Amidst the wake of the first criminal charges filed against three government workers accused of covering up evidence of lead contamination in the Flint, Michigan, water crisis, the Flint Public Library (FPL) holds strong to a transformational plan they set in motion in July 2014. With one foot in the past and one in the present, this library knows where it has been and where it is going.
If you visit the FPL website, you will notice there is a lot of activity not unlike what you find at a library—ads promoting various programs and links to e-books, data sources, and downloadable material. Additionally, the library has created a web page of sources about the Flint water emergency. Now, FPL is embarking on creating its own digital collection of stories with Flint Voices Matter, a project that combines collaboration of StoryCorps and Flint residents. StoryCorps’ is an independently funded organization whose mission is to “preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.”
FPL will archive stories of residents living through the water crisis and make those digital recordings available for all to access. Children affected by the lead contamination who are not old enough to understand or grasp the health implications of the contamination today will be able to access these first-hand accounts later in their lives.
The library partnered with StoryCorps last year, recording stories about the town’s history though everyday Flint residents. Moving forward, the library is going to begin adding stories about the town’s water crisis. It will be a resource for future generations to hear the stories first hand—not only read those quoted in newspaper and magazine articles but also hear the voices and see the faces of the residents who lived through it.
FPL offers librarians a working example of exactly how patrons move from the role of consuming content to creating it while shining light on a critical community issue. This is a maker-program using digital technology as well as creating digital collections available in varying formats and accessible to all. In this case, audio files with accompanying photos that will be uploaded to the web upon completion.
FPL is offering all people of their community the opportunity for their voice to be heard. It is fulfilling its role as community convener and as the voice of the people, shows the Library as a true pillar of democracy, a trusted public institution. The fate of the thousands of infants, children, young adults, and all other residents who drank toxic water remains unknown, but it is a fate that, with the help of the FPL’s StoryCorps program, will not go untold.
 Will Greenberg, “Flint Public Library to archive stories of residents living through the water crisis,” Michigan Public Radio, March 31, 2016.
“Flint Public Library: A Gateway to Critical Information,” Public Libraries Online.