New Media Center Digitizes Memories

Posted by Brigitte Rupp Vacha on Tuesday, June 09, 2015 in Digital collections

“Photographs and memories, Christmas cards you sent to me, All that I have are these to remember you…”

Jim Croce released this poignant song in 1972 and so many years later, generations of people have boxes of memories in closets, basements and old photo albums, gathering dust, but too precious to discard. Jen Gerber, Library Director at the Oscar Grady Public Library, had an idea. “Can I do something with these memories?”

Like others, Gerber had boxes of old family photographs, 8 mm film and VHS tapes that she wanted to digitize and protect, but didn’t want to spend buckets of money to convert the images to digital files. So she started doing some research and discovered that it was not only possible to provide an affordable way to convert images to digital files, but within reach with the help of a $5000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The total cost for implementing the lab was $8,500.

Fast forward to May 2015 and the Oscar Grady Public Library’s Digital Media Conversion Lab is in place and ready to open to the public in June. Gerber trained herself using her personal family images. “It took a lot of trial and error, but now I’m comfortable with all the different options and formats,” reports Gerber. “We trained the staff a few weeks ago and we’re ready to open to the public.”

And you never know what you’ll learn as you dive into old photos. Gerber discovered some photos from the 1964 World Fair in New York and started asking questions. “It turns out my dad not only took the photographs, but actually worked in construction for some of the World Fair facilities,” recalls Gerber. “I never knew that before and now it’s a special memory I can share with the next generation.”

Some of Gerber’s family photos are on display in the lab. One canvas print is especially precious – a great uncle who was killed in France during World War II. “The photo was taken just two days before he died,” says Gerber. “That’s a special memory for my entire family and now we can preserve the image forever.”

The lab is decorated like a family room, so people can come in and peruse their images in a comfortable setting. “We do require that people do some training to use the lab,” she continues. “We created some training videos so they can do it on their own. Once they’ve been trained, they can reserve the space and spend as much time as they want converting their images to digital files.”

The cost to the public is minimal – merely bring a flash drive with you or purchase a low-cost one from the library. “If they decide they want actual prints of the digital files, we do ask them to cover the printing costs.”

For others who want to invest in a digital lab for their library, Gerber has a few words of advice. “Do your research,” says Gerber. “It’s also a good idea to do the hands-on training yourself so you can be a resource for your staff and customers. And be sure to spread the word about the new resource at the library. We’re already getting requests from teachers who want to bring students through the lab and from civic leaders who see great value for the community.”

And it all started when Jen Gerber said, “Can I do something…”

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