Libraries Help Preserve Histories with Memory Labs

Libraries Help Preserve Histories with Memory Labs

Making memories is nothing new, and the ability to save those memories and preserve them for future generations is something that libraries are experts in. Memory Labs are sprouting up at libraries around the country with the main purpose of helping community memories digitize their personal memories. These labs are stocked with the technology, equipment, and expertise needed to guide people through the process.

Memory Labs are do-it-yourself spaces where the public can come in and use state-of-the-art and rare equipment provided by public libraries to work on personal archiving projects. They are easy and convenient to use and just another way that libraries are providing a useful service for their patrons. Several of these initiatives were started by the Memory Lab Network (MLN) and have led to dozens of library partnerships across the United States.

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What is a Memory Lab?

Memory Labs allow for complete control of the digitization process while providing consistent support for those who need it. Many times they are used by people to transfer old home videos on VHS, old tapes, or photos, slides, or negatives into a modern format for storage like an external hard drive, a USB, or in some form of cloud storage.

These labs allow patrons to reserve the space for a few hours at a time to work on projects. Many libraries also offer classes that help people practice the software and techniques before jumping into their individual projects. There are online video tutorials available as well for those that want to learn from home or refresh their knowledge before reserving a space.

The types of equipment that you can typically find in a Memory Lab include a variety of converters for projects that involve cassette to MP3 conversion, film to digital, floppy disks, VHS to DVD, etc. In addition, there are usually document and photo scanners, turntables, and a handful of Mac and PC computers for patrons to work on.

Memory Lab Network

The Memory Lab Network is a digital preservation program that was created to give the public libraries the assistance needed to jumpstart and sustain their own Memory Lab programs. It is funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services through a National Leadership Grant and works to mentor partner libraries on creating their own digitization curriculum, programming, and memory lab. The program works by selecting seven libraries each year as project partners. Becoming a project partner is one of the first steps in crafting a space for memory labs in the library. Once this has taken place, partners are virtually trained each year through professional development webinars that help them improve their labs.

The MLN ensures that its partners are equipped with the best and most up-to-date tools and resources available to keep their labs in good shape. The resources are made up of a collection of guidelines, training documents from slide decks to worksheets, videos, and project documentation files that are organized into eight sections that branch into various resources. To get started, “A Deep Dive Into Building a Memory Lab” is the place to start.

The first Memory Lab was established in Washington D.C’s public library and became a model for other library cohorts that created their own labs. Currently there are fourteen public library partners that have been selected to be involved with this program meaning they are all trained and have the necessary mentorship and financial support needed to run their own Memory Labs.

There are also additional organizations that can help with personal archiving projects. These include regional audiovisual archives and transfer projects, nonprofit transfer labs, university labs, as well as other public labs. A full map of where all of these organizations are located can be found on the Memory Lab Network website.

How to Get Started

You can begin your digitization project by locating your nearest Memory Lab or Memory Lab related organization. A quick inquiry at your local public library can also help you identify your options Once you have figured out where you will work on your project you can begin to gather the items you would like converted into digital formats. The capability that each location offers is listed on the libraries page. For example, the San Diego Public Library has the accepted formats the library can help with from a variety of video to photo to audio items. It also has specific stations set aside for each type of project. Station One is for video transfer involving VHS and DV while Station Three is meant for scanning.

Most labs require users to complete training, sign releases, and reserve a slot before they are allowed to use the equipment. It is a painless process and there are plenty of expert staff on hand to walk you through any questions.

Memories are pieces of our lives that we want to hold on to forever. Now all it takes to save our precious videos and photos is a trip to the library!