It might be that people start thinking about the past only after they’ve been a big part of it. Visit your average historical society and you won’t see many young people.
The need for new, young volunteers is such a problem, believes Richard St. Pierre, recently elected president of the Peabody Historical Society, that he’s declared attracting them a top priority. He’s launching plans to offer community service programs for school kids.
They would be doing it for credit, he said, but hopefully some will stick with it just for the love of history.
“If we lead them to the water,” he said, “maybe they’ll drink.”
St. Pierre remains grateful to the volunteers he has now.
“Their enthusiasm knows no bounds. But we want to get enthusiastic young people in here, too,” he said.
People are needed to catalog and preserve artifacts, oversee exhibitions and buildings, even to search online for treasures related to Peabody’s past.
At 62, St. Pierre counts himself as one of the youngest members of the society.
“We’re not getting the 30-year-olds, 40-year-olds or 20-year-olds. ... The members I see ... they’re not going to be around forever,” he said.
Those involved in promoting local history acknowledge a chronic barrier to enlisting young people to the cause: time.
“People are busy with families,” said Ann Birkner, office manager at the Peabody society. “There have been times when someone was a volunteer, and they weren’t able to do much.”
In addition, young people are vulnerable to more distractions than the older generation, said Wayne Eisenhauer, president of the Danvers Historical Society.
“There’s Facebook and Twitter and Instagram,” he said. With older people less likely to be engaged with online sites, “the social media is splintering us into more and more segments. And it’s more difficult to reach out.”