Week 8: What We’re Getting (for now, at least)

After weeks of research, interviews, a site visit, bouncing ideas off of my mentors,  and procurement hiccups, we’re finally buying things for the Memory Lab.

A visualization of lab- but with people, and cords, and walls!

A visualization…. but with people, and cords, and walls!

The Set-Up

A/V Station

 The A/V Workstation will be used to transfer media formats such as VHS, miniDV and audio-cassette to disc, USB, social media or cloud storage.  Although I considered professional grade A-D converters such as Black Magic DeckLink 4K Extreme, I found their costs prohibitive and their software a bit complex for the average library patron. I chose the Honestech VHS to DVD 7.0 Deluxe because it’s been on the market for a while and has a good reputation, it’s easy to use, has robust capture formats (including Blu ray), and accompanying software that supports one-click wizard transfer and publishing options to social media platforms and cloud storage. For more advanced post-capture edits, patrons will be directed to one of the Digital Commons workstations outfitted with Adobe Creative Suite.

Other things: Audacity, Floppy drive

Photo Station

The Photo Workstation will be used for the digitization of photographic materials and documents to disc, USB, or cloud storage. Wanting to give patrons access to professional-level equipment, we chose the Epson 11000XL Photo Scanner. This scanner includes a transparency lid for digitizing slides and negatives, can batch scan files, and includes elements like the AutoFocus Optics system and one-touch color restoration.

For cases where patrons want to convert digital pictures to analog for storage or re-purposing, we’re buying the Canon Pixma iP110.  Both compact (it will fit in the A/V rack) and portable , it creates high quality prints at 9600 x 2400 dpi and can print directly from camera phones or digital cameras.

Other things: Picasa

A Lesson in Procurement

Besides the challenges of dealing with obsolete equipment (see Week 3), there’s also challenges inherent to the way purchasing works through the DC government. As it turns out, they don’t like for you to buy things off of Ebay (which is where the majority of this equipment is sold), and they’d prefer it be from a Certified Business Enterprise Contractor. I’m all for supporting small, minority-owned businesses in our community, and it would help the lab’s sustainability if we could form relationships with local vendors. BUT the directory is…… not very user-friendly. Because there are 1096 contractors, it made sense for me to search based on what I wanted to buy. The system is such that you can’t type in “VHS player” and get a list of contractors that sell them. You’ve got to go to the list of NIGP codes, do your keyword search there, and then use the corresponding codes back on the contractor page. If that wasn’t enough, the codes need some controlling for realz.


Should I choose Video Players, Video Cassette Players, a Video Recorder/Player, or a Video Cassette Recorder/Player?????

After 4 hours of searching, I found 1 appropriate contractor. Hmph.

What We’re Buying (Round 1)

Product type # Product name Vendor
Audio-Cassette Deck 1 Teac W-890RmkII Double Auto-Reverse Dual Cassette Deck B&H
Protection Plan 1 Square Trade Protection Plan – 3 Years B&H
External Floppy Drive 1 Sabrent 1.44MB External USB 2X Floppy Disk Drive B&H
Rack 1 CFR2136 36U AV Rack B&H
Time-Based Corrector 1 DataVideo TBC-3000 Time Base Corrector TGP Sales
VHS Deck (Professional) 1 Panasonic AG 1980P 4-head VCR TGP Sales
S-Video cable male to male 1 S-Video male to male cable TGPSales
Scanner 1 Epson 11000 XL- Photo Scanner Epson
wipes 1 KIMTECH® Kimwipes® (280-Pack) Gaylord
gloves 1 Microflex® XCEED® 3 mil Nitrile Gloves MEDIUM (250-Pack) Gaylord
swabs 1 Assorted Foam Swabs (36-Pack) Gaylord
compressed air can 1 Pressurized air duster Gaylord
DVD duplicator 1 Reflex7 CD/DVD Duplicator Disc Makers
DUP010-00552 – Reflex7 CD/DVD with USB 2.0
WAR001-00116 – 1 yr Extended Warranty-Reflex7 DVD/CD
Printer 1 Cannon Pixma iP110 Canon
Warranty CarePAK Plus (3 Yr.) Canon
Headphones 2 Maxell HP/NC-II Noise Cancellation Headphone Laser Art
UPS 2 APC Back-UPS 550V Laser Art
A-D Converter 3 Honestech VHS to DVD 7* Amazon
VHS-C Adaptor 1 Gigaware VHS-C Adapter Amazon
MiniDV Player 1 Sony DSR-40 DVCAM / DV / MiniDV VTR Player/Recorder Amazon
Applique 2 Frosted temporary applique Signs by Tomorrow

Building a Vendor Relationship

We’ve going to try out TGP Sales as  our go-to vendor for professional VCRs, TBCs, and any other equipment that might become available. I had heard the company mentioned on digitalfaq a couple of times (yes, I know I bashed the listservs previously but this actually was very helpful! ), and I liked that a biography of the video technician Tom Grant was one of the top links on the site. TGP also provides a lot of free information on how to care for their machines, which made me think that there was some heart involved here, you know? The featured professional decks were the exact models I was interested in getting, too, so I figured they had exquisite taste.

Scarred from my last phone experience (see my comment on Week 3), I dreaded calling, but Tom picked up and we had a nice little chat. Turns out one of his first jobs was as the A/V guy for a University library, and he seemed to be really excited about the project. He described in detail how he refurbishes the circuit boards in the PRO decks, and even offered to give over-the-phone training on how to maintenance the equipment. When I described to him the challenges of sustainability when working with the public, he suggested using a cheap deck to test the tapes for stickiness before I popped them in the Panasonic AG-1980, and I’m definitely going to try that out.

The quality of the machines will be the ultimate test, but I’m hopeful that TGP Sales and the Memory Lab can ride off into the sunset together.

Free Things

You’ll notice there’s a couple of things missing from our equipment list (furniture, computers), and that’s because they were already available at the library. Multiple old VCRs and tape players in our A/V department are also available for the lab, so I’ll be testing these in the coming month and reserving some as back-ups.

“Your first tester”: Toshiba SD-V296 DVD/VCR and a Panasonic Palmcorder Afx8

I’ve even received two donations (Thanks Nick! Thanks Mom!), leading me to think a city-wide donation drive might be a great opportunity to build-out our transfer capabilities and raise awareness about the lab. If you’ve got an old player or camcorder, hit me up!

Week 3: Magnetic Media’s Bringing Me Down

Close-up of an audio cassette

I am building a personal digital archiving lab at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library that will include digitization equipment and metadata friendly capture software for public use. These are the 5 formats I’d like to address in the first implementation phase:

1. photographs/ slides



4. audio-cassette

5. 3.5″ floppy disk

What’s easy: Photographs and slides will be relatively easy to digitize because they can both be done on a flat-bed scanner with the right accessories. CDRs, DVDs, and even 3.5″ floppies are also relatively doable because the external drives and write-blockers I will need are still in production.

What’s not easy: Magnetic media like the VHS and audio-cassette formats are turning out to be a real annoyance for the parameters of my project.


I really wouldn’t have known where to start if Eric Cartier, Digital Librarian at the University of Maryland, hadn’t taken the time to walk me through the University’s digitization lab and processes. I got expert advice on brands, capture software, and doing QC, but the most important thing I learned is that equipment breaks A LOT. And it’s not a slow-death-with-plenty-of-warning kind of breaking, either. When they go, they go, with hardly a death rattle.

UMD's Digitization Lab

A deck of players at UMD’s Digitization Lab.

Challenge 1: Things Break

All hardware breaks, of course, but when old hardware breaks, it’s not covered by a warranty and it’s not so easy to go out and find replacement parts for a machine that is discontinued. This is a sustainability issue for any digitization lab, but ESPECIALLY for ours, because the public will be bringing in all kinds of stuff from all kinds of basements and attics to gum up the works. We need to be able to balance taking care of our equipment and adequately servicing our users.

One potential solution is to buy in 3s. If we have one VCR on deck and two in the back ready to replace it,  we should be able to avoid service interruptions. A second idea is to develop a relationship with a local business who could service the machines, which I’m currently investigating. Of course, if anyone wants to give me a $7000 tape cleaner like the RTI 490 VHS Family Tape Cleaner, that’d be swell.

Challenge 2: Thing vs. Thing

At the very beginning of this process, there was a small part of me that thought maybe, just maybe, I could buy a VCR and a boombox from Best Buy or something and call it a day. NOPE. VCRs and cassette players were at their peak performance in the 80s and 90s when they were the most popular. Now that there’s no market demand, their quality has declined, and archivists like me are left scavenging our organization’s basements and online marketplaces like Ebay.

Even now that I know obsolete players are the best, I’m having trouble navigating elusive names (the Funai ZV427FX4 or the RCA VR603AFH??), and figuring out preferences such as: How much of a difference is there between the 4-head and 2-head player? Do I want built-in TBC? Can I do without the remote? Can I choose by brand alone or should I be faithful to specific models?

I’d like to share a few great resources for those of you in similar situtations.  Stanford’s documentation on their digitization services, complete with lists of their equipment and cleaning supplies, is up online. To run options by experts, contact digitization labs or, like I did, visit them in person and try to buy them lunch. For VCRs specifically, this Buying Guide entry from 2009 on the Digital FAQ thread is a great reference.

Don’t- under any circumstances- make the mistake of investing hours of time scanning the threads of niche consumers. jman98 sums it up very well in this VideoHelp Forum:


Although I don’t agree that “no one” will have interest in family films, he’s right to say that practicality needs to be considered along with quality. Will the public notice a 5% percentage of improvement for the amount of work and money it takes to stay true to the “best” brand?

My current strategy is to invest in the other tools necessary for the digitization process- converters, external time-based correctors, etc.- as a way of mitigating a reliance on finding “the best” obsolete hardware on the market.

Challenge 3: Unpredictability

Rather soon I’ll need to submit a formal Report of Recommendation for the lab, which should include cost estimates for each piece of equipment I want to purchase as well as some kind of prediction of annual costs to run the lab. Obsolete hardware makes this difficult to do because the prices vary (the same model of player could range from $200-$2000) and you can’t tell how often you’ll need to replace them. Once again, having some kind of dedicated vendor that could guarantee a certain price range for the players could strengthen my recommendation.

I’d love to hear from those of you who have or are building labs and how you’ve stood up to the challenge of magnetic media!

Week 2: You and Me and Everyone We Curate

I’ve been doing a lot of reading  over the past week about personal digital archiving to inform my project and craft my message about why anyone should care about this at all. Then I made this map of post-its-


Look closely, friends. The answer to improving PDA is here!

My notes are heavily biased towards what I need to create this lab and outreach program, so what I took from the literature splits pretty neatly into either observations on user behavior or suggestions on best practices. One trend that surfaced was that of sharing behavior as an impetus for personal digital archiving.

Facebook, no matter how much we may not want to admit it, is the most common way to archive our lives. There are preservational and ethical problems with this: the site doesn’t guarantee long term preservation, strips our metadata, compresses our photos to crap quality, exploits our archives to make money and apparently now owns our faces. But I’m seeing clear correlations between some of the biggest PDA problems we face and the opportunities that Facebook and other social media sites provide for users to commune over memories.

Problem #1: Digital objects are not sacred. 

Picture of discarded computer hardware in Tahit. photography.nationalgeographic.com

Picture of discarded computer hardware in Tahiti. photography.nationalgeographic.com

Bill LeFurgy admitted in The Signal that he found it “hard to form an emotional connection with clouds of bits,” and lots of others do, too. This study by Jennifer Bushey shows that while subjects associated analog photos with the idea of permanence, digital photographs were associated with sharing, performance, and consumption. The traditional strategy to combat this in PDA workshops is to tell the public that they’ll be left with nothing but a dark age of digital, but I haven’t seen evidence that this is working. As Catherine Marshall’s research shows, people rely on a cycle of loss and “benign neglect” to combat an increasing back-log of items. Couple this dependency on loss with the inability to see digital things as valuable and that’s a big problem.

Sharing Solution: Facebook knows that nostalgia is a social experience, and it’s using this to give digital objects value. A shared photo that others can see and add contextualization to may have more value than the original lossless TIFF that we archivists want them to save.

Problem #2: Digital objects are hard to keep track of.



Distribution across a variety of hardware and web-based environments, lack of organization, and inconsistent file naming practices all help make “losing” one of the biggest threats to PDA. In a later post, I’ll talk about how a digital life map is an easy first step to taking intellectual control of your archive, but for now, let’s just recognize that this is another big problem.

Sharing Solution: In “Public Library: A Place for the Digital Community Archive,” Andrea Copeland found that a sharing environment such as email actually helps people recover their material from serious loss:

“I found that the participants’ most important personal digital information had been shared with others. Those participants who suffered a total system failure could recover their most valuable digital information because, through sharing information with others, they had copies stored in their email, complete with descriptive metadata and transaction stamps. ”

Pluralization and the 3-2-1 technique are established PDA best practices, but the focus has always been on geographical distribution of copies. Copeland’s study supports the idea that human distribution is being used as a method of digital stewardship.


Of course, there’s complications with all this as well. The more we help each other curate, the harder it is to distinguish the boundaries of our own personal archives and what we have the rights to pass on or reuse. I mean, can you look at your photos and know which ones you took and which ones you grabbed?

Even when web-based archival solutions such as My Life Map couple tools for sharing personal archives with long term preservation strategies, how can they effectively compete with the exposure that a “Facebook” brings and its 1.44 billion friends?


I already envision some ways that this user behavior could influence my work. Some ideas include:

– Encouraging family, friends, and couples to use the digitization lab together (it’s date night! let’s go digitize our mix tapes together, babe <3)

– Teaching Facebook-specific archiving classes that analyze terms and conditions of use, disadvantages, methods of capture

– Promoting methods of sharing digital memories that give the subject more control and adhere to PDA best practices, such as My Life Map that I mentioned before, Google Photos, digital albums, etc.

Does anyone else have some recommended tools I could promote that take advantage of this human desire to share?

Week 1: A Maker in Her Space

Six months ago, I submitted this video to the National Digital Stewardship Residency Program telling them why I thought I was the best candidate to create a personal digital archiving program for DC Public Libraries.

They picked me (thanks guys!), and now I’ve got a badge, and a view of the National Portrait Gallery from my desk, and the exhilarating-terrifying-empowering-petrifying weight of a 12 month project in front of me to “create a sustainable, public-focused lab, tools, and instruction for building public knowledge and skills around the complex and paralyzing problems of personal digital recordkeeping”.

I don't look scared, right?

I don’t look scared, right?

I’ve jumped in with the free web-based project management tool Trello to get some perspective. You can create lists or workflow stages, and populate each with tasks or “cards” that can be moved from one stage to the other. One card can include a stream of comments and attachments from as many collaborators as you choose to invite, and due dates associated with each card can be synced directly to your Google calendar.


My “To Do” list is kind of a hodge-podge of project milestones (“Interim Report”), events (“ZineFest”) and ongoing work (“Literature Review”). I also made an “Ideas” list to organize resources related to personal digital archiving, and extraneous things that didn’t fit anywhere else (like ideas for workshops and possible partnerships). I upload online resources I come across as attachments under each card and use the comment function to add ideas or citations that are useful to this stage of my research. This whole arrangement might need to get a bit more granular as the year progresses, but for now it’s definitely helping me organize a wide breadth of thoughts and appointments in one visually pleasing layout.

It’d be oh so easy to hide behind a cool tool all week, but I’m glad the staff has taken the time to show me around. The library is doing some amazing things, like preparing for the launch of two makerspaces that open to the public tomorrow. One is a Fabrication Lab with tools that range from saws and hammers to a 3D scanner and printers.

Digital Commons Librarian Matt decorating the Fab Lab in the vein of DeWitt.

Digital Commons Librarians Matthew and Peter decorating the Fab Lab.

The second makerspace is the Studio Lab, an A/V lab complete with sound proofed rooms to do professional-level audio recordings and mixing, a video recording room with a green screen….it is INSANELY DELIGHTFUL that all of this stuff is free. I keep telling my friends here in DC about it and they kind of don’t believe me.

After the Dream Lab and the Digital Commons, the PDA lab I’m creating will be the fifth installment of a makerspace here, so I plan to watch these labs closely to see how the public responds and what challenges they may encounter. From sitting in on the pre-launch staff meeting, I’ve already learned some valuable things for my own project:

1. Make sure legal is involved from the beginning. No one wants to get sued, ya’ll.

2. Get your staff to USE the machines as much as possible.

3. Aesthetics are important

I realize that getting my super cool colleagues to be as jazzed about personal digital archiving as they are about recording and laser carving is of paramount importance to the sustainability of this project. As I create my communication/marketing strategy next week, I’ll be thinking carefully of how to win the staff’s ❤ along with the public’s.

Stay tuned.

A Historic Day at the Library of Congress

The Library of Congress just sat on the sidelines while this digital revolution took place. -Robert Darnton as quoted in today’s NYTimes article Library of Congress Chief Leaving After Nearly 3 Decades by Michael Shear.

Today the Librarian of Congress James H. Billington announced that he would be resigning. On this same day, I and my amazing NDSR colleagues (all of whom have only been alive for Billington) were officially welcomed as the 2015 class of DC National Digital Stewardship Residents during an opening ceremony at the LC. These events intersecting so dramatically today have made me thoughtful about where we all will be in 10 years. Me, you, the cohort, the LC, our profession, our collections, our relationship and reputation with the public – all of it.


Post-conference brainstorming session with NDSR cohort members, LC staff Kristopher Nelson and Juan Sanchez, guest thinkers Allison Druin and Dan Russell.

I’m not informed enough to argue Darnton’s quote about the LC’s past, but I do want to say that I am incredibly optimistic about where we’re headed. I think it’s hands-on, embedded residencies such as NDSR that are giving us a glimpse of what’s to come for our field- practice-based education, strong partnerships across organizations, and “mini” projects that reinvigorate organizational and individual capabilities and imaginations. As we heard many times at the conference, it’s also the cohort model that’s been an integral part of NDSR’s success, and I see this model only growing in popularity across the country. Young professionals need networks, and it’s empowering to think that we can build part of them out ourselves, with achievements gained though mutual support and a shared pride.

Let us not forget how the digital learning curve also flips the traditional knowledge hierarchy on its head. Programs that are modeled after NDSR will be successful because they reinforce how we learn from each other despite age or years within an institution. Empowering each other gets us where we want to be faster. Diversity of perspective makes that way more interesting.

So THANK YOU IMLS and the LC for not waiting on the sidelines for a program like this to evolve by itself, but instead, having the foresight to create opportunities for young information professionals to get in the game and do important work. LC -1  HATERS-0