Step 5: Using your theme as a guide, make a list of potential contributors.Start with your steering committee. Send each member a worksheet (see the example below) in advance of an early committee meeting. Ask that they make a list of potential participants, including contact information and a bit about their background in the community or organization.
Participant leads include:
- Your membership roster/mailing list
- Senior center: Offer to do a presentation about your project at your local senior center or retirement community. Prepare an announcement to be published in their newsletter.
- High school alumni: Ask if you can set up a table or display about the project at high school reunions.
- Local churches: You may be able to include an announcement in church newsletters.
- Participants themselves. Even after the project is underway, you will probably receive suggestions for other participants from those who have already received their workbooks.
Step 6: Create a workbook for contributors to complete.
An inspirational workbook is one of the key ingredients of a successful Memory Book project. When a potential contributor receives his workbook, you want him be excited and eager to send his stories to you. You also want the process to be as simple as possible. When a workbook is designed well with sharp images, clear, open-ended questions, and plenty of white space for writing, it is easier and more enjoyable for your participants to write their stories. Many participants will continue to add to their workbooks even after the project is completed.
In an early committee meeting, brainstorm subtopics to your theme. For each subtopic, make a list of open-ended questions which will elicit detailed memories from your contributors. Just as when interviewing for an oral history, your questions should not leave room for single-word responses. Instead of “Did you participate in school projects to help in the war effort?,” use “Describe some projects in which your school participated to help the war effort. Which projects were the most rewarding for you? Why? What did you like about the projects? What did you not like about them?”
You need only a handful of photos or other illustrations for the workbook. The best illustrations for the workbook are those which help contributors recall specific places, events, or people. In the workbook sample page at the right is a photo of a well-known lifeguard and swimming teacher in the community. We received so many stories about him that we made a separate chapter just about him in our final book.
Other items to include in the workbook include:
- An introduction, including a clear explanation of the project.
- A method for participants to share photographs and other memorabilia (In the project director's guide, Memory Book Projects, there is an entire chapter devoted to collecting and organizing images.)
- Biographical information form about the participant
- Release Forms: Get signed releases from participants to use their stories, photos, and other images, not only in the memory book, but also in future research, exhibits, broadcast, publication, or museum publicity. You cannot legally use any of their stories or images in publications or exhibits without these releases.
Step 7: Collect the stories and images.
When you send out the workbooks, do not give contributors too much time to complete them. You don’t want the books to be buried in a “to do” pile. Four to six weeks should be adequate. One to two weeks before the deadline, follow up with phone calls to those who have not turned in their workbooks. Remember, not all of your workbooks will be returned. Expect 20–30 percent of them to be returned, and then if you get 40–50 percent back, you will be delighted. Follow-up mailings and participant gatherings will increase the return rate.
Step 8: Create your Memory Book publication, exhibit, or other end product.
Once you begin receiving workbooks, you can begin the process of creating your Memory Book. This can be the most rewarding and fun part of the project, but it can also be the most challenging. In all the Memory Books I have worked on, there has been an overabundance of material to include—and not enough funds available to publish it all. You must make judicious choices of stories and images—include something from each contributor and choose stories that are varied and interesting. Leave plenty of room for eye-catching images, but don’t turn it into a “coffee-table” book of mostly photos and few stories.
When considering stories, select for:
- Fitting the themes and scope of the project.
- Personal recollections of well-known community/organization/family events.
- A mix of humorous stories, touching stories, coming-of-age stories (if appropriate to the theme), sad stories, inspirational stories.
Consider taking the time to include a bio from each contributor in the back of the book. The Fall City Historical Society (Washington) even included a small portrait of each person next to their bio—a nice touch and one that family members and researchers will appreciate.
Once you have collected all these great stories, don't limit yourself to just printing a book. Some other ways we have used the wealth of material are:
- An oversized exhibit version of the book displayed in the museum.
- A children's book version
- A museum exhibit which included some of the artifacts that participants loaned. (See the exhibit announcement at right.)
- A traveling exhibit
- Remembrance (educational) trunks
- Bookmarks and Postcards to sell in the museum gift shop
Last Step: Celebrate!
To celebrate and publicize the publication of your book, invite some of the contributors to read their stories at a public reading. If you do not have a meeting space, ask your local library if you can use their meeting room. Be sure to have plenty of copies of the book available to sell!
All the information in this post, and
many more details, can be found in the
95-page project director's guide,
Memory Book Projects, which can be
purchased in the Capturing Memories Store.