Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Diary Project Continues - Kennebunk and Kennebunkport, Maine

Last spring I found a diary in an antique store. (You can read my early posts about it if you search for "diary" on this blog.) 

I needed to take a hiatus from traveling during the second half of last year, so I spent some time doing online research. My diary is from Maine and after a little deductive reasoning and research, I was able to determine that it is from the Kennebunkport area. I located nineteenth century newspapers and directories of Maine businesses that listed some of the names that I found in my diary. 

Today I did more research at the Kennebunk Public Library and briefly talked to the folks at the Kennebunkport Historical Society. I will make an appointment at the Historical Society during research hours because I think that is where I will find more of the information that I need. I am now as close to one-hundred percent certain that the writer of my diary is from that town as I can be without knowing who the actual writer is. The names I have been able to find so far were all Kennebunkport residents. 

The director of the Historical Society clued me in to a diary at the Kennebunk Library written by Andrew Walker, so I spent time with that today.

Local History section a the Kennebunk Library
Andrew Walker's diaries cover a good part of the 19th century. Like my diary writer, Walker was active in local politics and worked in a local shop. For a very brief moment, I thought perhaps my diary was written by him too. I have been carrying around a diary transcript and not the original. I had my husband take photos and text me pages in my diary to compare the handwriting to Walker's. They are not the same writing. After closer examination, I also realized that Walker's diary did include the first six months in 1882 that my diary covers, though the contents page of his transcript did not make this clear at first. I photocopied the pages from the overlapping dates and will review them to see similarities from the comfort of my living room. At a quick glance, I noticed that Walker covers the same train crash as my diarist. I want to see what other events overlap. Here I'll get insight on two different men in neighboring towns watching local events unfold. 

Some of the names in my diary were located in the index of the Walker diary. He sometimes recorded happenings in Kennebunkport as well as his own town. I checked off names that appeared in both indices. (I had made a name index of my diary as soon as I got it.)

From the diary of Andrew Walker (1808-1899)
I am not positive yet where this research work will take me, but my main purpose for this project is to show the value of personal records for revealing local history and communities. I now have a clear way to show how local records reveal overlapping communities in Kennebunk and Kennebunkport. My daughter is helping me with the project and a second layer to this is showing how such materials can help get children excited about history. I can't wait to share what I've found with her today!

Here are some interesting quotes from the Andrew Walker diary, which are recorded in the introduction to the diary transcript. It is worth noting that he had a clear idea of why he was writing this. I have written extensively in my blog about the value of keeping a diary. It is interesting to see how someone over 150 years ago had similar ideas...

January 1, 1851

"I Andrew Walker propose to write a short diary in this book of such events in this quiet village and vicinity as come to my knowledge. By the term events I include whatever may be suggested to my mind at the time of writing, whether of a private or public nature, my own thought or the thoughts of others. In short whatever may come uppermost, that I shall try to express. How long the diary may continue remains to be seen."

April 19, 1852   

"On the first of January 1851 I Andrew Walker, commenced a Diary and have continued it until the present time. The principal objects I had in view in keeping this diary were,...
"First, in order that I might by constant practice acquire a greater facility in expressing my thoughts on paper.
"Second, noting down many events in this vicinity that now seem of importance but will presently dwarf into mere littleness, other events now insignificant in our eyes, but one day will assume an an (sic) air of important magnitude.
"Third, the pleasure of information to be derived in subsequent years in knowing how events were considered at the time when they transpired and what my opinions were at that time. I recollect of reading somewhere, 'As a woman likes to view herself in a glass, so a man likes to see himself in his diary.'"

 Andrew Walker kept eleven volumes of diaries, covering the years 1808-1899.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Orphan Photos and the Arts (part 2 - Getting Creative)

Last week I discussed the idea of using orphan images to get creative. This post discusses concrete examples of ways to use photos for inspiration, and in art and learning projects. Photos can come from your own family collections. You can also find interesting orphan photos at antique shops and garage sales.

Beware of Preservation and Retaining Provenance 

Before you begin, consider making copies of any orphan photos that you collect. Use the copies in your projects rather than originals. I used regular photocopies in the projects I show here, but you can also have prints made to achieve a different look. Keep originals using safe archives methods. Record everything you know about the photo, including who gave it to you and where you bought it. Even record if you don't know who the people depicted are. (Don't leave others guessing and thinking that you might know them.) You may want to try to learn more about the people depicted or even reunite images with appropriate families if they are not your own.

Looking for Images for your Project

You can certainly use you own identified family images in your art. Your own images make everything seem more personal. Using images of people who you suspect are members of your own family can add some extra sentiment to an art project. However, images of strangers can also give a nice feeling to your work. There is something to be said for regarding strangers as part of your own history; they are part of a long web of humanity that eventually made its way to you. The pictures you choose in your work can be there for beauty, a sense of a general history, or a more intimate family feel.

Some General Thoughts about Photos

You may choose images for projects that grab you because of a family connection, a friendly face, a sense of history / nostalgia. Alternately, you may seek images with commonalities that may even help tell a story. Perhaps there is something happening in your life that you want to highlight or contemplate further. Seek images that relate to your hobbies, interests and life events. For example, as part of "The Life in Context Project," my project partner Sue and I are focusing on food memories. To highlight our talks and workbook, I began digging for orphan images related to meals. This lead Sue and me to digging through our own photos to find us eating at our own family tables. I feel as if I have a new understanding of how food threads through our lives and also a fabulously illustrated book on the topic. The images would also be great for decorating my kitchen with large posters, imprinted on small tiles for an unusual backsplash, or in a homemade family recipe book. (Remember to include caption that indicates a photo is an "orphan" if it is one, especially in a family cookbook!)

Find a Muse

The confidence this unidentified woman exhibits in this photo inspires me and I keep her in my mind's eye
This is probably outside traditional archivist thinking...but the artist in me finds muses among my work. I once wrote about how I often grow fond of the people represented by some of the collections on which I work. I have been inspired by the lives of many New Englanders whose papers I have been lucky enough to process. Photographs can give me a quicker way to get to know someone. I do not necessarily need to read a diary or letters to feel as if I know a personality well enough for it to inspire me. One image can have a similar effect. Think like an artist. Find someone among your photos who inspires you and channel that feeling into your work.

I am also inspired by this unidentified, apparently loving, mother (or teacher). Her muse came in handy for this project.
I don't know who they are, but these images are implanted in my brain. I return to them often and use them in a lot of my work, so I can think about how they influence me.

Getting Jiggy with It

Photos can be laquered to tiles and used to decorate.
I often use tiles about doorways to add a little pizzazz
and with this project I've added a touch of history.
Okay, okay...I may be showing my age with that headline, but really, now the fun and fancy free part comes in. I asked my husband to purchase some tiles when he ran out to Home Depot the other day. Can't you just picture a whole bathroom tiled with these "heirloom image" tiles on the left? The history geek in me says that would be very, very cool. If anyone reading this grows inspired to do that and follows through, please send me pictures! I recently redid my bathroom, so that won't be happening around here.

I also had a leftover wood picture frame that I covered with decoupaged images. I left the images to dry on the table. My daughter bounced in from school and got very excited. This blog post took on a whole new meaning with her help. Kid project time! Old images are a great way to engage children and get them excited about history.

A little glue and creativity can go a long way. I'm envisioning future Christmas ornaments and valentines that my daughter can work on too.

So channel your inner muse, find a topic or an item that inspires you and get to work. If you do feel the creative muse, share her (or him) with us and share your photo art projects too.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Monday, January 23, 2012

Videos Introducing "The Unofficial Family Archivist"

I know that I promised you ideas for using your orphan photos this week. Those will come in a couple of days. (I'm busy playing with decoupage and hope to have an image of something maybe a little new and different to share.) In the meantime, I would like to post some videos I made late last week to tell you about my new book The Unofficial Family Archivist: A Guide to Creating and Maintaining Family Papers, Photographs, and Memorabilia. 

Quite honestly, this is my first time filming myself talking directly to a camera. At first it felt very different from making a presentation until I relaxed and really forgot that I was talking to a camera and not a real person. In the end, it was fun. If you have never met me in person, I hope that perhaps you'll enjoy "meeting" me in a new way - connecting my voice and mannerisms to my words. Welcome to my five part introduction:

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Orphan Photos and the Arts

Last year I posted about how to cull photos. That post generated a lengthy discussion about orphan images. One person who commented mentioned the value of using the materials for historic interpretation, which is something that I do regularly on this blog. One thing that did not gain too much buzz was the value of orphan photos for artistic inspiration. It is this second idea to which I am dedicating my next couple of posts.

I have collected many orphan photos for the "More Finds at the Local Antiques Shop" column in this blog. I have also spent time working as a professional photographer. I grew up "taking pictures" and loving the whole idea of them as both a piece of history and art. A little known fact about me is that I won an award in my high school as best artist in my class because of my own photography. (Ah! Perhaps the mention of this is another sign that middle age has indeed set in -- that time when one feels the need to reminisce about high school awards?) I retain an artist's sense of wonder.

The artistic side of me screams for release once in awhile. A few weeks ago  I decided to take some of my orphan images and I made a collage for myself. It is now framed and waiting for me to hang it somewhere.

I know none of the people in this collage and yet I feel as if I know them all. The images I choose for "More Finds at the Local Antique Shop" are ones that strike me as I thumb through boxes of photos. I might be called to them by the eyes of the subjects, their style of dress, or their activities...whatever caught my initial interest grows inside of me and I imagine what the lives of these people were like. In fact, I have such a propensity for imaginings that I am creating a class for children that will teach them how to "read" a photograph, discover as much "truth" about it as they can, and then creatively write about it. (It is my hope that this class will let kids flex some artistic brain cells. I also hope that it will ultimately help develop critical thinkers who can better discern the differences between fact and fiction because of their participation in the exercises.)

Orphan photos naturally elicit a sense of history and wonder if you examine them carefully. If one searches beyond the obvious, one can imbue additional value into an orphan photo by attaching some meaningful purpose to it. To put it simply: Writing and creating with orphan photos is a useful exercise for an individual's creativity. It is also of value to the anonymous object, re-attaching some meaning for its existence.

I still believe that one should not keep every unidentified photo, but one way to deal with orphan images is to creatively use them to make something beautiful and / or thought provoking. In my next post, I will discuss some things to look for in orphan photos so that you too can be creative with those images that have lost their context. I hope that you will share some of your own artistic endeavors.

Let me just say for those who may be concerned...I am not recommending all unidentified photos should be cut up and glued...I plan to give ideas for good practice in my next post, including the need to consider using copies for projects and a reminder that many orphan photos retain value despite the anonymity of the subject.

Monday, January 16, 2012

In Honor of MLK Day - Examination of the Question Bridge

This morning, I sat down with a cup of tea to browse the archives news and found reference to a project that I think is a remarkable potential model for the cultural heritage field. Question Bridge: Black Males is a new video installation at the Brooklyn Museum. "[It] is an innovative transmedia art project that facilitates a dialogue between a critical mass of Black men from diverse and contending backgrounds; and creates a platform for them to represent and redefine Black male identity in America. The project creates and develops a Question Bridge and Identity Map to fulfill its mission." Appropriate for the celebration of Martin Luther King Day, the project is a unique collaborative cultural endeavor that could bring together individuals in diverse communities to discuss issues that separate them. I would like to examine some of the things cultural heritage institutions may want to consider about the project's approach.

View the article at:

Providing the setting

According to the article, Question Bridge has a goal "to demonstrate that meaningful truths can be shared between people who are radically divided from each other if a setting is established that promotes the sharing of essential questions and answers." 

One of the most important roles of cultural heritage institutions is to provide the setting for such dialogue. This is the most obvious and most important role the Brooklyn Museum is playing in this project.


According to the article, "The community outreach projects bring regional attention to the museum installations...The Question Bridge Curriculum, which is currently being piloted at schools in New York and Oakland with plans for wider distribution, is vital because it brings the messages, meanings and implications of the Question Bridge project into the lives of young people who desperately need alternative representations of cultural difference. "

This project is capable of reaching people of diverse ages, in diverse communities and through a variety of institutions. It is reaching not only museum visitors and students, it is reaching film audiences and Internet users. It seems to me that a library audience could also be a logical part of an outreach effort. 

Art as Documentation

This project hits on many of the elements I identified when defining the value of archives for Cultural Heritage Collaborators. For example, the interviews of the men in this project can easily fit into the scope of the archives field as oral history. The recognition of the overlapping varied cultural professions is essential to the health of all cultural fields. We can no longer afford to operate in separate spheres. This project shows the large scale possibilities of using an umbrella term of "cultural heritage" to promote us all. The "art" created by this project can easily be seen by archivists as documentation. It can also be used by librarians as organized knowledge for their own programming and of course by museum professionals, such as those at the Brooklyn Museum, as artifacts of humanity. We can all have a role to play in the promotion and safe keeping of what a project like this generates.


"Once those men join the process, their presence will create a self-defining Identity Map that will function as a unique database of how black men view and define themselves... as opposed to the prevalent images that are routinely projected onto them." The project allows its participants to explore their own self identity and to present it to the world in their way. It encourages us to think about this community and leaves the door open for future projects that focus on other communities. 

Opportunities to consider individual humans as members of diverse groups are much needed in contemporary society. I have argued that cultural heritage institutions have a responsibility to support a dialogue about community, with a role to help individuals explore their own identities in relation to those of larger groups.This project seems to give us a unique way of doing this.


"The website became a practical necessity once our team discovered that we had far more content than could possibly be contained in a conventional documentary or museum installation." 

What we show our audiences no longer needs to fit into a specified exhibit space. Furthermore, again and again we are shown the potential of the Internet for broadening reach and transforming an original cultural experience. The message of the Question Bridge is not exclusive for those who attend a film festival or a museum. It can and should be brought to people within their homes. Once such information enters a home, I can see it becoming part of more general conversation, effectively encouraging individuals to think about issues as part of their own lives in a way that a neutral location may not.  
I look forward to watching the progression and development of the Question Bridge. Though the article states that the project is fifteen years in the making, I am still impressed with what its creator have managed to include. I hope that I may be able to return to my native state of New York to see the installation while it is in Brooklyn.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Links to Helpful Archives and Cultural Heritage Web Sites

I've been collecting my Links to Helpful Archives and Cultural Heritage Web Sites for about 15 years now. They started as bookmarks for myself as I did research for library patrons, wrote client reports, and published articles. I then decided to put the links online to help others interested in good resources for archival work. The list grows as my interests do and as ideas in the field of archives management change and develop. Digital Collaboration is now the fastest growing topic on my page. Recently I have been collecting links on community studies for my own research and I think that may be my next new subject heading on the Links web page.

One day as I was updating the site, I decided to tweet about it. I think that may have been about a year ago.  I have received much positive feedback and numerous retweets. So, every time I now update the page I put out a tweet (or two or three) to say that I have done so. I'm glad that people seem to find this useful.

I thought I'd write this post to ask you about your own favorite archives related web sites. As the list stands now, it is very much a personal site. Everything included there I have admired and I have used the information to develop my own ideas about my work and its place in my field. When I started collecting links, there were few archives related web sites. Now there are too many for me to examine them all on my own. So, with that in mind, I hope that others will feel free to recommend sites that they find particularly useful for the promotion and care of archives and cultural heritage resources. If you think something is list worthy -- a site that you have created or one to which you frequently refer -- please comment here, shoot me an email or send a Twitter shout out. I can't wait to discover some new things! Thanks! - MM

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

More Finds at the Local Antique Shop - Food Memories

There is always a story behind what we eat (and what we don't eat). 

In December, my daughter and I were admiring the gingerbread houses at a local pastry shop. The shop is down the street from her dance class and I bring her in once in awhile so she can get a treat. The gingerbread houses were part of a contest. My daughter and I voted for our favorites and this entered us into a contest to win a free tray of pastries. Above is the winning tray - a plate of pastries that I won for my friends. (Thanks Frederick's Bakery!)  BUT, I have Celiac disease and can't touch the stuff. I think the last time I won a raffle was for Yankee tickets when I was in high school. My Dad  gave them away because we couldn't travel into the city to use them. The treats do look delicious and I'm awaiting my friends' visit right now for some tea and company, AND so I can give away my treats like a pair of Yankee tickets... but I digress...

Bring up any particular food and I think I'd have a story about it that represents my life at that particular moment: From the Three Musketeers bar that I ate on the way home to placate my sweet tooth while the Frederick's tray sat beside me; (Yes, the candy is gluten free.) To the salami sandwich I had for lunch yesterday, which my husband proudly invented for me when I was ill last year... there are stories for almost everything I eat - when I first discovered the food; what I like about it and why.

On my drive home from the bakery I began thinking about all of the snapshots of food that I have in my photo albums. I have one of me laughing as a teen with my mouth closed tight full of cake. It's one of my favorites because my hair looked good that day. I have another one of me holding up a birthday cake that I shared with my aunt because her birthday is around the same time as mine. I have one of me cutting cake with my husband at our wedding... In fact, I realize now that I think about it that most of the food images I can remember involve birthday cake or sweets. I guess that most people must document birthdays and cake events better than any other event in their lives.

The black and white images in this post are orphan photos that I found in antique shops to illustrate my "Life in Context" project with professional organizer Sue West. Part one of the project focuses on food. All of the images involve meals at the table, foods half way to the eater's mouth or piled on plates. They are very informal images, capturing a moment in time and illustrating a shared human experience. [hmmm...There is no cake.]

It wasn't too hard to seek out images of food for illustration. The images are plentiful, yet we give them little thought. I'm going to try to go dig mine up today and see if they tell some sort of story about my life - a tale of who I am through what I eat.

How are you documenting your food memories? Do any of these images kick off memories for you about food? What role does food play in your life? How do the choices you make reflect your communities and people in your life? Have you won any food contests lately?

(This one is my favorite!)

Share your food memories at https://www.facebook.com/groups/lifeincontext/ and look for these images in the upcoming Life in Context Food Memories Workbook!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Heart of the Community. The Library.

The library has always been the heart of my community and the grounding place for my sense of self. This is its past and its potential for the future.

As a child, my mother brought me to the library once or twice a week. We did not have a large free library in our "hamlet" and were required to pay for membership at the larger town libraries, which were free to residents of areas outlying my own. (I never quite understood the geographical and legal limitations of  the hamlet, but I don't think that matters. All I know is that our taxes did not go toward library services and we paid at the library for our cards.)  Mom taught me that a library was something worth paying for, directly if necessary. We were lucky that we could afford the fee and that we didn't have to travel too far get there. The library was a destination. It was a building filled with knowledge and a place where my imagination could run wild. I could borrow books, and posters, and records and think of them as my own for a short while because I was part of a special community of library patrons.

The right to be part of a "special" community that provides a physical space where one can have a figurative key to a bigger world heightens empathy. The library allowed me to see and explore commonalities among diverse peoples all over the world, so I could better understand my own place and those of others. I believe everyone should have free access to such a place.

I have a memory of sitting in my elementary school library. Mom was meeting with my teacher and I was lovingly parked in front of a display of Dr. Seuss books. The round carousel in the middle of the room held "Green Eggs and Ham," "The Cat in the Hat," "One Fish Two Fish..." Mom was away  long enough for me to read every single book on exhibit. I had such a feeling of accomplishment. I felt warm and cozy inside and always identified that space as a piece of me; it was a place from which I took a memory that was partly responsible for making me an enthusiastic reader.

Reading library books gave me a safe way to explore who I am. It gave me confidence to define my personal identity and acknowledge my uniqueness.

In college, I spent a lot of time at the library.  The building was old. The spaces with my favorite collections were dark. The seating was not comfortable. It didn't matter to me at the time. The library was an old friend - a relative of my home town library. I went there not only for the books that I needed, but also for its welcoming arms that allowed me to feel the pulse of my education and to feel "home." (Some people seek familiar food when in a foreign place. I seek the familiarity of a library.) Computers at the library became a new key to my community. The computers allowed me easier access to the knowledge and creativity embodied in my favorite building on campus.

The realization that I could develop my brain as others had done in that building helped me better understand what education could do for me.

Libraries are changing. They began their biggest change in 100 years during my time in college. Computers brought into libraries were yet to reach very far out when I was an undergraduate student. Few people had them in their homes. There was little information available on them.  Things are so different today, two decades later, that many people feel we don't need libraries anymore. They believe that so much information is available through computers in our homes and in our pockets that libraries are obsolete. I am a big Internet user. I spend much of my day getting my information from remote machines and connecting to other people and worlds through them but I still actively use the library. Libraries have never just been about the books or even the information they provide.

Libraries give knowledge some tangible structure, providing a contained place and some authority to learn to evaluate information. Libraries attach local support and familiarity to large bodies of human ideas that are often different from our own.

The library in the Town in which I settled as an adult has provided me with reading material and a comforting place to do my writing and research. As a young mother, it was a haven where I could meet with other young mothers finding their way. It allowed me to hand my daughter a key to knowledge and assisted me with helping to instill a love of learning and curiosity. My library has remote access to reading materials and databases. It provides a place for local artists to display works, for community groups to meet, for people to discuss big ideas in a neutral space.  My town has even been working for the past few years to build an outdoor gathering area near our library. There is a gazebo with plans to have outdoor concerts. They will even be putting in a skate pond. My fellow townspeople seem to feel as I do - that the library is our local heart that can serve as a grounding point for our shared activities, the growth of ideas, and the building of a better future.

A library gives us a heightened sense of place that embodies civic pride. It allows us to discover, articulate and even show off who we are and who we want to be.

A library building and the human support within is a monument to civilization. It shows us all bound together with our dreams and our potential represented in one building. That is where libraries stand in my opinion. That is where they will always stand - reminding us from where we came while pointing us toward where we are going. Libraries will change, but they always have the potential to be the heart of every small community and a thread from one community to the next.

Monday, January 2, 2012

My Home Movies are Crying out for Respect

To begin the new year, I welcome this post by guest blogger David Rowntree. David has over 10 years of audiovisual archiving experience in a wide variety of libraries, archives, and broadcasting stations. He is working on two very interesting projects in 2012 including an inventory project in my home state with New Hampshire Public Radio (as part of the American Archive Project). He is also co-authoring a book with Chris Lacinak (Audiovisual Preservation Solutions) called Audiovisual Digitization, Preservation, and Access: A Handbook for Legacy and Born Digital Collections. Neal-Schuman Publishers Inc.

This post seems particularly appropriate, following just a few short days after the announcement of the most recent additions to the National Film Registry's list. (I particularly like an article in today's news related to the Film Registry called "Some Thoughts on These Amazing Shadows...") The care of old media is a problem with which we all grapple. Thank you David for sharing your unique expertise with the readers at the ArchivesInfo blog so that we may all safely care for our own personally valuable films!

If you are like me, you probably have a box, or multiple boxes, of old audiovisual recordings of family birthdays, celebrations, travels, and other events (both special and mundane) tucked away in a closet, basement, or attic. Whether it's film, videotape, optical disks or hard drives we have increasingly turned to moving images to capture our memories. However, as technology rushes forward, these collections are increasingly forgotten and neglected. It is a classic case of  “do what I say and not what I do.” I work with archives and organizations to preserve their film & media collections… but I have left mine in the closet for too long.

Home movies have been a part of our history from the time film was invented. By the1930’s both16mm and 8mm cameras had entered the home consumer market.  Although home movies were the exclusive hobby of wealthy individuals until the 1950’s, as equipment and film stock became more affordable they became more accessible. With the advent of video, and later digital cameras, home movies have become an integral part of documenting our family history.
What is generally an intensely personal record, despite our recent propensity to want to share them with the world via Facebook and YouTube, home movies have caught the attention of scholars. In the past decade there has been a dramatic shift in the perception of homes movies in both film and social history. Critical historiography and film studies have been expanding their views of what should be considered a part of the historical record. This shift signifies a move from predominant “official” histories, to one that includes popular memory, is more informal and personal… thus allowing for a richer (and visual) interpretation. Editors Karen L. Ishizuka and Patricia R. Zimmermann capture this shift in their book Mining the home movie: Excavations in history and memories (2008). http://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=9780520248076 I just checked the book out from the library myself.

Film archivists have been at the forefront of this change. In 2003, a group of archivists created Home Movie Day - http://www.homemovieday.com/ an international event that allows individuals to project their home movies in public screenings. In addition to the joy of watching these programs, the forum provides an opportunity to showcase why it’s important to care for these films and to learn how to best care for them.

A couple of years later, the non-profit group Center for Home Movies (CHM)
http://www.centerforhomemovies.org/ was established to administer the growing Home Movie Day events as well as “engage in new home movie projects” and act as a “clearinghouse for information about home movies.” A sampling of home movies from the CHM collections can be viewed on the Internet Archive http://www.archive.org/details/home_movies

This new scholarship may be an interesting read, and it may be fun to participate in a HOME MOVIE DAY event, but you may be asking ‘what does this have to do with my stack of old tapes?’ To start, this new focus has resulted in an increased number of resources dedicated to the preservation of home movies. In addition to the Center for Home Movies, the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) http://www.amianet.org/ is a treasure trove of information and is full of individuals dedicated to audiovisual preservation. The are several resources on their website (see the Preservation Committee http://www.amianet.org/groups/committees/preservation/preservation.php

You can also conduct a search on the AMIA listserv archives or post a question to the group http://www.amianet.org/participate/listserv.php. Over a decade of intimate knowledge has been archived here. http://lsv.uky.edu/archives/amia-l.html

Time to Take Action

First, if your audiovisual materials are in the attic or basement… move them. Apart from physical damage, environmental storage conditions have the largest effect on the lifespan of your materials. Fluctuating temperatures and high humidity often found in these locations will accelerate the breakdown of film and video materials. I keep my materials in a closet on main floor where temperatures are generally drier and more stable.

If you have film, unless it reeks of vinegar it is probably in decent shape. Film has already proven to be able to survive 100 years, so it is less vulnerable than many of your videos. However, if they are stored in rusty cans or cardboard boxes consider re-housing them to avoid particles from scratching and damaging the emulsion. You can buy archival cans from places like Gaylord, University Products, Tuscan, and Urbanski.

Viewing film is obviously a problem if you do not have a projector or viewing equipment. If you do have a projector or are considering buying one on eBay be sure to conduct some research about inspecting and projecting your films – especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. Film can shrink, curl, and warp as it breaks down, or contain splices in need of repair (where the film is taped or glued together). Running uninspected film through a projector can physically damage the film. The most practical solution is to transfer them.

Making a DVD or video file is great because you can share your memories and not subject your films to the wear and tear of projection. However, it is very important not to throw out the film originals. They will be better quality than your digital access copy and will last longer. A DVD is not a preservation format. If you no longer want the actual film… consider donating them to an archive. Northeast Historic Films http://www.oldfilm.org/ in Bucksport, Maine has one of the largest home movie collections in the country.

I have a small amount of film given to me by my uncle (from the 1970’s) sitting in boxes which I will get to at some point. Ironically, my newer videotapes and digital video are more susceptible to loss than the film so I am going to focus on preserving these first.  If you are not sure what you have in your collection, the Texas Commission on the Arts: Video Conservation Guide http://www.arts.state.tx.us/video/ is a good site to help you identify your tapes and gives a good introduction to the problems and risks associated with video.

My first problem is that I do not have all the equipment to play back and access my tapes. I also have many recordings on small formats such as Hi-8, digital Hi-8, and mini-dv. These formats are very unstable (the more narrow the tape the less stable they are generally). I plan to send most of my analog tapes to be digitized by a vendor. I will migrate the digital formats myself. I have worked with SceneSavers http://www.scenesavers.com/index.htm. They are a bit pricey but are a reputable archival preservation company. There are other alternatives as well, just do some research.

A common misconception is that digitization equals preservation. There is both digitization for access and digitization for preservation. While digitizing an old tape onto a DVD may save the footage from further neglect (and you get the benefit of viewing it) it generally involves compression (loss of detail). When digitizing your old tapes for preservation purposes (or having a vendor do it for you) be sure to create an uncompressed file (you can save this on a hard drive) in addition to the DVD copy you will want for access.

Unfortunately, the work does not end there. Once I have my digital files I can no longer just ignore them. They will need to be managed.

1.      I need multiple back-up copies.
2.      I need to be mindful of the file types I have, as well as continually migrate the media every few years going forward (file types change and are updated).
3.      I need to migrate because the hard drive, DVD, or computer will not last indefinitely either. Common archival practice is to migrate approximately every 5 years.
4.      I also need to take the time to add metadata, such as well thought out file name. I have dozens of songs in my iTunes library titled Track 01, Track 02… Don’t let this happen to your memories. Linda Tadic talks about metadata and the challenges and practical solutions for archiving and preserving digital video. http://www.loc.gov/podcasts/digitalpreservation/podcast_tadic.html

 I know it will be a rewarding, nostalgic, and exciting process going through the old tapes and being able to see the events I’ve recorded and long forgot about. Moreover, my kids will finally get to see their parents wedding and know that we too were once young… and that I could dance. Time to roll up my sleeves and dig in!
Find David on Twitter @davidrowntree and see his web site at http://www.archivalmediaconsulting.com/