Snapshot of Cleveland in 2019

Glass Blowing

Jef Janis for Cleveland 20/20

The Library’s community-based storytelling and photography projects, which run throughout 2019 as a way to celebrate and document the lives of Clevelanders, are currently in full swing—and Cleveland residents still have the chance to record their oral histories or participate in a photo shoot. Local photographers are busy capturing the city and its people for Cleveland 20/20: A Photographic Exploration of Cleveland, the citywide photography program led by the Cleveland Print Room. Participating local photographers are busy shooting in the neighborhoods and at local events throughout town, with work to be shared online and in a special Library exhibit in 2020. Two images from Cleveland 20/20 accompany this article.

Compassion and Camaraderie

While Cleveland 20/20 presents a visual record of Cleveland in 2019, the CPL150 Storytelling Project, which is spearheaded by ideastream, captures the stories of Clevelanders in their own voices. Library staff members are conducting audio interviews with patrons, from which ideastream will select and produce a total of six stories for the radio, video, and web. All remaining oral histories recorded as part of this project will be made available on the Library’s Digital Gallery.

“Our plan is to provide a snapshot of Cleveland’s people in 2019,” says ideastream producer Justin Glanville. “We aim to present the everyday experience of people across the city’s socioeconomic spectrum and to evoke compassion and camaraderie.”

“We’re showing that our city is full of fascinating people,” adds Chatham Ewing, Digital Library Strategist at Cleveland Digital Public Library. “We want to remind our patrons and each other that there’s a universe within everyone, and we should respect and admire that. These interviews also help us reach across a historical gap and help us share one another’s stories—all within the context of how we value our patrons within our city.”

In May, ideastream shared the first produced story, which surrounds Robert Donona, a font collector and amateur typographer. His story and others can be accessed at

Adam Jaenke for Cleveland 20/20


Several excerpts from stories recorded as part of the CPL150 Storytelling Project appear below. Interview excerpts have been lightly edited or condensed.

Who has been the most important person in your life?

“My mother. My mother was there when I was up, down, whatever. She was always there. I remember when I was a teenager, and everybody [at school] used to make fun of us… She’d say, ‘Don’t let them bring you down. You are a beautiful person. Don’t let anybody drag you down.’ I loved her to death. When she passed, I had to set an example for my daughter at that time. I told my daughter, ‘Mama’s gone from here now, but she’s still in our hearts. She’s not gone forever, she’s gone back home. If ever you want to talk to her, get her advice, you sit down and you talk to her. If you’ll be still long enough, you’ll feel her there.’”
–Elaine, a patron interviewed at Hough Branch

What is your best childhood memory?

“When I would go outside, find stray cats with my best friend, and we would bring them home and dress them up like baby dolls. We knew we couldn’t keep them, but we named every single one of them. I think over the years of my childhood, we ended up with at least 30 cats and kittens. My favorite was a big fat male cat. He was an orangey color with tan stripes. His name was Mikey. We were able to keep him, but we hid him. He spent half the time at my house, half the time at her house. I think we ended up having him maybe about nine months before anybody actually realized we had this cat. We were sneaking and buying him cat food with our allowance, and nobody ever knew it but me and my best friend.”
–Janice Spivey, a patron interviewed at Fleet Branch

Tell us about your time in the service and how you got to
be in the Navy.

“I went downtown [to the Navy recruiting office] when I was sixteen and a half by myself. I was so small that they escorted me out, they said I’d have to bring my parents. I brought my dad down the next day, and he signed the papers. [Later], I just told my mother I had to go downtown to turn my stuff in, but it was to get on the bus to go to Chicago for training camp. I called her from Chicago and told her. She started crying. My mom never drank, but she had two doubles that day. [Laughs.]

This was 1946. I was in Chicago for training, and then I got in a ship in San Diego for roughly a year and then was stationed in Cuba for six months. The day I got home, it was like 2 o’clock in the morning, and [my family] knew I was coming home. They were all sitting on the front porch, my mother, father, and sister, waiting for me to walk down the street. But I took a cab. The cab driver didn’t charge me. He said, ‘Get out of here, kid.’”
–Mr. Bud, a patron interviewed at Fleet Branch

Cleveland residents interested in sharing their stories by participating in the CPL150 Storytelling Project may contact Outreach and Programming Services at 216-623-2921.