Tips for Teaching Audio Storytelling Skills at Your Public Library

Headphones and a typewriter

Public libraries are houses of stories, so they are the perfect venue for people to learn to share their own personal stories in audio form. These skills are not difficult to acquire, and people often have an expanded sense of self after their own audio stories are published online. The following tips might help your library walk down the audio storytelling path.

Installing an Audio Recording and Editing Program

First, you should install an audio recording and editing program on your library's public computers. I suggest Audacity, which is free, cross-platform, and does all the basics very well. There are a large number of YouTube videos that show and explain Audacity basics. Your library might also opt to buy this excellent Audacity guidebook, which I reviewed for MAKE magazine.

Recording Audio

For patrons to record their audio, I recommend a USB headset or a USB microphone. There are many of these available. I tend to prefer Logitech USB headsets, and I buy mine very affordably on eBay — usually in the $25 to $35 range.

One neat thing about recording personal stories into Audacity is that it's easy to edit out the ums and ahs. Use your mouse to select the two- or three-second audio clip with the um or ah, and then press the Delete key on your keyboard. Presto — nobody will ever know that you said an um or ah at that part of the recording. It's even fun to intentionally add ums and ahs — and then chortle while removing them.

I find that patrons like to show their recordings to family, friends, relatives, and neighbors to embolden them to share their own personal audio stories.

Perfecting the Sound and Saving It

Once your patrons have recorded the audio story and are happy with the storyline, they might want to "sweeten" the audio using the techniques mentioned in this excellent Audacity tutorial video, Make Your Voice Sound Better in Audacity. When the audio story sounds right, I recommend exporting it as a WAV file (an uncompressed audio file) onto the computer or flash drive or to cloud storage like Google Drive. Patrons do that from the File menu in Audacity.

Combining the Audio and Graphics to Create a YouTube Video

Now comes the very fun part. Patrons can marry their audio to any graphics and create a YouTube video. There are two free web services I know of that let you do this: mp32u.net and TunesToTube.com. What your patrons will end up with is a YouTube video that looks and sounds like this 2.5-minute "audio essay" tribute I did to my parents. To create a YouTube video of this kind, patrons will need a Google account. Their Gmail account works just fine for this. YouTube charges nothing for hosting videos. Anyone is free to create hundreds, even thousands, of videos — all at no cost.

Adding Graphic Effects

You might be wondering how I created the graphics for my parents' tribute video. For me, the most readily accessible tool I like for creating simple graphics is LibreOffice Draw. Microsoft Office has drawing tools as well. LibreOffice Draw can easily create a solid-color rectangular background. Then you can import scanned photos and add text to taste. For silliness and giggles, you might even add speech bubbles (called callouts) to the photos in the storytelling. See my tweet here for an example.

After patrons become more adventuresome with audio storytelling, you might suggest they submit some of their personal stories to The Moth Radio Hour. Yes, some of your personal stories might then be played on national radio. Or, the good folks at The Moth might record a longer version of your personal story to share on the radio.

Going All the Way as an Audio Storyteller

After I submitted my first story to The Moth Radio Hour, I started thinking of myself as an audio storyteller and recorded several other personal stories. In case you're curious, I've collected several of my stories together on this Google Site. I wish I could give you easy directions for creating such a site, but Google has not made the steps easy to describe. I'm an advanced computer person, but I floundered around for an hour or two before I was able to get this site up and going. The good news is that Google Sites is a free service, and at least you now know that this kind of thing is possible.

As I explain in my audio stories, every story that is shared weaves another thread of social fabric. Think about the stories in your own life that you'd like to share. The stories could be happy stories, or sad stories, or cautionary tales, or whatever. I suggest being bold. Your boldness will be contagious and will embolden others. Is there anything sweeter than helping others feel bolder?

Professional Equipment

At some point, you might also want to purchase a portal digital audio recorder. I love my Olympus WS-802, which I use to record audio for my book reviews. Keep in mind an important limitation of Olympus audio recorders. For some reason, these digital audio recorders are not Linux compatible. For Linux compatibility, turn to Philips audio recorders. Here is a Philips digital audio recorder that might work well on Linux. I've never tried it, so I cannot personally vouch for it, but at least you know it's an option. Naturally, the Philips digital audio recorder is Windows and Mac compatible too.

Passing It On

After you become a digital audio storyteller, help others to become digital audio storytellers. I've been doing that for that past 20 years, and it's one of the most rewarding things I've done in my life. Think of yourself as a story midwife. Be at their side when a story is birthed. Behold, a miracle. The miracle of storytelling.

Editor's note: Have a look at the winners of the TechSoup Storymakers 2017 contest.

About the Author

Phil ShapiroPhil Shapiro is a library assistant, educator, and technology access activist in the Washington, D.C., area. He has found inspiration in the learning that goes on at after-school programs, adult literacy organizations, public libraries, and organizations bringing music instruction and the arts to children. He is a true believer in public libraries as the central social, educational, and creative institutions in our communities.