Library's storytelling project brings past back to life

Paula Shannon (standing) and Anita Lamberth of the Portland Library have put together a new online project that focuses on interviews with citizens about their stories and Portland's history.

Leader photo by Terry McCormick

By Terry McCormick

Portland Leader

The Portland Public Library, through a new online project, is helping to make the community's history come alive through interviews and storytelling.

The library's website now has a place where interviews with people who have stories to tell about interesting topics or events in and around the Portland community can share those online for anyone to hear.

This idea came about from two different sources. First, the Highland Rim Historical Society had a number of interviews from the late '70s, the '80s and '90s with people from Portland on cassettes that they brought to Anita Lamberth at the library and wanted her to digitize them in order to preserve them.

The cassette interviews cover a wide variety of people - many of whom have now passed away - discussing stories of their lives, their family's lives and the Portland community.

"There are some out there from former teachers like Katherine Green and Florence Honeycutt. They were teachers, and somebody would start interviewing them, and they would have a conversation about how they got their teaching degree and stuff like that," said Paula Shannon, who works at the library and is also a member of the historical society.

Lamberth added that in one of the old

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interviews, a man spoke about how his grandfather had housed a runaway slave in his attic for a time.

But the tapes are only part of how the project began. The Portland Library's Summer Reading Program this year was titled, "A Universe of Stories," which had the library workers wondering if there was a way to tie the pieces together and create a new project related to people telling their stories.

"Basically it started because our summer reading program is called, 'A Universe of Stories.' I started thinking about that program and how to do it for adults and things like that," Lamberth said. "Paula had come to me at one point with a box of old cassette tapes, and said, 'Is there any way we can digitize these to keep them for future generations?' So that's when I started doing that and converting them from the old cassette tapes to a digital format.

"And in the process of doing that, our summer reading program came along with 'Universe of Stories.' So Deborah Elledge, the manager here, said, 'Why don't we tie it all together?' We basically thought everybody has a story. So why don't we combine the old stories that we had on cassette tapes with these new stories from people in the community?"

And so the old interviews from the past were placed on the library's website for people to listen to and reminisce about the past. There are 24 of them in all. But the old interviews helped to spawn another idea - interviews with contemporary citizens to build upon what is already archived on the site.

To date, there have been two new interviews posted - one with Wayne Pruett, who talked about his experience in local sports, and the other with long-time banker Wayne Lamberth, who is Anita's father.

An interview with Ray Dean Eidson, who has been a long-time administrator for Little League Baseball I Portland, is scheduled to post soon.

"We have a list of people we have thought of, but is somebody wants to come in and they have an interesting life story, or they have even someone they want us to try and talk to, we'll be happy to try and get in touch with them," Lamberth said.

People who would like to do an interview can contact the library at 615-325-2279 and set up a time to conduct the interview.

"We'll set up an interview. We've got a recorder and a scanner that if they bring pictures, we can scan them. Anita does a good job of putting it on her," Shannon said.

If they have related photos, the librarians would be glad to scan those and post on the website as well.

To listen to the interviews, you can go online at To see the pictorials online that the library has, go to You can also reach the site through links at the Portland Public Library's home page.

Even though the project is still in its initial stages, through Google analytics research, Lamberth said the site has already had visitors from California and Florida.

"We've had 80 to 90 responses, but a lot of people don't know about it yet," Lamberth said. "We've had some hits from California and Florida and Kentucky. People wanting to know about their roots. People are not just staying here in Portland anymore but yet they have roots here."

The other aspect of the project that excites Lamberth and Shannon is that the project is on-going and can be added to overtime in order to continue to tell the story of Portland and its people.

"That's one great thing with this display page, as I call it. We can continually add to this. We can add pictures. We can add oral stories. This is a living, breathing thing that is going to be going on hopefully long after we're done with it," Lamberth said.

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