Posted by: bluesyemre | April 11, 2018

The Memory Lab (Led by DCPL, libraries are helping patrons save their mementos— and learn the basics of #DigitalPreservation in the process)


Pictures on a phone. Journals on a hard drive. Videos shared on social media. It’s so easy and convenient to document and publish our lives digitally these days. Yet what happens when media formats become obsolete? Individuals and entire communities risk major losses of historical and cultural documentation. Unless, that is, the public is equipped to sustain digital memories by transitioning them to new formats. The District of Columbia Public Library (DCPL) believes libraries should offer both the tools and knowledge needed to preserve these important and irreplaceable documents.

“You can’t just toss your memories in a shoebox and stick them on a shelf anymore,” says DCPL’s digital curation librarian Lauren Algee. “VHS tapes and magnetic media are at great risk of degradation, so saving them is kind of now or never. If these materials don’t survive into the future, what will we, as curators, have to collect from?”

Taking the necessary steps to care for physical keepsakes, journals, calendars, and home movies as well as Word documents, digital photographs, email, and social media accounts also helps patrons more easily locate items, use them in projects, and preserve them for cultural and genealogical records.

That’s where DCPL’s Memory Lab comes in.


Algee, who at the idea’s inception in 2015 was the only DCPL staffer with “digital” in her title, came up with the initial concept of a self-service lab in which library patrons could transfer outdated media to current formats and also learn to catalog and store them properly. She partnered with DCPL’s technology and innovation manager Nicholas Kerelchuk and developed the outline for a project whose primary goals were to work with DCPL staff to create digital preservation stations, create staff and patron guides for personal archiving best practices, design programs for educating the public about tools and requirements for digital stewardship, and serve as a national model for other public institutions.

They then put together a proposal for a National Digital Stewardship Residency (NDSR) project, secured an operational budget for the lab, and got organizational buy-in for supporting the lab. When their NDSR application was approved, National Digital Stewardship resident Jaime Mears joined the team as project manager. Together they invented DCPL’s Memory Lab, a DIY model providing not only the equipment for digitizing home movies and scanning photographs and slides but also an online resource to educate patrons on how to care for physical and digital documents and guide them through properly archiving those assets. The DIY model gives patrons online step-by-step instructions on how to use the tools while empowering them to control the entire process.

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