Collecting Stories
Which stories are you collecting?

Steps to Success: Before the Event


Identify, assess, and take stock of existing resources.

First, you’ll need to take a step back and ask, “What do we already have in our collections about this community?” All the Archivists, Librarians, and/or Local Historians on the team will need to create a rough list of the collections already in their organization’s holdings. 

Take a look at finding aids, review inventories, and begin to think critically about the aspects of the community’s history that are already documented and preserved in cultural institutions. Can you identify other cultural heritage organizations that hold relevant records? Are there groups, time periods, or events that are heavily represented in the collections? What are the obvious gaps?

The Archivists, Librarians, and/or Local Historians will need to present their organization’s holdings at the Collecting Stories meeting so that the team can get a sense of what’s already in the archival record and what’s not.


Hold a Collecting Stories Meeting.

The Collecting Stories meeting is an opportunity for collecting organization staff and the community to get to know each other better and to work together to decide what stories are important to collect at the event. The Community Coordinator will act as the facilitator for the Collecting Stories Meeting, which should include community members, the Community Working Group, the Collections Working Group, and the Collecting Organization’s Archivists, Librarians, and/or Local Historians

Review work completed in the Ensuring Inclusiveness and Defining Community modules.

Review the team, event/community engagement, and collection goals that the Project Team set during the Ensuring Inclusiveness module and the community definition created in the Defining Community module and shared in the final version of the Defining Community Questionnaire. Ask those present at the meeting to share their personal hopes for the event and collection. 

Share current collection holdings and the community’s heritage needs.

At a participatory archiving event, not only do professional archival knowledge and community knowledge share authority, but they also hold equal gravitas. The Collecting Stories meeting is designed to be a fruitful exchange between equals. 

Have the Collecting Organization’s Archivists, Librarians, or Local Historians share their current collection holdings and their suggestions for potential collection additions. Ask community members for their reflections on the current holdings and for any gaps in the collection that immediately come to mind. 

Ask the Community Representatives to share what’s important to them to document for future generations. What stories do they want to tell? What photographs and documents are tucked away in basements or attics that may be lost? What experiences are they willing to share?

As a whole group, think about what together you can collect that will make a meaningful collection? 

Together, choose a theme for your event.

Through your conversations about collection holdings and gaps, a theme may begin to become apparent. You may also decide to have a group brainstorm around event themes or to frame the theme as a question you are trying to answer. If there are multiple themes or if you need help coming up with a refined theme, use the guiding questions (downloadable as MS Word or PDF Document) to help the group reach a consensus. Record any relevant sub-theme information that could be used to help prompt Contributors for story ideas. 

Themes give community members an idea of the types of stories and photographs they should bring to your event. Themes can be broad or specific; the important thing is to clearly communicate whatever theme you choose. 

Name your event. 

Once the team decides on a theme, next you’ll need to decide on a name for the event. The name of the event should convey the basic information of your theme, be easily understood by members of the community, and make it clear who you are inviting to the event and what types of items they should bring. The name should be as inclusive as possible so you can reach the largest number of potential Contributors. If a geographic location or historic event is important to your theme, try include that in the name of the event. 

For an example of an inclusive event name, read the Chinese American Experiences Mass. Memories Road Show Best Practice Example in this module.

Brainstorm ideas for interpreting the future collection.

Ask the team to imagine that the collection is complete. How would they like community members, researchers, and the general public to learn from the collection? Brainstorm potential interpretive programs or projects that could use the new collection to enhance understanding of your chosen theme.

Alternatively, your Project Team may be specifically organizing your event to create an exhibit, publish a book, or support a public program.


Work with the Event and Collection Coordinators to adapt the Descriptive Information Form.

On the day of the event, Contributors will complete a Descriptive Information Form for each Item they bring to add to the collection. Depending on your theme, you may decide to ask Contributors specific questions about themselves or the Items they bring to your event in relation to this theme. 

For example, if your event had an immigration theme, you may want to ask Contributors what year they immigrated and where they immigrated from. This information could later be used to allow people to search the collection by immigration year or country of origin. Without those questions directly in the Descriptive Information Form, the Contributor may or may not naturally include this information in their description of the Item. 

If the Project Team decides there is additional information to collect, the Community Coordinator will need to connect with your Collection Coordinator to modify the Descriptive Information Form and include additional questions or fields. 


Consider using Community Tables to enhance understanding of the theme at the event.

<p>Participants at the Lexington Mass. Memories Road Show, 2013.</p>

Participants at the Lexington Mass. Memories Road Show, 2013.

Although not required, many communities find it rewarding to have Community Tables at their event. Community Tables can allow the Project Team to facilitate an exchange among participants and organizations. Flyers, program booklets, interpretive exhibits, lectures, and/or panel discussions are some ways to allow Contributors to explore the event theme.

You may decide to invite one or more local organizations to display existing collections or to showcase resources available for researchers. Local museums, historical societies, or other cultural institutions may have questions that community members can answer. The event can serve as a way to introduce Contributors to these organizations that are invested in their community’s history.

Should your Project Team decide to include Community Tables, the Community Coordinator and Event Coordinator will need to work together to recruit organizations to participate and volunteer on the event day.