Digital History Station at the Capital Area District Libraries

by Heidi Butler

This is the second post in the BloggERS series on Collaborating Beyond the Archival Profession

Inspired by the DC Public Library’s Memory Lab, the Brooklyn and Queens Public Libraries’ Culture in Transit Project, and the Kalamazoo Public Library’s Hub, in 2016 the Capital Area District Libraries (CADL) launched a pilot Digital History Station. This workstation differs from our standard patron computers in that it has many advanced capabilities for working with both old and new media. Patrons can use it to read data off older disk media, convert cassette audio or VHS to digital formats, or create new content. The station also allows for editing with a suite of programs and tools.

Digital History Station
The Digital History Station in CADL’s Local History Room. Photo by Heidi Butler.
Sanus Rack
The Digital History Station component rack, with video and audio decks, and storage for all sorts of card readers, recording devices, transparency viewers, cleaning tools, and other gear. Photo by Heidi Butler.

Hardware includes an iMac, an Epson v700 scanner, a Toshiba VHS-DVD deck with an Elgato video capture device, a Tascam cassette-CD deck, and more. For digitizing and editing, we provide the full Adobe Creative Cloud suite, as well as SilverFast 8 for scanning, and the standard iLife Mac programs. In 2018 we added Final Cut Pro to our software offerings. We have a Canon Rebel T6i camera with various lenses, a multifunction tripod, a Polaroid 3D photography cube for photographing objects or creating video, and a Zoom H2Next digital audio recorder. Due to demand, we also recently placed a Marantz cassette recorder into our Library of Things circulating collection. We are beginning to build a small collection of obsolete equipment such as mini-DV camcorders to facilitate more access to older materials.

The Digital History Station has several internal benefits as well. When it’s not in use by patrons, we are able to use it to access archival material in the library’s Local History collections or convert it to digital formats. Because Local History is a part of CADL’s Outreach department, we collaborate with coworkers on things like 3D photography for Etsy/eBay how-to classes, or workshops for seniors on personal digital archiving. We also take the handheld digital recorder and camera to family library events and record brief oral histories. Finally, we have conversations with every Digital History patron about what they are working on to determine if a copy of their materials would be a suitable addition the Local History collections. This has been beneficial as we continue building a collection of locally produced films and music. Recent accessions include three hip hop albums by Lansing artists, and several community theater productions on video from the community of Stockbridge, Michigan.

We ask patrons to complete an application to use the station, talk through their projects to be sure we can accommodate what they wish to do, and then schedule their visits in blocks of up to three hours at a time. Local History staff are not experts in everything the station offers, but we have identified colleagues elsewhere in the CADL system with relevant skills who can help when needed. We also recommend the library’s subscription to to patrons who want to build their knowledge of various digital practices. As of early 2018, the demand for the Digital History Station is moderate but expanding.

Heidi Butler (selfie)

Heidi Butler is the Local History Specialist at CADL. She previously served as archivist at Zayed University (Dubai, United Arab Emirates), Kalamazoo College (Mich.), Rush University Medical Center (Chicago, Ill.), and the Wichita Public Library (Kans.). She received her MSLS from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 2000.


4 thoughts on “Digital History Station at the Capital Area District Libraries

  1. markconrad2014 January 30, 2018 / 11:48 am

    The Capital Area is for the capital of Michigan?


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