A Great New Resource for Preserving Your Analog and Digital Memories

LA Central Library Octavia Lab.

If, like me, you’re feeling guilty about those boxes of photos and videos rotting in the garage, there’s a great new resource: the Memory Lab Network.

Pioneered by the Washington D.C. public library, thanks to a grant there are now seven more libraries that have a lab where anyone can come to digitize analog materials and learn how to preserve digital resources. Those libraries are: The Karuk Tribal Library, California; Houston Public Library, Texas; Pueblo City-County, Colorado; Los Angeles Public Library, California; New Ulm Public Library, Minnesota; Boyle County Public Library, Kentuky; and Broward County Public Library, Florida.

Kelly and I just attended an introductory lecture at the Los Angeles Public Library which just opened a memory lab and maker space called Octavia (named after science fiction author Octavia Butler, a frequent user of the LA Library). In addition to memory lab resources, Octavia also has maker goodies including a laser cutter, cnc router, embroidery machine, 3d printers and scanners and much more. I can’t wait to get my hands on that equipment. But first I have to archive some old family photos and video tapes.

In her lecture, librarian Suzanne Im warned of a coming “digital dark age” if we don’t collectively figure out how to preserve CDs, digital files and analog tapes. She noted the recently revealed news that Universal Music Group covered up the loss of thousands of master tapes in a 2008 fire. To prevent such losses Im recommended the Library of Congress’ “3-2-1” approach, “three copies, stored on two different media, and one copy located off-site, preferably in areas with different disaster threats.”

Im went on to describe, something I’m really bad about, how to include photo meta data in your digital photos. She also noted the Library of Congress’ guide to personal digital archiving. And she mentioned the Great Migration Home Movie Project that, if you are African-American, will digitize and preserve your family’s home movies and audio tapes for free.

If you’re in Los Angeles you really should check out the new Octavia Lab at the Central Library. Library card holders can book a 2 hour session once per week. Jump on this opportunity early as I suspect it’s going to be popular. If you’re not near one of the cities with a memory lab, I’d suggest having a conversation with your local librarian to help you get started dealing with that mountain of photos you’re hiding somewhere.

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  1. This is wonderful. Thank you. I currently hold much of my maternal grandma’s original writing as well as many family photos. It’s all quite exciting and equally overwhelming to think about how to best preserve these items for future generations.

  2. In 1086 the Domesday Book was prepared, listing all the property and other resources in the recently conquered England. Today, it may be viewed in the British National Archives, although you will need to understand Medieval Latin to read it.

    If the only copy of your 1980s PhD thesis is on an 8 inch floppy disk, good luck in trying to find something to read that!

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  4. Interesting. Just this week I’m embarking on my version of preparing for the digital dark age – I’m printing out several years’ worth of digital photos (not all, heavily curated) so that physical copies exist…

    • A good idea–the librarian at the training emphasized the importance of keeping physical copies as well as digital copies.

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