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#OnTheRoadULC: Featuring DC Public Library // Two Librarians & A Microphone Podcast

Live from the Urban Libraries Council Annual Forum, we’re interviewing Richard Reyes-Gavilan from the DC Public Library about their Memory Lab Network Project.

There’s something magical about accessing past memories. The staff at DC Public honed in on that important facet of storytelling when they realized that gentrification might erase some of the landscape many of their residents found familiar. In an effort to help their community preserve personal memories and local history, they developed the Memory Lab Network, where patrons can access the tools/ training needed to digitize their records.

Listen in during the latest episode of our #OnTheRoadULC tour to hear details about this program and how your library can utilize available education and preservation techniques to empower your community.


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Jim Heuer [00:00:17] Hey, everybody. This is Jim Heuer and I am the host of the Ingram Library Services podcast, Two Librarians and a Microphone. I am here with Donna George, librarian number two, and we are excited because we are recording live at the Urban Library Council Annual Forum in Baltimore, Maryland. Ingram Library Services is a proud sponsor of the Innovation Awards that the ULC bestows upon its members, and today, we have one of the top innovators from the DC Public Library. We have the director, Rich Reyes-Gavilan. Rich, good morning. Welcome, thank you.

Richard Reyes-Gavilan [00:00:51] Good morning, thanks for having me.

Jim Heuer [00:00:53] Thank you for being here. We wanted to talk to you a little bit, this morning, about the Memory Lab Network Project that the DC Public Library got an Honorable Mention in the Collections category from the ULC. Rich, could you kind of tell us what that program is and how it came about?

Richard Reyes-Gavilan [00:01:12] Sure. DC Public Library, about three years ago started what we call the Memory Lab, which was basically a work station at our main library downtown, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. It was a work station that included equipment to help residents do personal digital archiving. It was a simple, but also profound idea that helps people take their photographs, their floppy disks, all these formats that are obsolete or quickly becoming obsolete, and helps individuals transfer that incredible information to the cloud. And while we know that digitization is not preservation, at the same time, it is a wonderful step in helping people preserve their memories. In cities like Washington, D.C. where the powers of gentrification and other forces are quickly changing cities to making them unrecognizable, considering what they were at one point, something like the Memory Lab is a real vital tool for residents to document what their lives were like and experiences they had. It's not only profound, I think it's an incredibly important empowering tool for residents.

Donna George [00:02:34] Richard, I am a nerd myself, a genealogy nerd. I was so thrilled to read about your story and at the risk of stepping into delicate territory, I was wondering is all of this information being stored somewhere, and please tell me there's an opportunity for volunteers to help index it at some point.

Richard Reyes-Gavilan [00:02:53] You know that's a great question. A mass indexing project is something that we would love to talk about. The storage, you know we basically explain to people what free tools are at their disposal. Whether it's a…Google or something else and we leave it at that. We're not storing their information for them. I'm just showing them how to do it. Another part of this is there's a tech training element to this too, because while they're scanning their photos and their digitizing, they're also learning how to do this. There's that element where we have our staff training people on how to use this equipment and that's a sort of sneaky way of getting some more digital literacy into the minds of our residents.

Jim Heuer [00:03:34] Did you have to do any special training for your staff or were these things that they…basic skill-sets that they had or just needed tweaking or was there any type of involvement on that end?

Richard Reyes-Gavilan [00:03:42] When we opened our Digital Commons back in 2013, we hired a cadre of staff that liked to tinker. They're the same folks that manage our fabrication lab, our recording studio. They're real tinkerers and their motto, if I recall, is, "We fail better." They like to experiment. We give them a lot of latitude in terms of what they can do. They're autodidacts in many ways. We didn't send them to any special training and they've done a great job for us. Again, it's not that complicated once you've built it. It sounds more complicated than it is. We've also been really fortunate to secure an Institute of Museum and Library Services Grant last year for a quarter of a million dollars to create this Memory Lab Network. We put a call out to library systems from around the country and seven libraries were selected to become part of this network. Our team was able to hire a coordinator who has done training around seven cities in the country and, I believe, that we just got funding to expand it to another seven or eight cities. Cities like Los Angeles, Houston, even a Tribal Library in Northern California. We want to make sure that this tool is available to any city or any town, rural or urban, where the threat of the loss of precious memories and artifacts is real.

Jim Heuer [00:05:10] Community reaction positive I'd imagine?

Richard Reyes-Gavilan [00:05:11] Overwhelming. There's usually, or at least when we are at our main library, there was often a long wait list for people to get access to the equipment. Our main library's currently under renovation and we've got the equipment at a neighborhood library that is not as accessible and it is also, it's little bit more difficult for us to publicize. At the same time, it was overwhelmingly received by, not only our residents, but even city council members who love how the Memory Lab interplays with our oral history work. So, it's been well received to say the least.

Jim Heuer [00:05:47] The tinkerers, what's next on their agenda? What are they looking at next?

Richard Reyes-Gavilan [00:05:51] You know, as a director, my job is to basically stay out of their way and remove boulders, if ever they present themselves. I can't tell you beyond the expansion of the Memory Lab Network what they've got in store, but it'll be something big. Of course, our main library will be opening in 2020 and we're going to have a phenomenally large space for all sorts of "tinkering", if that's the right word. We've got a new mobile fabrication space, a shipping container in downtown D.C. and we're taking a look and seeing how well received that's going to be. The technology changes so quickly that it's really hard to predict what you want to do within a year or two. So long as you're meeting the needs of your residents, possibly anticipating their needs, then I think we'll be okay.

Jim Heuer [00:06:36] Leading forward it sounds like you guys are--

Richard Reyes-Gavilan [00:06:37] Hey, that's right. That's why we're here. I'd forgotten, that's why we're here.

Jim Heuer [00:06:40] Richard, thank you for getting up and speaking with us this morning. Really interesting stuff. Congratulations on your award.

Richard Reyes-Gavilan [00:06:45] Thank you folks at Ingram. It's great talking to you.

Jim Heuer [00:06:48] Two Librarians and A Microphone is brought to you by Ingram Library Services, it is a division of Ingram Content Group. Our producer/director is Rachel Cope, sound engineering by Craig Simpson, special assistance by Essence Brisco, and Elizabeth Wilcox. The research done by our librarians, Trisha Bengel and Donna George. I'm Jim Heuer, thanks most of all to you for listening. Please follow us on Instagram at @thelibrarylife, tag us in your #thelibrarylife moments, because we've got some cool stuff going on, on that social media platform. We're going to be giving away some exclusive books, ARCs, perhaps a signed copy. In order to make sure you're staying tuned to this podcast, we'd love for you to go to our landing page, but most importantly, the best way you can show your support for us, is we'd love some reviews on Apple iTunes. If you can go on there and leave us a positive review, that would really help. Tell us what you'd like to hear. That might help us as we're thinking about some of the content we're trying to bring you. It's the best way you can support what we're doing, we're trying to bring you interesting, fun, compelling, thought-provoking content. We might see some of you at ULC in Baltimore. If so, we'll look forward to that. If not, then we'll see you in your libraries. Thanks everybody.