Library seeks stories from East of Bronx Park

At the Pelham Parkway-Van Nest Library: (l-r) staff member Jhenelle Robinson, branch manager David Nochimson, and NYPL Outreach Services coordinator Alexandra Kelly.
Community News Group / Jaime Williams

Local residents will soon have the opportunity to have their stories recorded and saved for posterity.

The New York Public Library’s Oral History Project is coming to the Allerton, Pelham Parkway-Van Nest, and Morris Park library branches this year.

The oral history initiative, which has previously visited Greenwich Village and Harlem, seeks to archive stories of the three Bronx neighborhoods. The branch manager at the Pelham Parkway-Van Nest Library, David Nochimson, initially wanted to bring the project to his library, and found that the neighboring branches were interested in the idea as well.

“With the way these neighborhoods interact and overlap with each other, it seemed to make sense,” said Nochimson.

Looking for a concise way to describe the relationship of the neighborhoods, they settled on a name for the project: “Voices from east of Bronx Park.” Residents of the neighborhoods will be involved on both sides of the oral history project, as interviewers and as story tellers.

“Ultimately, this is a community project,” said Alexandra Kelly, outreach services coordinator for the NYPL.

Kelly will host two-hour interviewer training sessions at the branches as an orientation for those who want to get involved. At the sessions, interviewers will learn how to use the recording equipment, learn about goals of the project, and learn how to ask the right type of questions to elicit good stories. But conducting a good interview is mostly about putting the agency in the storyteller’s hands.

“Just remember to step back, trust your curiosity, and leave space for the storytellers to tell their stories,” said Kelly.

The phase of collecting interviews will run from November through May, and the branches will host related programming at the branches throughout the project. The final collection of stories will be put online alongside the other projects at oralh‌istor‌y.nypl.org, archived as part of the 42nd Street library’s research collection, and will be available as part of the branches circulating collections.

The project is the first of it’s kind in the area, said Nochimson, and he’s looking forward to hearing how the stories illuminate changes and constants in the neighborhoods over the years.

“It’s uncovering something that’s every bit as rich as Greenwich Village or Harlem, but entirely unexamined,” he said.

The collection of oral histories is about filling in the gaps of written history, said Kelly, and it creates potential for future research.

“I can only imagine hundreds of years from now how valuable that information will be,” said Kelly.

Interview trainings will take place at the Morris Park Library on Saturday, October 4 at 2:30 p.m. and Wednesday, October 15 at 4:30 p.m.; at the Allerton Library on Wednesday, October 22 at 4:30 p.m. and Saturday, November 1 at 2:30 p.m.; and at the Pelham Parkway-Van Nest Library on Saturday, October 25 at 2:30 p.m. and Thursday, October 30 at 4:30 p.m.

To sign up for the interviewer training or for more information about the project, visit your local branch or contact Alexandra Kelly at 212-621-0552 or Alexa‌ndraK‌elly@‌nypl.org.

Reach Reporter Jaime Williams at (718) 742–3383. E-mail her at jwill‌iams@‌cnglo‌cal.com.

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