TWU Service Unites Storytellers
From the Denton (Texas) Record-Chronicle, 12 March 1999

By Patrick M. Walker, Staff Writer

 

(Thank you to Tim Jennings, Storytell list member, for saving this article.)

 

 

Thanks to an award-winning electronic bulletin board maintained by Texas Woman's University, hundreds of storytellers from around the globe who continue the ancient practice today can "talk" to each other as if they were in the same local guild.

 

Launched in 1995 by then-TWU graduate student Karen Morgan, Storytell provides a forum for storytelling ideas, techniques and more. Subscribers to the free service say the often daily interaction with others on the list has created a bond like that of a family. "The people on the list share their storytelling expertise, business advice, research ideas, family stories, personal experiences, joys and sorrows," said Dianna Waite, who subscribes to Storytell. "We laugh and cry together. We have spats."

 

TWU graduate student Denni Kay Scates, also a subscriber, echoed those feelings. "We share family sorrows, illnesses, victories and job situations sandwiched in between the requests for story sources, ideas and business questions," the Carrollton resident said.

 

Maintained by students and staffers of TWU's School of Library and Information Studies, Storytell proved such a hit among the international storytelling community that it won a National Storytelling Association Service Award last year.

 

Faye Hanson of Little Rock, Ark., who keeps track of Storytell subscribers' birthdays, was one of TWU's nominators for the service award. In seeking support for the nomination, she received e-mail from subscribers as far away as Norway and Rio de Janeiro. Those who responded to Ms. Hanson indicated that Storytell had been invaluable to them in their quest to improve their storytelling skills. The listserve, they said, provided encouragement and inspiration, important contacts, immediate and varied feedback, new philosophies and meaningful personal experiences.

 

"I've been a traveling professional storyteller for 11 years," one subscriber said in support of the nomination. "In that time, no one person or organization has been so successful at helping me meet my goals as the folks from TWU through the Storytell listserve.

 

"TWU's dedication to the planet's story communities is laudable, invaluable, and most importantly, provides more service and support than any other single institution in the world."

 

More than 500 people subscribe to Storytell, said Ellen Perlow, TWU manager of information services. One of her jobs is to help people get on the list when they have problems signing up. Some days, she assists four or five people.

 

"What's neat is the participants are from all countries of the world," Ms. Perlow said. "Sometimes people from different countries will tell their version of a story, like 'Cinderella.' And other people from other countries will contribute how they tell the same story."

 

She also said the dialogue among subscribers seemingly never stops.

 

"There's constant conversation during all hours of the night," she said. Often there are dozens of Storytell e-mails awaiting her when she arrives at work in the morning. Keith Swigger, dean of the School of Library and Information Studies, said TWU's cost to maintain the service is "minuscule."

 

"It's buried deep in other costs," he said. "Our major expense is the time it takes (Ms. Perlow) to sign people on and off and keep things running smoothly."

 

Dr. Swigger attributed the popularity of Storytell to the fact that all contributors to such lists are treated equally by other members of the list.

 

"There is a democracy that exists in the leveling that happens with something like this," he said. "At any kind of meeting, whether it's with bankers, lawyers or storytellers, there are going to be groups of 'stars' and groups of 'nobodies.' However, when you post on storytell, your message gets just as much attention as anyone else's "You really are what you say, and you are only as important as the message that you write." ##