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'Bringing a picture of your dog and saying, 'This is my family dog,' is not much of a story," says San Diego Public Library representative Lynn Whitehouse. "But if you bring a picture of your family dog and then talk about the day you found him at the shelter, that would be different. We don't want someone coming in and just bringing artifacts -- they really need to tell a story." Through June 30 (on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays), the San Diego Public Library, with the help of Media Arts Center of San Diego, will conduct individual recording sessions of a participant's account of a period or event in local history with the use of its new Digital Community Storytelling Station.

When the project began on April 3, Whitehouse explains, it took three to six hours to record and edit what would become the final five-minute-long video. "Now we have a template, and stories should take only an hour to record," she says.

The first step on the template is to select a story setting: "Choose a local place within San Diego County, but not inside your house." This instruction is followed by questions regarding sights, smells, and the significance of the location to the story.

People should write their stories prior to visiting the station, which is located in the downtown Central Library. Visits are by appointment only, and each storyteller will have the assistance of a Media Arts representative.

To add emotional and visual ambiance to their short videos, storytellers are asked to bring a "CD with music to help reinforce the mood and message" and any photographs that might help to illustrate their stories (photographs are preferably digital and on a CD). Each person who records a story can take the final version home if he or she brings a blank CD or DVD on which to record it.

"The hardest thing for me was to have an awareness of myself as a speaker," says Anna Daniels. "I am completely unconscious in my day-to-day life of my voice, and I was absolutely horrified at how my voice sounds." Daniels told a story about a community garden that once existed in City Heights.

Daniels begins her story with a quote from an article written by Karen Kucher, a staff writer for the Union-Tribune, in 1995: "For five years a swath of land in the concrete-filled community of City Heights blossomed with tall stalks of corn, yellow mustard plants, and plum tomatoes. Blighted land cleared for a freeway bloomed into an oasis, a teeming 1.5 acre community garden where 120 families tilled the soil and enjoyed bountiful harvests."

As the slideshow plays, Daniels shares details of her experience volunteering in the garden with fellow community members who were originally from Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Mexico, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Philippines. "Woven through [the garden] is California," she says. "The only language we all share is the green eloquence arising from the mute throat of a seed."

Volunteers in the garden communicated to each other through their children, most of whom spoke English. "My involvement in the garden was the most meaningful thing I've ever done in my life. It lasted five years." According to Daniels, five years is the average lifespan of most community gardens in the United States. "They exist until a higher use is found for the land, and in the U.S. it could be a parking lot or a freeway, but it always means concrete."

The City Heights Community Garden generated $60,000 worth of food each year for local residents. In the end, it was paved over with the construction of Interstate 15.

Stories will eventually be viewable on the Media Arts Center's website. So far only three stories (a man's account of growing up in Tierrasanta in the 1970s, a man in his thirties describing the recent founding of City Works Press, and Daniels's recollection of the City Heights Garden) have been completed using the new station, which was implemented with the help of a $10,000 California State Library grant.

Daniels's story begins with the inception of the City Heights Garden and ends with a description of its final harvest. After the last photo appears on the screen, depicting the stretch of freeway that replaced the garden, the speaker's face is finally shown, and she says, "My name is Anna Grace Daniels, and this is how I remember it." -- Barbarella

"Tell Your Community Story" at the San Diego Public Library's Digital Storytelling Station Now through June 30 Representatives on site Monday and Wednesday, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. (reservation required) Central Library 820 E Street Downtown Cost: Free Info: 619-236-5800 or www.sandiego.gov/public-library

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