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If we had to guess, you probably have boxes or drawers full of outdated media. Don’t worry, we do too And we have a solution for digitizing older media to preserve history for future generations at Roanoke County Public Library (RCPL), and of course, it is all available for free with your library card.

As Summer Reading came to an end in 2023, staff at Vinton Library, a branch of RCPL, were gearing up for a new initiative for the community – the DigiLab. After much brainstorming and talking with staff and patrons, the Vinton Library wanted to create a space for patrons to use the library to digitize older media – from photographs and film to vinyl records and audio cassettes – to preserve history for future generations.  

The DigiLab currently features eight pieces of equipment: 

  • Epson V600 Scanner that can easily scan your old photographs, as well as 35mm and 120mm film and slides.  
  • Picscanner Mobile Phone Scanner to quickly convert film and slides into positive images right on your phone through the app.  
  • Emerson Video Cassette Recorder that can digitize VHS tapes to a .MP4 format as well as an adapter cassette for VHS-C tapes. So break out those old home videos! 
  • Wolverine Movie Maker Pro to scan and digitize old Super8 or 8mm film to a .MP4 file with no audio.  
  • Marantz USB Cassette Player Recorder to convert your audio cassette tapes to a .WAV file.  
  • ION Record Player to digitize your vinyl records into a .WAV file. 
  • Floppy Disc Reader to get your files off those old floppy discs.  
  • Sony Digital HandyCam that can easily convert Hi8 and 8mm video cassettes into a .MP4 format. 

While some of these pieces of equipment can seem intimidating, the team at the Vinton Library has put together in-person orientations for the space and a binder full of how-to guides. Plus, staff are always available to lend a hand. Since opening in August, the Vinton Library has had over 100 appointments, and the feedback of the space has been extremely positive. One patron stated that they were very happy and impressed that the Library had the vision and gumption to set up such a lab! Patrons have also recognized that this service saves them hundreds of dollars and alleviates any stress of items leaving their hands to be mailed and digitized.

Library team member Molly states that, “It has been great to see the DigiLab come together and how excited patrons are to digitize and save their memories. I have helped people preserve many items from old documents and photos, vinyl records from a patron’s opera career to family videos to give relatives as holiday presents. One of the benefits of this is that patrons can walk out of the library not only with their originals but also with the digital files either on a flash drive, memory card, or safely in the cloud. “It has been entertaining to see younger generations get exposure to older media formats that were the basis for our current technological abilities. One of my favorite things to see is older patrons with their teen or adult children talking about the memories that they see going by on the screen – family weddings, baby videos, or the old houses that the children barely remember,” says Caitlin, Vinton’s Senior Library Assistant.

The DigiLab has been a success for Roanoke County and has created many positive interactions for the community. “It is very moving when we see the excitement, happiness, and sometimes tears, when a patron converts an 8mm film or VHS tape that is of family members who have passed away,” says Kimberly, Vinton’s Branch Manager, “Seeing how much it means to patrons when they are able to view these memories again makes me realize why I love being a librarian and serving the community.

Caitlin Gills, Marketing Manager, Roanoke County Public Library 

Editor’s Note: If you are looking to digitize your home media, check in with your local public library. Many libraries across the Commonwealth have invested in similar set-ups in recent years. Contact your public library to see what options are available to you.

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