Library as Community Memory: The Nashville Flood Project

2010 Flood 007Source

About a month before I moved to Nashville in 2010, the city was, quite literally, under water.  The flood that occurred there during the first few days of May 2010 devastated large areas of the community.  Homes were ruined, schools were closed for a week, and businesses were forced to close (some weren’t able to reopen until almost two years later).

Right now you’re probably saying to yourself, ok, that’s sad and all, but what does this have to do with libraries?  Well, I’m glad you asked!

As we discussed in class last week, libraries, in addition to serving as a platform for innovation and learning, also serve as a community repository and memory.  The Nashville Public Library has enthusiastically taken on this role, as you can see if you spend any time learning about The Flood Project.

Now, I’ve had my issues with the Nashville Public Library (a story for another post, perhaps), but The Flood Project is something I think is great for the community.  Thousands of people were affected by the flood; it became an integral part of some people’s life experiences, and people are still talking about it now, more than two years later.  I know that the pain and the memories will fade with time, but people’s experiences will be preserved and remembered thanks to the library.

The library has done several important things as part of this project.  They set up a page on the project’s website where people could share their experiences and pictures.  They collected many oral histories detailing personal perspectives and experiences, from reactions to flood damage to rescue efforts to recovery after the flood.  A little over a year after the flood happened, the library opened an exhibit sharing what had been collected at that point in the process.  Most recently, a large number of images and excerpts from oral history interviews have been digitized and added to the library’s Digital Collections.
Flood 2010Source

The project is ongoing, and I’m not sure what the next steps are, although I believe interviews are still being conducted.  Whether the library features another exhibit or focuses on digitally archiving people’s memories, I think this project has been amazing, because the community has been so heavily involved.  The library saw that the community needed a way to work through and preserve this event that became such an immense part of so many people’s personal histories, and responded by creating this project.  Community members provided their photos and videos, community members volunteered to collect oral histories, and community members shared their stories.  In every way, this has been a community project.

The flood was a devastating event in Nashville’s recent history, and thanks to the Nashville Public Library’s commitment to serve as a repository and memory for the community, the people of Nashville will have their stories of destruction and rebuilding, despair and perseverance, preserved for the future.