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Re/Collecting Chapel Hill podcast connects community members through voicemails

Chapel Hill Library

The Chapel Hill Public Library. Photo courtesy of Daniel Siler.

Chapel Hill Public Library’s Re/Collecting Chapel Hill podcast is launching an impromptu series based on voicemails submitted by community members.

Like other library staff, Molly Luby, special projects coordinator at Chapel Hill Public Library, said she and her podcast team have been looking for ways to continue to serve the community while having to work from home.

“This is a point in history that will be remembered and we're creating an audio document of how that experience felt in the moment,” Luby said. “We really wanted to have an opportunity to hear from the community — our neighbors, our shopkeepers and everybody — just to hear how this is affecting their lives.”

The initial call for submissions was posted on the Chapel Hill Public Library’s Instagram last Thursday. Already the team has put together the first episode featuring community-submitted content, titled “Message in a Bottle.”

Luby said the first round of submissions could be about anything from recipes, songs, jokes, family histories or feelings and experiences about the quarantine that community members want to share.

Future podcast episodes will likely be centered around specific themes, which Luby and her assistant producers will identify after listening through the voicemails submitted. Luby said the team may send out prompts to focus voicemail submissions around specific ideas for future episodes.

“I'm really interested in how people are spending their time in new and maybe unusual ways,” Associate Producer Mandella Younge said. “The other thing that I'm pretty excited about is thinking about how it changed people's experiences with relationships and dating.”

Younge said she hopes to give people who don’t usually have a platform the opportunity to share in a fairly unfiltered setting.

Luby said this new project has always been part of the plan for Re/Collecting Chapel Hill. But the sudden mandatory move to working virtually caused by COVID-19 helped make the goal a reality.

“A lot more people are looking for outlets right now,” Luby said. “We've always wanted to get to the point where we could do a season where our producers — the people making the stories — are community members.”

While it is important to stay up to date on news, Associate Producer and UNC junior Klaus Mayr said it’s also important to comfort people by letting them know others within their community are having similar feelings and conversations about COVID-19. 

“What is unique about what we are trying to do is that we're literally just trying to connect people with their neighbors just outside their window or across town,” Mayr said. “To comfort people by letting them hear some of the voices that they might hear in their everyday life walking down the street.”

Mayr also said that he counts himself lucky for still being able to work and have a purpose in Chapel Hill, especially in the wake of UNC’s reduced operations. 

“In this time when there's all this uncertainty and lack of structure, we've lost this sensation of seeing the people that bring something new to our days,” Mayr said. “This now has sort of given me a reason to continue trying to connect people and bring different voices together and be a source of stability for people in Chapel Hill, to remind them that they're still part of a community.”

The Re/Collecting Chapel Hill team said they hope to be able to publish one episode a week and invites everyone to call in and share their news.

“I really hope that people start sending us whatever comes to their mind,” Mayr said. “People should definitely use this as an opportunity to speak informally — it doesn't have to be well-planned-out stories or a beautiful thing. We just want to hear each other's voices.”


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