From the desks of Carla Marano & Erica McKenzie

As libraries and technology continue to merge in creative and innovative ways, what shouldn’t be lost are the pen and paper stories of our pasts. Local history branches and community archives are treasure troves of historical gems, but many are still restricted and inaccessible in the name of preservation. As devoted history nerds turned librarians, we wanted to explore ways to, metaphorically, break down the archival walls and invite the community in.

We, along with Mary-Lou Gelissen (one of WPL’s local history librarians), joined forces with the Digital Branch to create two digital initiatives, a podcast and visual storybook, both of which, we hope, will entertain and educate those interested in learning more about the history of Windsor and its surrounding communities. Through these digital media projects, we aim to tell the stories that define our community while inspiring communal ownership of the historical collections in our libraries and archives.

Our podcast is called Stories of Windsor, and it represents the rich history of our community by the river. Since the Detroit River forms an international border between Ontario and Michigan, there is no shortage of fascinating and unique stories to tell. We make the conscious effort to focus on the more “hidden” stories of Windsor and to highlight the materials housed in both our Local History branch and the Community Archives. Our podcast has touched on themes such as local cemeteries, musical heritage, department stores of the past, and the unique history of the islands in the Detroit River, including Boblo Island and Belle Isle. Stories of Windsor is produced quarterly, so new episodes are released every season. As a result, we try to cater the theme of the episode to goings-on around Windsor during that same time of year. You can find the playlist of episodes on WPL’s Digital Branch website, as well as the library’s Spotify and YouTube channels.

In addition to the podcast, we also created visual storybooks showcasing specific collections within Windsor’s community archives. Our first storybook featured the Arts & Letters Club, which was a fixture of Windsor’s art community in the 1920s, 30s, and early 40s. At the time, the club’s secretary was WPL’s Chief Librarian, Anne Hume. The visual storybook focuses on letters she wrote to club members and outside organizations requesting their involvement in the various programs. Similar to the podcast, Into the Archives, a visual storybook, can be found on WPL’s Digital Branch website and on the library’s YouTube channel.

A lot of the fun of putting these digital projects together is the “hunt” for stories and connections that may not be known to most people in the community. The Windsor community is very fortunate to have a plethora of research tools at their fingertips – and access is free with your library card! We purposely use the resources we already have in our collection, such as newspaper databases, print materials, digital resources, audio files, and unique resources we’ve compiled in-house, like the “Murder File.” The Murder File, which was featured in our Cemeteries podcast episode, is a basic database that chronicles every homicide in the City of Windsor since 1917.  Sometimes, we rely on the expertise of others to bring unique stories to life; on the Stories of Windsor episode “Music Traditions of the Detroit River Region,” fellow library staff member Sean Antaya was our special guest and shared his research on local folk music traditions.

As mentioned, the purpose of the podcast and visual storybook is to pull stories from our community’s past and make them accessible. We believe these digital formats are contemporary forms of oral storytelling. Digital productions allow people to listen and engage at their own pace, offering an approachable way for the average person to explore their history and the library’s collections. We truly believe that this is an effective and engaging way to break down the archival walls and invite people in.