NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (AP) - Any member of the community will be able to record an oral history or save personal photos and videos to be digitized and added to the Forbes Library’s collection forever, thanks to a $45,000 grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services .
Called the “Moving Memories Lab,” the oral and visual history project will share and preserve residents’ personal stories. The grant will also allow the library to train the public on the use of digital audio and photo scanning equipment.
“For a public library of our size, we have this incredible collection, but it’s heavily weighted toward 18th, 19th century, early 20th century, and hasn’t always been as good at capturing contemporary history,” said Dylan Gaffney, senior library assistant at Forbes. “One of the best ways to do that is to involve the public in it because it becomes the democratization of local history.”
When community members tell their own histories, Gaffney said, the overall result tends to be more accurate and diverse because each person’s story provides a different perspective on historical events that may not traditionally get the attention it deserves.
The grant proposal outlines two years of work the library is hoping to accomplish with organizational partners including Historic Northampton and the Northampton Senior Center. During its first year, the library will purchase scanners and audio recorders for these organizations, as well as train staff on how to use the equipment through workshops.
The second year will focus on programming at both partner organizations and Forbes Library itself, where community members will either be able to begin recording their stories at community centers or by themselves through renting out equipment such as Zoom recorders through Forbes’ existing “Library of Things” program.
Heather Diaz, a reference librarian at Forbes, was instrumental in writing a large portion of the grant, Gaffney said, and is now tasked with coordinating the project and its funds.
Although the grant only provides money for the equipment, staff time and training for the first two years, the program is built to be self-sustaining after the money runs out, Gaffney said.
Librarians at Forbes were inspired by similar programs such as the Memory Lab at the Washington D.C. Public Library, as well as the Queens Memory Project in New York City, both of which are digital archives. Initiatives like these are usually funded in larger cities’ libraries, Gaffney said, but the Institute of Museum and Library Services considered Forbes a “small and rural library” in an area where there was a lack of citizen archival programs.
“We wanted to bring it to a smaller community,” Gaffney said.
Gaffney said teaching people and organizations on how to use digitizing equipment was especially important to the longevity of the program, as he wanted to keep that knowledge circulating through the community for a long time.
“If it’s not shared, and people don’t see the value of it, and the possibilities in it, it just won’t be what it could be,” Gaffney said.
Even further, the library is looking to buy equipment using the grant money to set up a station where people could come in and digitize old home videos from VHS tapes, he said.
Ultimately the library hopes to include all of the digitized stories and photos from community members in a public digital storage system. From a previous Institute of Museum and Library Services grant, Forbes already operates web archiving software, yet Gaffney said there could be more creative ways to document oral and visual histories.
Social media, digital exhibits and even podcasts are possible ways the library could present archival content to the public, Gaffney said.
“If we’re not sharing what we have with the public, we really shouldn’t be keeping it,” he said. “It should be an active archive.”
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