4 December 2019
iPad in curtained booth, with recording app on screen.

On a recent weekend, after taking Metra downtown and enjoying a nice breakfast and cup of cocoa, I stopped by the Chicago Architecture Biennial exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center - the old main building of the Chicago Public Library. One of the exhibits there looks like a great idea libraries could use to hear from their users, and to help users tell theirĀ  library stories.

The "Oral Futures Booth" is part of Black Quantum Futurism's Community Futures Lab at the Biennial, a place that invites discussion about housing policy. Inside the curtained booth is a stand with an iPad, with a voice-recording app cued up and ready for someone to press the big red button and start telling their oral histories and "oral futures."

Participants are prompted with questions they might choose to answer:

  • What does the word home mean to you?
  • In what ways do you feel connected to your community?
  • What are some things currently present in your community that you would hope to continue to see in the future?
  • What are some things from the past that you would like to see come back?
  • What do you see as the future of Chicago in 1 year ... 5 years ... 20 years?
  • How important is time to you? Your family? Your community?

These are similar to the questions that libraries ask (or ought to ask) the members of their community when starting a long-range planning or building project. A library could also ask questions about how people have used the library and about the impact the library has made on their lives.

The recording booth setup looks like a relatively inexpensive way to capture useful information and testimonials, especially if you already have a tablet available. Because participants aren't face-to-face with a library employee, and because they have the option of deleting and starting again, people may end up being more open and honest than in an interview or focus-group setting.

Have you done anything like this at your library? If so, we'd love to hear about it in the comments.