Jun 14, 2023

‘Memory Labs’ Help Anyone Digitize Their Family History for Free

Here is an offer that is difficult to beat: FREE. From an article by Zaid Jilani published in the newsnationnow web site:

A network of local groups is training people to digitize and preserve old media

It’s an alternative to private companies that digitize media for a price

Up-front costs to launch a program could be steep for some libraries

Equipment used in the Memory Lab in Johnson County, Kansas. Photo courtesy of Johnson County Government

A network of libraries and nonprofit organizations are establishing “memory labs,” where patrons bring in photos, VHS tapes and other old media formats, learn at no cost how to digitize them, and then do it themselves to preserve their family histories and their memories.

Millions of Americans have stored their memories on older forms of media, which are difficult to pass on to future generations because they can’t easily be shared over the Internet. Sometimes this older media can degrade, too, making digital preservation even more valuable.

Yet, Americans are arguably more interested in genealogy than ever, and physical media are often the key to learning about what life was like for a distant ancestor. The multibillion-dollar genealogy industry has boomed in recent years as people seek to learn more about their family history. 

Private companies can help digitize these old films and photos. But they are both expensive and anxiety-provoking. For example, companies like Legacybox or Digmypics will charge between $30 and $50 to convert a few film reels. Plus, people have to send their one-of-a-kind memories through the mail (allying this concern is at the top of the FAQ at ScanCafe).

One of the memory labs is in Johnson County, Kansas. There, the local genealogical society teamed up with the county library system to offer free digitization services to the local community. 

When organizers opened up slots in early April, they were overwhelmed with demand.

“By 8:30 in the morning, all the slots for two months were filled up,” said Marsha Bennett, the vice president of education and outreach at the Johnson County Genealogical Society.

The memory lab has equipment including a flatbed scanner and a Wolverine Movie Maker, which looks like an old 8mm film projector that passes old film over scanner glass, converting it to digital videos. 

Residents who want to take advantage of the service are able to go online and reserve 2 1/2-hour blocks of time for free. When they arrive, a volunteer teaches them how to digitize their records and then they get the rest of the time to use the equipment. They’re asked to bring a USB drive or hard drive to do the transfer.

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