Librarians learn about personal archiving at the Library of Congress

On April 16th and 17th, National Digital Initiatives in partnership with DC Public Library hosted the Memory Lab Network Bootcamp at the Library of Congress. The Memory Lab Network – a cohort of 7 urban, rural, and tribal library systems – will build digitization stations and teach classes through an IMLS grant to support personal archiving in their communities based on DC Public Library’s Memory Lab model.

A group of men and women standing beneath a Memory Lab Network screen projection

Meet the Memory Lab Network: Pueblo City-County Library District, CO, Los Angeles Public Library, CA, Karuk Tribal Libraries, CA, Boyle County Public Library, KY, New Ulm Public Library, MN, Broward County Library, FL, Houston Public Library, TX. Partner libraries were selected to create a cohort diverse in geography, size, economic opportunity, age, and ethnicity of communities served.

The need for free public access to personal archiving resources and strategies is rapidly increasing as home videos on magnetic media degrade, hardware fails, software becomes obsolete, and smartphones allow us to create on a scale that eclipses historic personal collections. Public librarians are often first responders when the public needs advice on this issue.

One of the central goals of the bootcamp was to expose Memory Lab Network librarians to a variety of personal archiving solutions in order to meet community members where they are. Staff from around the Library of Congress shared archival resources, programs, and best practices with Network members, who will use this education as the foundation for creating their own Memory Labs.

Jaime Mears of the National Digital Initiatives Division co-created the Memory Lab as a former National Digital Stewardship Resident along with DCPL staff Lauren Algee and Nick Kerelchuk. She shared research on personal digital archiving user behavior from scholars such as Jennifer Bushey, Catherine Marshall, Clay Routledge, and Gabrielle Redwine and explained how it informed programming and outreach at DCPL’s Memory Lab. Getting the public to recognize that preservation requires lifelong action is daunting and requires engaging outreach. Appealing to patrons at times of life transitions, for example, or to their desire to control their own intellectual property can be more effective than urging patrons to save their stuff because it could be important in the future.

List of digital preservation tips written in blue marker on white butcher block paper

Tips for preserving digital items.

Kate Murray from the Digital Collections Management and Services Directorate is the leader of the Federal Agencies Digital Guidelines Initiative (FADGI) and coauthor of the Sustainability of Digital Formats website. She presented a “guide to the guides”, walking librarians through digitization and file format guidelines that are the result of years of research and testing. Most importantly, Murray summarized preservation-friendly characteristics librarians could use to recommend formats and software to their patrons for years to come, and shared open-source tools for file management such as BWF MetaEdit.

Manuscript Division staff members Laura Kells, Meg McAleer, Nate Scheible, and Kathleen O’Neill shared tips on thinking like an archivist when approaching a personal archiving project. Instead of organizing item by item, McAleer and Kells recommended a “clumping,” top to bottom approach to organizing personal papers. Scheible shared approaches to selecting what to save, and O’Neill discussed the innate qualities of digital archiving that sets it apart – such as the often frustrating inability to “see” your progress in a tangible way.

Seated librarians holding film up to the light to inspect quality

Film is too difficult to transfer in a do-it-yourself lab, but Memory Lab librarians can help patrons identify film types and preservation risks such as mold.

Librarians also heard from Veterans History Project staff Monica Mohindra and Rachel Telford, who shared lessons learned from over a decade of outreach and a history of partnering with public library systems to collect the experiences of war veterans. Senior Photograph Conservator Alisha Chipman from the Preservation Directorate shared resources for identifying types of family photographs and tips for preserving them. Memory Lab Network Librarians also had the opportunity to tour the Rare Book Division, Manuscript Division and the Great Hall.

A grid of Polaroid images of representatives from the Partner Libraries

Photograph Conservator Alisha Chipman suggests storing photographs in rooms you live in because they are more likely to be temperature controlled (not your attic or basement!).

For the remainder of the bootcamp, librarians visited the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture to learn about audiovisual preservation best practices. They also conducted hands on audio and video transfer with DC Public Library’s Memory Lab Network Project Manager Siobhan Hagan at West End Neighborhood Library. To learn about other models of DIY digitization, partners heard from Molly Schwartz of the Metropolitan Library Consortium. Schwartz described METRO’s own studio, as well as the Culture In Transit Project, and XFR Collective.

The cohort reported the bootcamp week empowered them to make preservation best practices accessible to their patrons, gave them program ideas to start teaching, and provided motivating examples to get their staff and community members interested. There was excitement about the transformative potential the Memory Lab could have in their communities – giving patrons access to the tools and knowledge necessary for stewarding histories on their own terms, and providing crucial digital literacy skills in the process.

Quote tweet about experience of the boot camp

Bari Talley is the Libraries Coordinator for MLN partner Karuk Tribal Libraries in California.

NDI is pleased that Library of Congress staff could support the Memory Lab Network in its effort to bring archival knowledge to a national public. We’ll be serving on the Memory Lab Network advisory board over the next year as the Labs take shape across the country and will report on their progress. 

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