Preserve Your Family Memories with DCPL's Memory Lab

Lamond-Riggs/Lillian J. Huff Library

Preserve Your Family Memories with DCPL's Memory Lab

It’s a human tendency to hang on to sentimental memorabilia, items that remind us of significant memories and special times, even if those items may no longer be as accessible and usable as we would like.

Do any of these sound familiar:  VHS tapes from children’s birthdays, recitals, and sporting events than can no longer be viewed because you no longer own a VHS player?  cassette mixtapes from high school and college that you can no longer listen to, but keep for the memories? Old high school yearbooks? Yellowed family photos in albums--only some of which are labeled and the people who can identify the subjects of the photos are getting older?

If so, DCPL’s Memory Lab, located at the Northeast Neighborhood Library, is here to help.  Before booking a full session, I recommend signing up for a memory lab orientation, in order to get an overview of the equipment and procedures before starting your project. Remember to bring your own means of storage for the project--most patrons use a USB drive, but cloud-based drives such as Google Drive are also an option.  Two stations are available--one for digitizing tape formats such as VHS, miniDVs, audio cassettes, and floppy disks; the other is for scanning and digitizing photos and other visual media.

I decided to explore the personal archiving process for myself using an audio cassette--a bright yellow Fisher-Price audio cassette from about 1982; a family treasure that had some recordings of me at age 4, when I had gotten a Fisher-Price tape recorder as a Christmas gift, and who knew what else.  Though the process is intended to be largely self-paced, the Northeast Library staff are on hand to offer assistance if needed and it turned out to be a good thing. My first visit to the Memory Lab included several inexplicable technical issues, and I ultimately had to book a second session when I knew one of the “lab experts” would be available.

As it turned out, at least one of my technical issues was able to be solved in a decidedly low-tech fashion.  Robert (the aforementioned Labs expert) realized that the reason my tape sounded so muddy and blurry was that the small felt piece which pressed against the tape ribbon, allowing it to be read, had fallen off.  A tiny piece of felt from the Children’s Department (thank you Northeast Neighborhood Library children’s librarians!) and some crazy glue later, and we were ready to try again. This time the transfer process worked perfectly.

With headphones plugged into the tape deck, I was able to hear the tape clearly.  In a program called Audacity, I was able to save the portions of the tape that I wanted to capture as sound files, and then export them to my flash drive as WAV files. Once the difficulties were resolved, the process was quite straightforward, and I was able to save some precious family memories, as well as some interesting pop culture ephemera, in the form of Fisher-Price audio instructions from approximately 1982. I’d encourage anyone with ephemeral family treasures lying around in outdated formats to consider doing the same.