2015 blog review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,100 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 35 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Approaching the family photo bin


1991. All I want for Christmas is preservation.

Home for Christmas and bored – there’s really only one thing to do- drag that huge bin of photographs out of the closet and get to archiving!

Assessing the situation. This photo bin has been around for as long as I can remember. I’d pick through it from time to time, and when I was in college I even scanned several photos I found for a Facebook album, but it was always an intimidating mess that I physically had never seen the bottom of.

This Christmas I went through the 900 or so photographs. The majority of photos were loose or in one hour photo lab envelopes that contained (1) MANY paper advertisements (2) a plastic ‘Memories’ envelope with photos on one side and negatives on the other.

Pictures developed in the 2000s usually had duplicates, half of the envelopes maintained an original order, and it quickly became clear that the ’94 dates on many of the photographs were wrong- probably due to erroneous settings on our digital camera.


Water damage

Stabilizing. 20 photographs had water damage that seems to have occurred before they were stored in the bin, so I separated them out for scanning. I also separated loose negatives from prints and put them in plastic sleeves if  they were available and threw out all of the photo lab envelopes b/c they had glue seam enclosures in rapid states of deterioration. I also threw out the advertisements because they really impeded access.

Pet dander was a huge issue, and I wish I’d had a small brush or something to clean particularly bad photos. If patrons regularly bring in photos as bad as mine into the Memory Lab we’re going to need a lot more cleaning supplies in reserve.

Order. I set out four boxes on our dining room table- one for photos pre-1990, then the 90s, then the 2000s (not surprisingly, post 2010 are mostly digital), and one for negatives. I went through all of the photos rapid-fire at the item level, pulling out anything before I was born for my mom to help contextualize, identify, or date.

When my mother got home from work and we were ready to start sorting,  I gave us each an empty photo album for separating high-interest photographs that we came across. She found about as many that she wanted to throw away, either because they were duplicates or because the person(s) in the photograph no longer meant anything to her. There were also several greeting cards and letters in the bin for her, but the only ones she wanted to keep were the hand-written Mother’s Day cards from my brother and I.

Storing. We returned the boxes to their original storage space in our living room closet because it’s temperature controlled and safe from light and leaks.

Next Christmas. The entire process took around 5 hours and I was emotionally exhausted by the end. Now that the photos have an approachable level of organization, the next step is to write descriptions on the back of all photographs and to scan the water-damaged ones. I estimate each decade box will take several hours to complete, so the plan is to do one (perhaps even with paper sleeving if we’re really ambitious) every time the family gets together for Christmas over the next couple of years.


Scuffs and scratches

Lessons for the Memory Lab. Because going through physical photographs is time consuming, dirty, and requires a lot of physical space, this really needs to be something that’s done before patrons book a Memory Lab session for scanning. I need to be sure that in the lab’s documentation we encourage people to do the work of pre-selection in their homes first.

Just from scanning a couple for this post, I noticed scratches and marks that I didn’t see when sorting. Is sending a patron to a creative computer for post-processing really necessary for a couple of touch-ups? Are their any tools to do this kind of work quickly for one-offs?






Mid-Project Report

It’s been 6 months already at DC Public Libraries as I work to increase knowledge about personal archiving and prepare to launch a personal archiving lab at our central branch.  The question “Is this sustainable?” has underpinned the majority of my work as personal collections grow ever bigger and unwieldy , and over this period the threats to the lab’s future have become clear.

A sustainability meeting was convened to discuss these threats and how to solve them.  In attendance was my NDSR mentor, project author, and Special Collections Digital Curation Librarian Lauren Algee, supporting mentor and DCPL’s Technology and Innovation Manager Nick Kerelchuck, The Labs at DC Public Library Interim Manager, DCPL’s Special Collections Manager, and the Assistant Director of Programs & Partnerships. Quite the all-star crew, and reflective of this project’s reach across departments.

What’s been done?

  • Research. Labs in public libraries, personal archiving practices, av preservation workflows
  • Equipment purchased and tested
  • Workflows established
  • Building out wiki. Currently building a libguide in the vein of Vancouver Public Library’s Inspiration Lab to facilitate DIY access to our lab’s transfer equipment and aggregate resources on personal archiving.
  • Outreach. Personal Archiving with Facebook Class at Martin Luther King Jr. Library, Digital Estate Planning Class at SE Library, Home Movie Day, presentations for the Federation of Friends and Adult Programs Committee, tabling at local conferences, blogging, publications in Washington Post Express, Citypaper, and The Future of Information Alliance News Blog
  • Partnerships. One of the unexpected but valuable developments has been the partnerships that have blossomed around the city- working with SMAAHC and Playbackthetape to put on Home Movie Day, programming and shared outreach with the Washington Historical Society, programming with the Capital Hill Senior Village and Mt. Pleasant Stoddard Home, loaned equipment from the Dance Heritage Coalition, and interest from the Anacostia Community Museum
  • Staff training- 3 Lab staff members have been trained.
  • Secondary procurement order that included security locks for equipment, speakers, a backup composite to component converter, a 5.25″ floppy disk USB controller and drive, and an external r/w cd drive

What still needs to be done

  • Staff training. Not only will the Labs staff need to be trained on running the lab, but personal archiving outreach was accepted as a Smart Goal for DC Public Library employees, meaning that librarians will be able to do a workshop with me towards their professional development goals.
  • Branch classes. Besides the past programs at Southwest and Southeast Libraries, 5 other branches have expressed interest in a personal archive program in the coming year.
  • Finish Wiki.
  • Launch. Happening in February. Looking like its going to be a signature event.
  • Running the lab- evaluating, tweaking, documenting
  • Final report

Sustainability threats and solutions

  • Where is the lab going to go during renovation?
  • Best practices and tools for digital preservation change as quickly as technology trends. Who will update the resources, continue to teach classes, organize programming around this issue? The lab isn’t successful unless it’s addressing the long-term care of the digital files.
  • National model- so far there has been a lot of interest in this by librarians around the country. How will we continue to report on the progress of the lab to the public library audience?
  • Who will advocate for the lab, continue with established partnerships?
  • How will we establish a continued connection with our Special Collections? Where do the responsibilities lie?

At first I thought that I would really have to make a case for these threats to our team, but it didn’t take much convincing. Everyone agreed that we needed to find solutions for these issues and several were suggested.

Two options were discussed. Either with the other Labs in an interim space or at a branch library. Labs staff have also discussed perhaps having a mobile unit as well during the interim. I suggested doing something similar to Culture-in-Transit and getting a mobile scanning kit for the mobile lab.    

  • Who will update resources, teach classes, advocate for the lab, continue partnerships, and continue to share progress with the larger library community?

It was agreed that ideally it would be taken over by a dedicated full-time librarian with archival and av knowledge as well as people skills. Having an internal search would be the fastest way to move someone into this position and give me time to train them before June. As I continue to develop processes, I will think about how feasible the work is for a full-time position.

  • How will we establish a continued connection with our Special Collections?

Making sure resources are there for patrons to make contact if they wish would be the best approach to manage expectations of potential donors, patron privacy and Special Collections workload and collection scope.


I’m eager to transition from the planning stage of the project to its realization. There’s a lot of work ahead, but I’m also lucky to have the support and enthusiasm of my DCPL colleagues, and that more than anything bodes well for its sustainability.

Vancouver Public Library’s Inspiration Lab

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- the greatest advantage and challenge of my project is its uniqueness. After  researching and interviewing librarians and archivists who manage all kinds of public-facing capture staions or personal archiving outreach, I’ve yet to find something similar to the Memory Lab’s ambitious one-stop-shop for personal archiving.

But a couple months ago, I found something close.

In May 2015, Vancouver Public Library opened its Inspiration Lab, “a free place dedicated to digital creativity, collaboration, and storytelling.” In many ways it’s analogous to the Labs at DC Public Libraries- its got a sound studio like our Studio Lab, computers with robust production software like our creative computers in the Digital Commons, and collaboration spaces similar to our Dream Lab. Last but not least, they have analog-to-digital conversion stations!!!!!

PNG0505-Inspiration Lab

VANCOUVER: May 05 ,2015. – Peggy Watkins, library technician peruses some digital files as The Vancouver Public Library launches its new digital media hub the Inspiration Lab at the librarys central branch downtown Vancouver on Tuesday, May 5, 2015.VANCOUVER, May 5, 2015. (Jenelle Schneider/PNG staff photo) (for PNGstory by Gillian Shaw). [PNG Merlin Archive]

VPL’s Digitization Stations

There are 8 stations all together- 2 have open hookups so patrons can bring in their own devices to plug and play, and the remaining 6 are outfitted with the following:

  • Epson V700 Flatbed photo/negative/slide scanner station (2)
  • VHS video tape-to-digital conversion station (2)
  • 8mm/Digital 8 analog video casette tape-to-digital conversion station (1)
  • Audiotape-to-digital conversion station (1)

Stations use Elgato converters with CyberLink MediaSuite Software and Audacity Software for their tape-to-digital conversion workflow.

Another characteristic that got me excited was they’d set up the stations to be DIY. A helpful libguide gives step by step instructions with pictures for each kind of transfer, assuming only basic technological skills.


Interview with Erin Rickbeil, Assistant Manager, Inspiration Lab

The following are notes from my interview with Erin, organized loosely by topic. I wanted to include as much as I could for you readers, not knowing what would be useful (although all of it was useful to me!).

-Patrons book the space using the library’s booking system. At first patron’s were sending in emails, but it was determined that an automated system would make it easier for staff to provide faster service to patrons.

-Patrons book for 3 hour spots.

-Patrons log off and on themselves using a library card. They save onto the D: drive, and every morning a staff member wipes all drives to protect patron privacy.

-One staff member floats around the whole lab, so there’s always someone on hand but their time is shared.

-Patrons teach themselves using the libguide, printed handouts, or by attending a once a week “digital drop-in” where they can answer specific questions. Found that the vast majority of people had a specific thing they wanted to digitize, so orientations that covered all formats were not efficient.

-Patrons are moved to editing station for post-production work.

-Haven’t experienced technical problems yet with equipment, but the scanner glass has gotten scratched and they now keep an extra glass pane in stock so that it can be switched out. Scanner cleaning kits are available for patrons to use before and after sessions

-Staff do not screen tapes before they’re put into the machines.

-Not really wedded to particular formats at this point and they are taking ongoing donation requests for equipment.

-Judging file size and how long it takes to save files/ adequately scoping a 3-hour lab session. Staff are working to educate users on the impact of resolution on file size, and just how long it may take to upload or save large files.

-Patrons do not always bring in storage equipment, so staff now sells 16GB USBs.

-Scanning is the most finicky, although the average use time was only two hours vs. three for a/v.

-Unlike other stations in the Inspiration Lab, the digitization stations attract retirees and those who are not as familiar as other patrons with technology.

-The actual digitization is just a small piece of the process. Many patrons desire to incorporate what they capture into a creative project like creating a slide show, etc and want help with that as well or misjudge
how long it takes do create that.

-Staff desires to teach fair-use and copyright and long-term stewardship classes, educate about these issues or put them more seamlessly into the creative classes that are taught.

-Patrons are not digitization everything they are bringing in.

-Patrons have cried or laughed at the stations- it’s an emotional experience

-Very popular. In the first three months, 95 scanner bookings happened and 54 of them were pre-booked.

-VHS and scanning stations are the most popular.

Future Plans
-Next year, they are setting up a smaller version in a neighborhood branch.

-The central library where the Lab currently is sounds similar to our location- Erin is curious about how usage would be different if it’s in a
more neighborhood branch vs. downtown.

How this interview will influence the Memory Lab

It struck me that here at DCPL we were also planning similar workflows with the Memory Lab such as 3-hour lab limits, a libguide to facilitate DIY user behavior, and preventing post-production work in the space. We also had in mind rolling orientations, but VPL’s transition to digital drop-ins is something we will seriously consider.

The open a/v hookup idea is a genius way of broadening the lab’s capabilities without allocating more resources, so I’ll def. be using that idea as well (thanks Erin et al.!)

Most importantly, Erin raised a list of issues that I need to figure out how to prevent. Namely, what can I do to help patrons

  • understand the relationship between resolution and file size?
  • estimate how much memory will be needed?
  • estimate the time required for digitizing and saving?
  • complete their digital project by connecting them to other Lab resources?

Putting Preservation into Digitization

VPL’s Inspiration Lab is an amazingly cohesive space for patrons to work on creative projects from start to finish. That goal of aiding creativity is at the heart of their digitization stations, which are usually the starting place for people’s projects.

Although some equipment and workflows in the Inspiration Lab are the same, the goal for the Memory Lab is a bit different- instead of creation, our focus is on preservation. We are providing free resources for transfer and access as a method of accessible digital stewardship for non-archivists. Although I am aware that patrons will want to do creative projects with their files- such as making movies or slideshows to share with family and friends- the goal is still preservation. How can we give patrons the freedom to create while also ensuring that their seed material is preserved? The success of our Lab rests on this question.

Week 23: Digitizing My Video Family Album

Now that Home Movie Day is done, I’ve returned to testing equipment for the Memory Lab. Months ago I had picked up a box of my family’s VHS-Cs as material for testing, and I’ve been slowly working my way through the 30 tapes -or as the marketers at Maxell so cleverly put it – my “video family album”. Through this process I’ve not only smoothed out the workflow for this portion of the lab but learned first-hand the complicated emotional effects that accompany archiving a personal video collection.

The Panasonic Palmcorder was purchased in 1991 and used until 2001.

The Panasonic Palmcorder AFx8 Digital Fade HQ VHSC PV21 was purchased in 1991 by my family and used until 2001.

The Facts

According to Wikipedia, the VHS-C was introduced in 1982 with the same videotape as a VHS but much smaller and with shorter run times (the JVC and Maxell ones that we had could run in SP mode for around 30 minutes). VHS-Cs can be played on a regular VCR, but require an adapter with a battery-powered auto loading mechanism. I was able to find the camcorder in our closet but not the adapter, which I purchased on Amazon because it wasn’t available through any other vetted vendor.


Tape adapter >VCR > YCbCr/RGsB format converter > Blackmagic Ultrastudio Express converter > Macbook Pro > Media Express software > Handbrake software

This is my temporary transfer station. The tape is inserted into the adapter and played on a Panasonic AG-1980 Desk Editor. I’m using Blackmagic UltraStudio Express as my converter, but had to get a mini CV/SV to YCbCr/RGsB Format Converter to break-out the video signal (that’s the tinier gray box to the right). I capture the signal using Media Express, and then decomb and compress each video into an H264/Mpeg-4 file using Handbrake and save them on an external hard drive and Vimeo. In both locations I’ve added dates, tags of people and places, a short content description, and technical information about how the video was originally recorded and what I used for transfer.

I’m not quite finished. As of now I’ve transferred roughly 34.5 GBs with 7 tapes left to go. Only one video was damaged during the process due to user error (I loaded it incorrectly into the adapter and the tape got twisted up).

 The Feelings

As with any personal archiving project, I knew that I was going to remember things I hadn’t in years, perhaps be embarrassed by my annoying childhood self, and maybe even be confronted by reminders of painful experiences. All of this happened, but it wasn’t the same as personal archiving acts I’ve done in the past such as reading old diaries or going through a bin of photographs. There are certain aspects of video that make these emotional recollections much more immediate and powerful.

At the beach in winter. 1991

At the beach in winter. 1991

#1 Transferring in real time. I did an interview earlier in the residency with Kara Alexander, the Digital Media Specialist who runs the Scholars Commons Digitization Lab at Indiana University Bloomington. We were discussing the risks of patrons using the lab to transfer copyrighted video collections, and she commented that users are discouraged by the time commitment. Why would you sit for two hours just to digitize one commercial movie that you could purchase online or on DVD? Home movies and other types of amateur film or rare films are really the only thing worth the wait to digitize. But then you’ve got to watch them.

My brother and I made a dance video to “Get Ready 4 This” by 2 Unlimited. 1996

And so I did. I watched them all, only about 1/3rd of which I’d ever remembered seeing before. Over the weeks of capturing tape after tape of experiences that are intimate and alien, I’ve undergone a re-framing of how I see myself and my history. The most challenging is coming to terms with how untrustworthy my own recollections are of people and events.

Pageant. 1992. Didn’t really nail the Q&A the way I remember.

#2 Screen essentialism. Unlike photographs, papers, and even some film formats, you can’t see what’s on the video until you play it. My mother was our family’s archivist, and was diligent about labeling- usually putting the year and a title like “Jaime’s Birthday 1991”.  Four of the tapes in our collection had no labels but were in labeled cases, and it was obvious even after the first day of transfer that family members (including myself) had hurriedly put tapes back, not matching labels to their cases and inevitably mixing them up.

Another common occurrence is tape-overs. These tape-overs can be humorous and even artful, but they can also be quite jarring.


When watching a a 1995 family Christmas, it cut to my brother taping himself playing his Nintendo64 in 1998.

After it happened the first time I developed a sort-of PTSD, bracing for when I would inevitably be ripped out of one memory and put into another one. Out of the 23 tapes I’ve done so far, 8 of them had tape-overs.

Is it worth it?

Other issues came up that made the process challenging. Some family members didn’t want to see certain videos of themselves, so I’ve decided to put them all up privately on Vimeo and invite loved ones to review them and choose which files they want to receive. I also found myself struggling to capture everything- not only because of the time commitment but also because some of it was really boring (like how many Christmas videos do I really need of myself?). It was hard even as an archivist to decide what’s valuable to me personally vs. what might be valuable for the cultural record or for a family member.

But is it worth it? Yup.

During his talk on The Future of Memory, Rick Prelinger argued that the “turn to digital re-valuates the analog,” and that has certainly proved true during my process. Where the box of tapes would have been forgotten in my mother’s closet, now they are valuable because (a) family, friends, and I are aware of them, (b) they’ve been properly labelled and stored, and (c) I was able to see that they look better playing in their native medium than as compressed MP4 files.

The digitized files also have added value as VHS-C surrogates. Not only do they protect the tapes from frequent use, but they allow the control of our family’s archive to be shared by everyone. Each of us will be able to access or create with them in whatever way we find meaningful and convenient.

One question remains. Will patrons doing this work in the Memory Lab come away with the same conclusions? Will they see the reciprocal relationship between the analog and digitized versions? Will the ability to view their memories make them want to steward them?

Home Movie Day DC

Founded by the Center for Home Movies in 2002, Home Movie Day is a global event held every October where people gather to screen their home movies and learn how to preserve them. The event is an effective way of raising personal archiving awareness because it presents examples of obsolescence that everyone can understand. I mean, when was the last time you watched your home movies with your family? Whether it’s because you don’t have the playback equipment or you can’t afford shipping them to a digitization vendor, there’s probably footage you haven’t seen in decades.

Home Movie Day is also a fantastic chance to showcase how cultural artifacts can create synergies across time and communities. We think we’re all so different, but how many us have a home movie of opening Christmas presents in our PJs? At this event, you could even experience what Christmas was like in 1945 right next to the woman who lived it! It’s personal and historical and awesome, and I wanted to do it.


This city has had several Home Movie Days – in 2006 it was at the Library of Congress, and for the past few years it was held at the National Building Museum. I wanted DC Public Libraries to host it in 2015, and apparently so did the talented AV archives staff at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. But NBD! Home Movie Day is great for collaborating!

Blake McDowell, Walter Forsberg, and Jaime Mears hashin' it out at our venue.

Blake, Walter, and I planning at Southwest Library the day before the event.

It was a perfect partnership- Walter Forsberg and his staff had the experience (they’ve hosted HMDs in NYC in the past), the expertise, and the equipment, and DCPL could provide the venue and assist with community outreach. I also reached out to Jared Earley of playbackthetape, who hosts a monthly free VHS screening in neighborhoods around the city. After going to one of these screenings in Petworth, I saw that Jared was a thoughtful video advocate who really understood the potential that the medium has in bringing communities together over a shared cultural history. Many of these screened videos were recorded by donors from television, and when a commercial for Nesquick comes on and the people start talking about how they haven’t had it in years, or they finds themselves singing along to the jingle for Power Wheels (pow pow powerwheels….), that delightful, buzzy feeling of a collective unconscious happens that I hoped would also appear at Home Movie Day (it did).


The first thing we had to do was secure a venue and date. We needed someplace really dark for the film projectors, and a date that didn’t conflict with any of the partners’ commitments. We ended up securing Saturday, Oct. 24th (which we learned later is Global Super8 Day- not planned but awesome) in Southwest Neighborhood Library’s basement.

For those of you reading this that aren’t familiar with DC, having the venue in Southwest also speaks to the importance of preserving local amateur films as cultural records. After the Civil War, the neighborhood was settled by European immigrants and freed blacks. In the 1950s and 60s, it went through a massive urban renewal, and the majority of the residential blocks were destroyed and replaced by office buildings, federal buildings, and a large freeway that failed to “revitalize” the area. We even later discovered that on the same day as our event, a meeting was called about the renovation of Greenleaf, a nearby public housing complex, because residents were worried that they would not be able to afford to return.  As an archivist, urging members of threatened communities to preserve stories from their own perspectives is an ethical imperative, and although I don’t know how many of the people that came to Home Movie Day were from the neighborhood, I’m hoping that we were able to make some impact either as a community event or by helping SW neighbors to preserve their films.

After the date and venue was settled, we started on the other necessary event criteria: home movie formats we were taking, publicity copy, outreach targets, equipment, a hashtag, volunteers, and ringer movies we could provide so that we had enough material to last throughout the event if submissions were sparse.

photo 1

A 16mm ringer from DC Public Libraries

Out of all of these, outreach was the most time consuming for me. I posted on listservs, gave presentations to DCPL’s Federation of Friends and Adult Services working group, handed out flyers at community centers and various library branches, advertised on Twitter and Facebook, emailed community organizations I thought might be interested, and gave a radio interview. The most effective strategy was getting in the newspaper. The Washington Post’s metro paper the Express did a half page write-up about the event, as did CityPaper.

Our promotional flier, designed for us (for free! thanks!) by DC printing co. Typecase.

Our promotional flier, designed for us (for free! thanks!) by DC printing co. Typecase.

By the day of, I still had no idea how many people were going to come. There was an understanding amongst event veterans that the turn-out would be pretty low, and by reviewing the DC Home Movie Day field report archives provided by the Center for Home Movies, it seemed the highest turn out was in 2006 with 48 attendees.

Home Movie Day Arrives

In the morning, we organized the flow of guests into different stations. If a guest arrived with a home movie, they would first come to the inspection station, where they would fill out a form with their information, sign a liability waiver, and have their home movies inspected. Films that they wanted to show were placed in a large ziploc bag along with their form and a ticket that was used to track their items. A runner would then take the bag and walk it to the the projectionists, where they would communicate any special preferences or point out the guest’s appearance so they could be called on to narrate.

Veteran HMD volunteer Laura Major at the inspection station.

Veteran HMD volunteer Laura Major at the inspection station.

A guest has his formats identified.

A guest has his formats identified.

Because video tapes are so long, we also had a viewing station where guests could view and queue their home movies. This station also came in handy if guests just wanted a private place to watch what they had.

Once inside the theater, a guest could stop at the outreach station, where they could pick up promotional materials and preservation information tip sheets created by Smithsonian staff (one for video and one for film). At the snack station, guests could choose from juice boxes and sealed munchies graciously provided from Whole Foods before taking a seat. (Leftovers were later donated to a DC shelter).

The projection station was apparently the most bangin one any veteran Home Movie volunteer had ever witnessed. Playbackthetape managed and MC’d the videos and DVDs, and Smithsonian staff managed the 8mm, 16mm, and Super8 projectors. Threading the film can be time consuming, so switching between film and video was an effective way of managing the presentation flow…. Unless you’re awesome, and you decide to create an eyegasm  of simultaneously running home movies.

photo 2


This approach was fantastic. Viewers could actually look across time! As my coworker and DCPL Special Collections Manager Kerrie Williams said to me, you began to see influences that you would never have expected.

How it went

With 35 people in the room at all times for the entire 5 1/2 hour run, we estimate about 100 people in attendance including around 15 volunteers. We were hit with several guests right at the start of film drop-off, and we had to play catch-up a bit as we ironed out our workflow. At this awkward beginning stage the ringers were a godsend.

Looking back we were very lucky. The majority of attendees were there to watch, and those who wanted to show their film had amazing material and were eager to narrate. The projectionists did an excellent job of asking questions – “Is that picnic table still there?” “Who is this we’re seeing?” “Tell us more about growing up in Illinois” etc. – and I would recommend this as those seeing their home movies for the first time in years may glaze over or become very emotional.

People brought every format we could play (see our flier above), and some we couldn’t. Some guests misunderstood our capabilities and thought that we could digitize their home movies at the event itself. Almost everyone was initially surprised to learn that it was important to save their film even after it was digitized, but upon seeing their formats projected live alongside digitized formats, the differences were easily recognizable.

Our event was long, and it helps to have injections of activities or change. Running the quadruple screening was one such injection, as was the bingo game (provided for free by The Center for Home Movies). High-interest ringers such as footage of the Selma march provided by NMAAHC or a 90s news report showcasing the stinkiest sneaker in the US from playbackthetape also helped break up the day for those die-hard fans that stay for the full event.

Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Object ID# 2011.176a. Copyright Donna Chalmers, 1965. Used with permission.

Still from the march to Selma. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Object ID# 2011.176a. Copyright Donna Chalmers, 1965. Used with permission.


Those that brought in their home movies were fantastic and really made the event a success with their enthusiastic narrations.

Kodachrome film of the Vietnam War

A Veteran brought in his Kodachrome film of the Vietnam War.

It was also nice when members of the audience get curious about all of the whirring machines.

A young cinophile learns how to thread the 16mm projector.

A young audience member learns how to thread the 16mm projector.

Never an event without surprises, the last film shown was an 8mm brought in by David who couldn’t remember what was on it. Shockingly, the first scene opened on his grandfather’s wake and a view of the deceased. Projectionist Jasmyn Castro handled the situation perfectly by covering the projector lens as a method of “fast-forwarding” and all was well.


I know this was a lengthy post, but I wanted to give you an in-depth look at the event in case you wanted to host it yourself. It’s a lot of work, but completely worth it, and we had MANY attendees ask when we were doing it again.

For more pictures and event coverage, search #homemoviedaydc on twitter!

Class: Personal Archiving with Facebook

I taught a class called “Personal Archiving with Facebook” in partnership with Knowledge Commons DC and DC Public Libraries! This post is a cursory description of what I discovered and a summary of how the class went. To access the full lecture or to try the class out yourself, download the following:

Personal Archiving with Facebook Slides Only

Personal Archiving with Facebook Slides and Notes


For over 1 billion of us, Facebook has become a default archive for the artifacts of our personal lives, and with features like “On this Day” and memorialized profiles, the company is deliberately framing themselves as a service for saving as well as sharing. But is it a suitable method for personal digital archiving?  

To answer this question, I used the four challenges to pda identified by Catherine Marshall  as a metric. Then I used Facebook’s capabilities as an online environment and what you get in your downloaded archive to grade how well Facebook addressed each challenge.

Accumulation: C 

I’m not too sure about this one. On one hand, we make specific choices about what we upload to our profiles, and therefore inherently delete things or leave their destiny to fate (for example, you’re not going to upload all 5 attempts at the same shot to an album). On the other hand, I feel like I document things now more than ever because I can put them on Facebook, so you could look at it as an impetus to produce and accumulate more.

Distribution: A 

Although I keep my stuff on multiple devices and web sites, Facebook is where I centralize my photos, daily thoughts, and links to other work.  Since opening my account in 2005, I have had two computer crashes and a handful of forgotten web environments where my photos and diaries were stored- but Facebook’s popularity has caused me to maintain my account for a decade, which in turn makes it my default place for publishing, which in turn makes it the number one place for saving and accessing.

Digital Stewardship: B 

Marshall defines this as automatic maintenance, communal maintenance, and individual maintenance of files. Facebook does have automatic mechanisms in place for maintaining your files, updating them, and protecting them from viruses. It does a great job providing communal maintenance because it encourages sharing and downloading, and the comments provide communal description. Individual maintenance (as I’ve discussed previously) is also fairly easy to do and encouraged. BUT you have no technical or copyright control over what happens to your files after you upload them, which is crucial for stewardship. [see more about this in my slides and notes]

Long-term Access: D

In order to ensure long-term access, we have to prepare for the possibility that the site will die. This means we’ve got to have local, offline control of our files, and those files need descriptions. The ability to download the data helps us with local control, but unfortunately there are many things that are not included, such as a history of your likes and comments on other people’s stuff, their likes on your stuff, posts on your timeline, or posts by you to other timelines. We also have no way of knowing if we’re really seeing everything Facebook keeps on us. To see a list of what they disclose, go to Accessing Your Facebook Data.

Overall it’s the description that really sinks Long-term Access to a D. Let’s look at photos as an example.

Case Study: Photos


Here’s what you see in your downloaded “photos” folder. Everything has been given a unique identifier, so there’s no way of knowing what your original file name was or even what album’s what. Notice how they also give you your facial recognition data. 


Here’s a snippet of what you see inside of a folder. All JPEGs, all with unique identifiers and an html index.


When you look at the properties of a file, there’s not much embedded metadata. You’ve got the size, resolution, bit depth. That’s about it.


In this example, the photo on the left is how it appears when this album’s html index is open in a browser. It gives the date uploaded, orientation, and IP address uploaded from. The one on the left is how it appears on Facebook. See what’s missing? BASICALLY EVERYTHING.


Photos uploaded from my smart phone include EXIF data in the archived html page as well, which is useful, but still doesn’t make up for the obliteration of user added description.

Summary of Findings

During the class activity, I assigned each person one of the following types of files to examine “as an archivist.” Here’s what we found together.


The students were shocked, and some great discussion ensued.


These were my final slides with suggestions for now and going forward.



How the Class Went

I had 6 students and 1 KCDC facilitator, ranging in age from ~25 – ~50 years old with varying digital literacies and no archival expertise. When asked why they had come to the class, students reported they had previously experienced data loss on web platforms such as Live Journal, GeoCities, and WebShots, were interested in personal digital archiving, or were worried about the security of their online content.

Overall I was very pleased with the class.  The students were engaged with the material, and everyone was able to contribute insights during the group activity. 4 out of the 6 students left contact information so that I could notify them of future classes, and one even tweeted me!

If you try the lesson, make sure you have extra laptops for people, and move through the slides at a steady quip to leave plenty of time for the last two suggestion slides. Perhaps re-thinking the title of the class will make it more approachable and increase attendance (something like “How to Save Your Facebook Profile Forever”).

Give it a try! 

Please download the slides and let me know how it goes at your library!