New recording site dedicated for StoryCorps at Main Library

For several years, San Francisco resident Natalie Bell was simply a listener of National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” segments of StoryCorps, one of the largest collections of human voices ever gathered.

But at the behest of a friend who had participated in StoryCorps interviews several times before, Bell recorded a story herself in a newly located booth at the Main Library.

“I thought it should be someone with a story to tell,” Bell, 32, said Wednesday. “I didn’t think I was StoryCorps-worthy, but I knew [my friend] had been doing it and saw her give voices to Filipina women.”

Bell and Angelah Limon, 41, who recorded several interviews with Filipino immigrants at the booth’s previous location in San Francisco, were among the first to partake in a session at the library’s Skylight Gallery, discussing their feelings about earning bachelor’s degrees.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new recording site is scheduled for Friday at 10 a.m.

Founded in 2003 by a documentary producer, StoryCorps first took root in San Francisco in October 2008 at the Contemporary Jewish Museum. The local recording location had conducted more than 3,000 interviews as of last month.

In a sound-insulated booth, a StoryCorps facilitator records a 40-minute conversation between two people who oftentimes have a close relationship. They talk about a variety of topics, or they can take cues from questions like, “Is there anything that you’ve never told me but want to tell me now?”

The booth table includes a dim lamp and a box of tissues because participants often laugh and cry. A facilitator since the beginning, Frank Kingman, 67, said he has even witnessed two marriage proposals.

“It’s like magic,” he said. “I’ve had people do the recording and leave the booth and I would see them at the museum, continuing a conversation that started at the booth because they made this deeper connection. At its best, it’s a mutual giving and receiving.”

To date, StoryCorps has facilitated more than 50,000 recordings nationwide. Its West Coast home at the San Francisco library is guaranteed for a year, and hopefully longer, said Regional Manager Natalia Fidelholtz.

The experience is free for members of the public, who can sign up for one of six sessions Thursdays and Saturdays past March. Participants walk away with a CD of their interview and can choose to have a copy archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

As she concluded her session, Bell continued to ponder out loud Limon’s last question — whether there was anything she had never told her friend.

“Oh, my gosh, I’m going to be thinking about it all day,” she said, to which Limon replied, “That’s good.”

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