September 11, 2015

Setting Up a Storybank

This article was originally published in Hatch for Good. It is republished here with permission.

I have never been a big fan of banks. They charge me crazy fees, tell me I’m overdrawn, and create inside me a profound sense of failure. Once upon a time, my dad got in tight with some bankers. Then he got in tight with federal prison. So seriously, I don’t love banks.

But I do love stories. And if you are reading this, I imagine you love them, too. Perhaps you also have realized that you are a storyteller. In some sense, we all are, and our stories carry innate value; as Tahir Shah puts it, stories are “the communal currency of humanity.”

So I guess they do belong in banks.

I’m putting the call-out to everyone who has a story: It’s time to put our stories in the bank. A storybank is a mechanism for capturing and sharing stories in a variety of mediums. If we don’t capture our stories and share them, they’ll disappear.

But stories are more than just currency. They are footprints, chronicles of our collective human experience, exchanges, lessons, memories, and maps. Think of the tough, breaking news stories we read: Ferguson. Syria. Child trafficking. Sexual assault in the military. The degradation of the planet. Think of the voices of the world captured in independent documentaries, magazines, photographs, tweets, and texts. Think of the stories we share and collect from our communities, tribes, families, and co-workers. Stories from the first responders and the last living survivors. Think about all of them. Slowly, and one at a time.

Just think.

These stories are our belongings. They are sacred, and they define our collective imaginary.

In the digital age, we are creating more stories than ever before. If you are telling stories, collecting stories, or sharing stories, it’s time to think about banking them. If you have a viable storybank, your stories gain value each time they are searched, each time they are found, and each time they are told.

Here are some tips for getting started:

  • Collaborate within your organization to identify a way to archive your media in a storybank
  • Create a shared taxonomy and use it to tag and organize all content
  • Make the storybank open and accessible to others and searchable by keyword, author, date, and place

Many organizations are already acting as de facto storybanks, like Creative Commons, Getty Images, and YouTube. Salesforce has a tool for creating storybanks. Projects like Medium and Cowbird are storybanks, too. Families USA has a fantastic, searchable storybank.

We can also take a lesson from the experts at StoryCorps, who maintain a storybank at their offices. The bank is stored on a local server and backed up offsite. Their files are saved in uncompressed formats: WAV for audio, JPG for photos, and PDF for scanned documents.

They are also in the process of developing a custom content management system for storing data alongside interview materials. To be effective, stories and the data that backs them up must be kept together. Imagine a place where you can keep not only finished, polished stories, but also the “stuff” the stories were gleaned from—the rough footage, notes, anecdotes, and interviews. These are the artifacts that strengthen our stories and bring them to life.

We need a platform where meaningful content can be preserved and exchanged across disciplines. We need a searchable database that includes the original content that was left on the cutting room floor, on the drive, in the ether, and on the desktop—from rare documentary film footage to a smartphone video of a story told by a grandmother to her grandson, and all of it in between. We need this bank to model and reinforce the collaborative, creative culture that defines our digital age.

If all storytelling organizations (that’s us) put their minds to creating and investing in a shared storybank, we could build a vibrant, living media archive where our stories could inform and inspire the next generation.

This is what makes us rich. This is our collective cultural currency. This will be a legacy we can be proud to leave behind.

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Wendy Levy
Wendy is the Executive Director of the National Alliance for Media Arts And Culture, an organization dedicated to facilitating strategic growth, innovation, and cultural impact for the media arts field. She is also a Senior Consultant to the Sundance Institute and the co-founder of Sparkwise, a data-and-storytelling platform for global changemakers. Wendy speaks regularly on storytelling, emerging technology, and social justice - at venues like Skoll World Form, the United Nations, Sundance, Tribeca, SXSW, and venues around the world.
  • alyssa

    Wendy, your words are very powerful and at Memloom Stories, we too value story creation, story sharing AND story banking as a way to tell and preserve the collective stories of an organization. Story Banking is a very effective way to build an organization’s legacy and engage key stakeholders with engaging stories using multimedia, including audio, video, photos and text. At, it’s all about enhancing non-profit’s capacity to tell, share and preserve (or bank) stories so that they don’t disappear on streaming social networks or get lost or never told. Our stories are simply too important not to preserve and cherish. Thanks for a great article! Alyssa