Week 11: Converted

My equipment came in really fast, so I’ve been testing everything out this week. I made a new board in Trello to track my progress, using the colored labels to represent the different pieces of equipment.


Click the image for a bigger view!

The orange label stands for the Honestech VHS to DVD 7.0 Delux A-D converter I purchased in Week 8, and as you can see from the screen shot, it’s had a lot of problems.


I wanted to try using a consumer-level A-D converter for the lab because they’re affordable (I could buy one for every deck and there would be no need to plug or unplug wires) and the software is very user friendly. I figured that a solid professional VHS player and TBC would help mitigate loss of quality in the converter (so wrong!). So, I looked at compatibility, time on the market, and reviews, and it came down to either the Elgato or Honestech. In the end, I chose Honestech because it can also burn video to Blu-ray, and had a simpler interface than the Elgato’s Cyberlink software.

“2015 Best VHS to DVD Converters Review” Top Ten Reviews



This nascent archivist gives Honestech a thumbs down.

I’m using two different laptops for testing- an Alienware laptop running Windows 8 with a fantastic graphics card, and a regular government-issued Dell running Windows 7- and two Honestech converter kits. Although Honestech is compatible with 7 and 8, the viewing screen for capture dropped out to black after about an hour on the Alienware computer. It’s still capturing video, but a user would have no idea what they were playing. To troubleshoot, I uninstalled the software and reinstalled the second kit, but the problem persisted. Then, I read online that consumers who had similar problems just downloaded a newer driver patch from the Honestech website. I did that, upgrading from 4.0 to 4.1, but it didn’t fix anything. By day 3 of testing, frequent freezing and a disturbing clicking sound have also developed on both computers.

Another problem is the length of time it takes to encode the files. Consistently on both, the ratio is about 10 minutes for every 1 minute of video – a formidable obstacle for a workstation that has reservation time limits.

The biggest clincher is that somehow I failed to notice the highest quality video this thing can capture is MPEG-2, and it can only capture audio as a Windows Media Audio File. Building this lab is a constant negotiation of archival quality and usability for the public, and I don’t expect users will be saving hours of uncompressed video files – but the MPEG-2 is just too lossy to be worth the conversion in the first place. As an example, here’s what a VHS-C played on a Panasonic 1980P looks like when captured and encoded as MPEG-2 with Honestech.

Is this even access-worthy? Even with plenty of light, it’s difficult to make out facial details that I can see clearly when played on a television set.

A Little Help From my Friends

Feeling discouraged and facing a tight deadline to get in orders for the current fiscal year, I sought help from Walter Forsberg, Media Archivist for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture. He said I needed to get a converter that at least could encode up to an H.264 file format, and recommended I get the Blackmagic Design UltraStudio Express (and if you remember back to my site visit to the University of Maryland’s lab, Eric also recommended Blackmagic software). It’s an expensive piece of equipment and is only Mac compliant, but when I found out we could afford it and it would allow our Special Collections staff to do one-off in-house digitization, it seemed like a sound investment.

For those of you who can’t afford the price tag, the other consumer-level converter I was looking at, the Elgato, encodes in H.264 and goes for around $80. Live and learn.

Week 7: A Tale of Two Couples

People say they don’t do a good job of curating their digital files because they can’t identify what will be important for the future (Bruce, 2005). This is an understandable dilemma, but we know from processing collections filled with photos, journal entries, and memorabilia of important life events that individuals recognize some objects are worth saving .

Wedding party of Jacqueline and Aaron Jackson, 1976. Courtesy of DC Public Library Special Collections.

Wedding party of Jacqueline and Aaron Jackson, 1976. Courtesy of DC Public Library Special Collections.

But what’s happening now that these life events are captured in large part digitally ? Are they saved with the same care? Will we continue to have personal collections documenting meaningful events?

I decided to email two married couples that are friends of mine and ask them a series of questions about how they’ve taken care of their wedding mementos since the big day.



Here’s what they had to say


Briefly summarize your wedding. When was it? Where was it? How many people attended?

Our wedding was June 14 2014 in Monterrey, NL Mexico, my hometown. We had about 150 friends and family attend the wedding.

How was the wedding day recorded? Did guests take photos or video? Did you have a professional photographer? Did you have a guestbook? A website? Invitations?

We hired a photographer to document our wedding, also a couple of my friends are photographers and one of them took informal pictures of us before and at the house while we where getting ready and another one took really good pictures at the party.  One of them sent the files by dropbox to us and the other one created an album online and gave us the link to it. The hired photographer and videographer gave us a DVD with all the files on it.  We made copies and sent them to family members. I honestly haven’t seen those or the video….  I should probably copy those files on an external drive and on the cloud!

How many of those physical or digital mementos do you have today? How do you use them? Where do you keep them?

I have all those files on DVD and on my computer. I back up my computer every other month so I know I have a copy on an external drive too. The photos that the hired photographer took are on a DVD. I just have those on the book shelf.  Dom printed some photos to make an album for his grandmother. 

What are your plans for the future of these objects?

I honestly don’t have plans for them except keep so I can look at them when I am old. Who knows, maybe later I will make a documentary about myself and need them! :b

For physical mementos: On a scale of 1-5 with 5 being supremely confident, how would you rate your ability to keep these objects for the rest of your life?

4,  I think with physical things I am better at keeping them. I still have photos of my childhood, the only concern is for them to suffer some physical damage and I am not very careful about humidity and dust, for example.

On a scale of 1-5 with 5 being extremely concerned, how much do you care that these objects are kept for the rest of your life?

Right now my emotional reaction to this question is : more or less, like a 3, but “intellectually” I know that if I don’t do anything to keep those I will regret it so badly later in life, so a 4.5

For digital mementos: On a scale of 1-5 with 5 being supremely confident, how would you rate your ability to keep these objects for the rest of your life?

I will say 3.5, because although I know I am totally capable of keeping files I also know that I need to be diligent about that and keep storing them in new hard drives or any new technology that comes and I am not sure I will actually be very diligent about that.. I guess the safest thing is to publish them somewhere on the internet?

On a scale of 1-5 with 5 being extremely concerned, how much do you care that these objects are kept for the rest of your life?

I am very concerned about that. Right now I am not too worried because it just happened, but I know that if I lose those memories I will be miserable in the future.

Is there anything else that you’d like to say about this topic?

I just want to thank you for making me thinking about this I will definitively look into some ways to copy and preserve those DVD and files!


Briefly summarize your wedding. When was it? Where was it? How many people attended?

Morgan and I were married October 25, 2008 under a tent in the backyard of a family member’s house overlooking Urbanna Creek. We had around 200 guests and, in spite of the rain, it was lovely!

How was the wedding day recorded? Did guests take photos or video? Did you have a professional photographer? Did you have a guestbook? A website? Invitations?

We didn’t have a videographer. Some people may have captured video, but if they did, we haven’t received a copy of it. A number of our friends and family members took photographs. One sent us all the photos he took on CDs, which were amazing. We did pay a talented friend of ours to capture all the important moments – cutting the cake, first dance, etc. (although she doesn’t identify herself as a photographer by trade). Her pictures were very good, and we had them printed for a wedding album. We had a guestbook that people signed as they came in, and we also had people leave us a note on the matte of a picture frame (which, at this time, is stored somewhere — maybe the attic). We may have had a website, but I don’t remember. If we did, it was just a simple one through one of those sites like theknot.com for purposes of providing driving directions/hotel info to out of town guests. We had invitations – I still have one of them in a shoebox.

How many of those physical or digital mementos do you have today? How do you use them? Where do you keep them?

We have all the photos, the guest book and the matte/picture frame. The photos are stored both digitally (on Gretchen’s computer) and in a physical album, which is kept under the coffee table. The guest book is in a shoe box on the top shelf in our bedroom. I don’t know where the matte/picture frame is, exactly. Possibly the attic. What I enjoy more than those things are the cards people gave us, which are in the same shoe box.

What are your plans for the future of these objects?

No plans, per se. We just enjoy looking back at them from time to time, and it’ll be nice to be able to share them with our daughter in the future.

For physical mementos: On a scale of 1-5 with 5 being supremely confident, how would you rate your ability to keep these objects for the rest of your life?


On a scale of 1-5 with 5 being extremely concerned, how much do you care that these objects are kept for the rest of your life?


For digital mementos: On a scale of 1-5 with 5 being supremely confident, how would you rate your ability to keep these objects for the rest of your life?

3  (my computer crashing is always a concern, which is why we printed them out)  

On a scale of 1-5 with 5 being extremely concerned, how much do you care that these objects are kept for the rest of your life?



Both couples identified that a large portion of mementos from their wedding are in digital form as photos, videos, and a wedding website. I was surprised that social media, texts, emails, and/or voice mails related to the event were not considered (is it because it’s assumed they can’t be captured, or are they just too insignificant?).

At the wedding, photos and video were created by designated photographers and extemporaneously by guests. These files were processed by creators before they ended up in the wedders’ hands-  through online web albums, or organized on cloud storage, DVDs, and/or CDs. Wedding pictures published online directly by guests were not considered a part of their collections.

Both couples consolidated their files onto a personal computer, and both couples also chose to print pictures for accessibility (either for themselves or for someone else). They have kept files on various storage containers, but all containers are kept centrally in the home. In the event of a massive data loss, both couples could go back to content creators and request replacement copies of some of the material (Dom and Daniela could easily request copies of the DVDs they dispersed after the wedding, for example). Saving copies of high-value files on cloud storage or at a separate residence would best ensure their preservation.

If I could do it again, I would want to know more information about the files themselves- how did they name them? Did they tag people in them or add captions? What kinds of file types do they have? Knowing and adding this information will help them locate the files, help others understand their context, and make migration to newer formats a lot easier in the future (if any of you are reading this feel free to comment, of course!).

Overall they were more confident about archiving their physical mementos than their digital, but the difference was only .5- 1 point on a 5-point scale.

As far as wondering if anything will be left for us to archive, these case studies suggest we shouldn’t worry about it too much. Although more could be done, both couples have taken actions to preserve their wedding memorabilia in ways that work for them now and in how they want to use the files in the future (G&M want physical photos to share with their child, Daniela wants digital images and video for a future documentary). If anything, the amount of what’s getting captured is growing.  In 2008, Gretchen and Morgan received a CD of photos from a friend and those taken by their photographer. In 2014, with 50 fewer guests in attendance, Dom and Daniela received a web album, a dropbox link to photos, and a DVD of photos and video. Having a lot increases the chances that an item will be saved, but  it  does get harder and harder to care for it all.

What have you done?

All you happily wedded out there, please tell me what you’ve been doing with the digital evidence of your wedding. Do you see yourself in these case studies? Have you done something completely different?

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 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?