RetroTech Preserving Memories Project at Central Park Library

Story and photos by Diane Andrews

At an open RetroTech lab at Central Park Library in October, Santa Clara resident Marisa Carlini was digitizing a video of a family trip to Hawaii and of her father and herself singing in an Italian choir. She was transferring the family memories from a VHS tape to a 32 GB SD memory card, using state-of-the-art digital transfer equipment.

“Now that my parents are no longer here, I’m so emotionally attached to the Italian choir that my dad and I sang in that. It’s important to preserve these memories of my father,” said Carlini. “The tape would degrade. Digitalized, I’ll have it forever. I’m going to keep it in a safe spot.”

“You don’t think of that on a day-to-day basis, but when you’re hit with something like the northern California fires, it makes you realize the importance of photos and videos and the need to preserve them,” said Carlini. “Because those families have nothing now. And I want my family to be able to remember what life was like and look back at this life.”

The great news for Santa Clara residents is that there is now one less reason to put off the task of preserving memories until it’s too late. Thanks to a $12,000 grant from the Pacific Library Partnership, the library has purchased specialized electronic equipment to digitize old photos, negatives, slides, VHS tapes and audio cassettes. During RetroTech labs, the equipment is available to use for free at Central Park Library.

The Retro Tech Preserving Memories Project was launched last May. Residents bring their shoeboxes of precious memories to the library, and knowledgeable  librarians and volunteers teach them how to use the digital equipment and assist them in converting their media to digital format. Residents don’t need to be tech savvy and can sign up online for a time slot or, on occasional open lab days, just drop in.

One of the volunteers is Santa Clara resident Peta Roberts, a personal historian whose business (www.vidavoce.com) is helping people preserve their family history and memories.

“Memories can be preserved forever. In an emergency, you don’t need to dig out photos. You can just take the disk,” said Roberts. “Once you have it, you can share it.”

The digital preservation project was the inspiration of Assistant City Librarian Paul Sims, who wrote the grant.

“People are nervous about sending away photos,” said Sims. “‘Why can’t the library do this?’ I thought. It’s a way to capture local history in the process.”

Library patron Michele Biagini brought VHS tapes to the open lab.

“We don’t even have a player anymore. The tapes are useless sitting around,” said Biagini, viewing the digitized version of her 1993 video on a computer monitor. “This is fantastic. It brought tears to my eyes. It’s my husband playing baseball with my young son. Now my son plays in the major leagues for the Toronto Blue Jays.”

“The RetroTech program is a great way to get access to the equipment and expertise to preserve your precious family documents,” said Mary Boyle, Local History/Genealogy Librarian. “We  recommend to genealogists to keep three copies of their photographs, documents and family information. Two copies in one location and a third held outside of the area.”

To schedule a one-hour RetroTech appointment, go to the library website and click on the Events tab. The labs are Wednesdays 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and the 4th Tuesday of the month from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Santa Clara’s Central Park Library, 2635 Homestead Rd.

“This is tedious and time consuming, but it’s really worth it,” said Carlini. “It’s really awesome that the library offers this opportunity. It lights up a lot of emotions.”