Capturing Our Stories: An Oral History of Librarianship in Transition. By A. Arro Smith; foreword by Loriene Roy. Chicago: ALA, 2017. 224 p. Paper $45 (ISBN: 978-0-8389-1461-8).

During her tenure as president-elect and president of ALA, Dr. Loriene Roy proposed a President’s Initiative to build an oral history of librarianship. Arro Smith, the author of Capturing Our Stories, was fortunate to be under Roy’s advisement as a doctoral student at the time, and he focused his doctoral work on bringing this idea to fruition.

The experiences that librarians accumulate over the course of their careers could fill a library. Smith manages to glean meaning from thirty-five unique stories and unify them into fewer than two hundred digestible pages. Rather than relying on sentimentality, Smith’s presentation of these stories elevates them to testimony, doing justice to the retired and retiring librarians who came before us and setting a precedent for those who want to go forth and capture stories themselves.

At the risk of reducing the unique individual experiences of librarians and library students, I will say that there is something relatable for everyone in part 1, regardless of the reader’s age or career stage. For example, librarians at turning points in their careers—and especially library students—may find comfort in the uncertainty and indecision expressed in chapter 1, “Becoming a Librarian,” in which the storytellers describe some of the more circuitous paths that led them to librarianship. Personal narratives on sexism, stereotypes, and the ever-evolving profession fill Part I and make up what Smith frequently refers to as the “collective,” “shared,” or “social” memory of librarianship.

For me, these terms recall the work of Carl Jung (“collective unconscious”), but they are also used in cultural anthropology and are found in memory theory. Unfamiliar readers can get a taste of memory theory in part 2, “How to Capture Stories,” which addresses the methodology of oral history. Part 2 of Capturing Our Stories is like the scene from The Wizard of Oz in which Toto pulls back the curtain to reveal the man behind the marvel. Smith demystifies his oral history project by relating stories about his process. This is less a prescriptive how-to manual than an introduction to the theory and practice of oral history, with a bit of advice from someone who has been there. I admit to being less interested in Part II, but that is my bias as a person who loves to dig into a well-written memoir. Those who are interested in conducting similar interviews themselves will likely find more enjoyment in Smith’s insights.

Capturing Our Stories would be an engaging text to draw from in an introductory course at library school, or a class on library history, social media, or preservation. I could also see it being useful in introducing qualitative research. Students, archivists, and historians looking to do something similar—creating a history using StoryCorps-type activities—may be inspired by this work, and should find the practical section to be a helpful starting point. As for myself, I will be enjoying these stories again and again, passing the book around the office, and digging into the Capturing Our Stories program (with online resources from the University of Texas iSchool and the University Archives at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign) to hear more from the librarians interviewed for the project.—Amy Eiben, Information Literacy Librarian, Coastal Carolina University, Conway, South Carolina


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