the county of San Luis Obispo - from all the way from Piedras Blancas, Atascadero, San Luis Obispo,” said Margaret Kensinger-Klopfer.

Kensinger-Klopfer is the Youth Services Librarian with San Luis Obispo County Libraries. She helped organize the recent workshop at Cuesta, a two-day session that was part of a statewide series called California Listens. She said the people who signed up for the workshop were excited to tell personal stories.

“About growing up in San Simeon Village, about their life in California,” Kensinger-Klopfer said. “Also some cultural things too. So somebody wanted to tell their story about getting involved with ballet folklorico at Cal Poly.”

Jenna Severson is a reference librarian at Cuesta College, as well as an instructor in the library information technology department. She was the Cuesta staffer at the workshop, but she was also a participant.

“We accomplished a lot in such a short amount of time, not only writing our stories, recording them, learning that software and then putting all together into a finished product,” Severson said. “It was a whirlwind, but it was definitely very enriching.”

Severson says she excited to create another digital story in the future.

“I highly value the art of storytelling and preserving these personal stories, and you know, listening is an act of love, like the StoryCorps logo says,” Severson sasid. “I strongly believe in that and hope to not only participate in something like this for myself again but to share it with others.”

The Salinas Library will be hosting a California Listens digital storytelling workshop in June. Cathy Andrews is senior librarian there and said she was eager to persuade StoryCenter to offer the workshop in Salinas.

“Because of the variety of communities within our community, because we're a city on the edge of rural areas - it's very driven by [agriculture],” Andrews said. “There were a lot of different pieces that we thought made us a good candidate.”

The Salinas Library will soon be accepting applications for the June workshop, to be led by bilingual instructors, so language doesn’t become a barrier to telling the community’s stories. Andrews hopes a wide variety of Salinas residents, or Salinas natives if they live elsewhere, will apply to attend the free workshop.

“People don’t have to have experience with digital storytelling; they have to have a story to tell,” Andrews said.

The applications deadline will be June 10, and Andrews said they will announce when applications become available on the Salinas Public Library’s Facebook page.

The StoryCenter staff not only help guide workshop participants, they contribute some post-production on individual videos afterwards. The digital stories recently produced at Cuesta are currently in that phase, but soon the public will be able to see them.

“The San Luis Obispo Library in the future, once those stories are edited and finished - we'll be doing a public viewing,” Margaret Kensinger-Klopfer said.

Stay tuned for that event. And maybe start thinking of your own story you’d like to tell for when the California Listens series returns to a library near you.

The KCBX News arts beat is made possible for a grant from the Community Foundation of San Luis Obispo County.