The Dividing Lines tour explores how segregation shaped Kansas City and its urban landscape over the course of a 90-minute drive through its centre. It was produced for the Johnson County Library by Christopher Cook and Nathaniel Bozarth, filmmakers and podcasters who used interview recordings as well as quotes from Tanner Colby’s book Some of My Best Friends are Black to add to an in-person bus tour that was already offered by library staff.
The tour takes education out of the library and turns a drive through Kansas City into an immersive opportunity to learn. It was VoiceMap’s most popular tour in 2020.
Johnson County Library offers free access to information and learning experiences via brick-and-mortar libraries and online education platforms. It was started by volunteers in the 1950s when it operated out of basements, schools and even a plumbing company. Today it has 14 library buildings that serve over two million people, but passionate volunteers are still central to its vision of “nurturing the community’s collective wisdom.”
Race Project KC, one of its initiatives, brings local educators and library staff together to design experiential learning that helps teens break out of “filter bubbles“ and understand the impact of Kansas City’s racial fault lines. It was inspired by a series of talks Tanner Colby gave at local schools in 2014.
- Improve an in-person bus tour by including audio from interviews with local students and influential residents like activist lawyer Sid Willens, and community leader Mamie Hughes.
- Offer a learning experience that was engaging and authentic but also consistent for different student groups at different times.
- Open up access to the tour beyond students or any organised and scheduled group with on-demand availability.
- Provide all of the above in a free, safe and easy-to-use format that includes hands-free GPS playback.
- The library outsourced production instead of developing the tour’s audio themselves, overcoming the added technical complexity of integrating interview recordings. “We decided to outsource production based on the exceptional experience that both Nathaniel Bozarth and Christopher Cook have as video and audio producers — in particular in their ability to weave stories into the tour,” said Johnson County Library’s Kate McNair.
- Producers Christopher Cook and Nathaniel Bozarth met with VoiceMap and chose to publish the tour using its platform because it offered the best user experience, especially for driving tours, as well as an easy way to distribute the tour for free without the maintenance and support that go along with a standalone app.
- The VoiceMap Tour Editor took the guesswork out of automatic GPS playback by calculating talk times that matched travelling times. This reduced the trial and error that comes with any tour, but especially city-centre driving tours with routes that are affected by traffic and traffic lights.
- The library started on VoiceMap’s Pro Plan, with up to 1,000 free downloads per year, and later upgraded to a Premium Plan with up to 5,000 free downloads per year.
The job of producing a VoiceMap tour typically starts with plotting the route on a map. This sets up an outline for the next step – writing the script – with estimated talk times and word counts that match the travel time from one location to the next. Because Dividing Lines includes interviews, the process started with this extra step.
“Nathaniel rode on one of our buses during a student event,” said Kate McNair, “and luckily for us he brought along his audio recorder and allowed students to record their reactions to the tour as they experienced it. He sent us the edited recording and we were blown away by the sentiment he was able to capture.”
“Nathaniel and I worked with the library to identify the key story thread,” said Cook. “We drafted a script that combined written narration, interview clips, and driving directions.”
With a rough script in place, it was the producers who then identified VoiceMap as the best platform for the tour, and they soon went to work setting the route up in VoiceMap’s collaborative Tour Editor. This connected them to a team of experienced audio tour editors and gave them the benefit of VoiceMap’s experience across thousands of tours. They also took a more iterative approach to developing the tour than most producers. “After Nathaniel recorded the narration and edited a few rough drafts of the audio, we plugged the clips into VoiceMap, and test drove the route,” said Cook. “Nathaniel and Christopher grasped the mechanics early on and very quickly,” said Gary Morris, VoiceMap’s Head of Production, who provided guidance where needed. “They would occasionally ask specific questions, but because they were constantly testing the tour – as opposed to most creators who only do a few tests – they were able to hone in on issues themselves as they iterated the tour.”
“The tour we created is an engaging and interactive way for students to learn local history, and a powerful way to spark conversations with students about how history has shaped their neighborhood today. We encourage students and teachers to take their friends, family and colleagues on the tour, and keep the conversation going.”Kate McNair, Teen Services Coordinating Librarian at Johnson County Library
- LEANLAB Education uses the tour to orient fellows in their education innovation incubator when they arrive in Kansas City
- Community groups use it as a tool to expand their knowledge around issues of inequality, segregation and racial injustice
- Two North American universities have used the tour as an elective assignment
- Church groups have taken the tour in convoy ahead of workshops
- It’s part of a number of team building and professional development programs and couples even take the tour on “date night,” according to Bozarth
The tour’s popularity increased when there was a rise in demand for self-guided and physically-distanced activities in early 2020. Then, when the death of George Floyd brought renewed attention to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) Movement, starting in May that year, the Dividing Lines tour took on new significance. It was shared widely on social media and by word of mouth because of the window it offered onto systemic segregation and inequality in the United States.