Outreach and Collections. Encouraging Community Members to Play a Role in Saving History

Unidentified “orphaned” class photo from the author’s collection

By Melissa Mannon

History by its very nature is a collaborative field. Those working in the field aim to tell the stories of communities. We aim to shed light on diverse groups; to find similarities among us; to tell stories that shed light on the constant evolution of civilization. To properly accomplish the work of history, professionals need to actively reach out to members of our communities so that we develop relationships that invite understanding. Those of us who work to maintain the “stuff” of history – the documents, artifacts, and books – need to explain the value of family items to communities and to encourage unofficial family archivists to value history through a personal lens. We do this through effective “outreach.”

The word “outreach” is an umbrella term used to discuss the work library, archives and museum professionals do to encourage community engagement. Outreach can take the forms of programming and exhibits. Or, when people say “outreach” they may mean going outside of their institution to attend a community event in order to get the word out about their work. Outreach can also mean adopting a social media strategy that encourages the public to talk about collections and cultural heritage.

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