The Mass. Memories Road Show: A State-Wide Scanning Project

The following chapter excerpt is from the second section of Digitization in the Real World; "A Diverse Digital Landscape: Digital Collections in Public Libraries, Museums, Cultural Heritage Institutions, and Knowledge-Based Organizations." Download the entire chapter for free (PDF)   or purchase online at

Access the collections here.


Joanne Riley and Heather Cole (University of Massachusetts Boston)


2.2.2 Running a state-wide digital history project on a shoestring budget and staffed primarily by volunteers is not only possible, but brings immeasurable rewards for the contributors, volunteers, organizers and staff while gathering priceless documentation of their communal heritage. The Mass. Memories Road Show is a public scanning project based at the University of Massachusetts Boston which partners with local communities to digitize family photographs and stories at public events with the goal of creating a digital portrait of all the 351 cities and towns in the Commonwealth. This article describes how the project works to ensure broad participation in the planning and execution of the project, as well as a detailed description of the logistics of a Road Show event, which could be replicated in other communities.


The Mass. Memories Road Show (MMRS) is an ongoing, on-the-spot public scanning project in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, sponsored by the Joseph P. Healey Library at the University of Massachusetts Boston and Mass Humanities, the state humanities council. The MMRS documents Massachusetts people, places and events through the contributions of individuals who bring their photos and stories to be digitized at public events throughout the state. Over the next few years, the project will partner with hundreds of local organizations to visit each of the 351 communities in Massachusetts, gradually building up a self-portrait of the Commonwealth through the contributions of its residents.

Project Background

The MMRS grew out of the place-based education initiatives of the University of Massachusetts Boston’s “Massachusetts Studies Project” (MSP), which provides resources for Massachusetts teachers and students in the areas of local history, culture and environmental studies. A series of casual brainstorming sessions with librarians, MSP board members, teachers and local historians coalesced in a vision of a public history project inspired by elements of PBS’s Antiques Roadshow (people bringing their personal treasures to a local event for professional perusal) and the Library of Congress’ American Memory Project (a library organizing digitized images from a common heritage to be shared on the World Wide Web, see The Library of Congress, n.d.) The subsequent development of the MMRS project was guided by the work of Daniel Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig (2005), Stuart Lee and Kate Lindsay (2009) and by the writings of Robert Putnam and others about the nature of civic engagement. We have borrowed elements from a number of superb online digital history projects, among them the Maine Memory Network (Maine Historical Society, 2009), for its richly productive collaborations with partnering organizations across the state, The Organic City (The Organic City, n.d.) for its place-based communal storytelling approach, the Coney Island History Project (Coney Island History Project, n.d.) for its effective application of social web tools, the Charlestown Digital Story Project (UMBC Digital Story, n.d.) at UMBC for its engaging multimedia oral histories created through student-elder collaborations, the Worthington Memory Project (Worthington Public Library, 2002) for its transparent application of best practices in indexing, and Orlando Memory (Orlando Memory, n.d.) for its solicitation of public contributions to a community history project.

The MMRS project was originally designed to meet two goals: collecting digital surrogates and personal annotations of locally held primary sources that document people, places and events in Massachusetts; and developing a searchable online repository of sources that could be used for educational purposes at all levels. As the project developed, we discovered that it met another important need that has been incorporated as a key goal of the project: community building. Road Shows have turned out to be deeply engaging community events that connect people within the community to each other and to others throughout the state, and have proven to be meaningful in lasting ways to the people who contribute and to those who volunteer. At its best, the MMRS seems to generate both of the types of productive social relationships that Robert Putnam describes in Bowling Alone: the Collapse and Revival of American Community (Putnam, 2000); that is to say, bonding social capital (holding together people who see themselves as being similar in social identity) and bridging social capital (bringing together people who consider themselves to be “unalike” in some aspect of social identity.) In the words of a Road Show volunteer and contributor:

 “[The Road Show] brings the community together... [It] acknowledges to people that they are a part of the history-making... It brings people to understand and respect different cultures in their town through the old and new pictures... I think it is one of the great community programs to encourage the whole family to be involved.” (MMRS Letters of Support, 2008).

Since its launch in the fall of 2004, the MMRS project has organized Road Show events across the state, in the process digitizing thousands of photos and stories, collaborating with dozens of community organizations and generating the practical lessons we will share in this essay

Download the entire chapter for free (PDF)  or purchase online at


Cohen, Daniel J. and Roy Rosenzweig. (2005), Digital history: A guide to gathering, preserving and presenting the past on the web. University of Pennsylvania Press. Retrieved March 23, 2010 from

Coney Island History Project. (n.d.). Retrieved March 23, 2010 from

Lee, Stuart D. and Kate Lindsay. (2009). If you build It, they will scan: Oxford University’s exploration of community collections. In EDUCAUSE Quarterly, vol 32, 2009. Retrieved March 23, 2010 from EDUCAUSEQuarterlyMagazineVolum/IfYouBuildItTheyWillScanOxford/174547#TB_inline?height=400&width=630&inlineId=sidebar1&modal=false

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MMRS Letters of Support. (2008). Letters of support submitted for MMRS nomination for NCPH Public History Award. Unpublished documents. (January, 2008).

MMRS Post-Event Participant Survey. (2009). Unpublished data.

Orlando Memory (n.d.). Homepage. Retrieved March 23, 2010 from  

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UMBC Digital Story. (n.d.). Digital stories from Charlestown. Retrieved March 23, 2010 from newmedia/studio/digitalstories/ctds.php

University of Massachusetts Boston. (2006). The Mass. Memories Road Show handbook: Procedures and protocols for a public scanning project. Retrieved March 23, 2010 from

Worthington Public Library. (2002). Worthington memory.

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