Memory Lab Workshops for Teens by Michelle Biwer
What is a Memory Lab?: A memory lab is a place for people to digitize their family photos and home video. In addition to digitization, my library’s memory lab offers the opportunity remix digitized memories into a video personal narrative to share with family and friends, and the ability to record filmed oral history interviews.
I recently received an IMLS and Maryland State Department of Education grant to create a Memory Lab, inspired by the labs at DC Public Library and Queens Library. In order to reach the widest audience possible, it was determined that volunteers would be needed at all Memory Lab events to help staff assist patrons. I recruited interested teens from the 100+ strong teen volunteer program I have developed at my library. Of course the average teen these days has never used a VCR, so this project required several trainings!
Remix Volunteer Training
Grant funding allowed us to bring in a local Emmy Award winning documentary filmmaker and a librarian with a background in live television work for this training. The teen volunteers had the amazing opportunity to learn from experts about how to create a compelling personal narrative in video format. They also learned how to use Adobe Premiere Elements and some simple tricks to make documentary-style videos compelling. Teens will teach patrons what they learned as the patrons create video narratives like a wedding compilation or vacation slideshow at the Lab.
We also brought in our local archivist to talk to the teens about the process of conducting oral history interviews. The training covered how to do research on your interview subject, what kinds of questions to ask, and how the interviews will be set up. My favorite part of the training is when teens brought up issues of trust and legality in an interview setting. How do you earn the trust of the person you are interviewing? What if while telling their life story to a teen a patron mentions the time they stole something? Or that they are undocumented? These ethical conversations are important to have with young people, and I am very pleased this project is sparking these discussions. The archivist also brought examples of good oral history interviews for the teens to watch. Finally, the teens were taught how to set up a camera, lapel mic, and lighting rig for an interview. These teen volunteers have now started interviewing local community members and library patrons about their lives.
Digitize Volunteer Training:
Our Memory Lab has the capability of digitizing various types of video as well as photos, negatives, and slides. In this 1.5 hour training I trained the teens on how to use and troubleshoot our equipment so they can assist patrons at the Labs. The challenging aspect of this project is that many patrons will bring in older memories that might require some restoration. I taught the teens some basic photo/video restoration vocabulary and functions in our various setups that will help them digitize the highest quality product possible. And even more important than simply digitizing memories is preserving them. Which means organizing them! I let out my true librarian self and made sure the teens had the tools to help patrons name and structure their files, add metadata, and make multiple copies.
We have had a dozen Memory Lab events so far and the teens have done an amazing job staffing the events. They know they are being trusted to complete important work and value that experience.
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About Robin Willis
After working in middle school libraries for over 20 years, Robin Willis now works in a public library system in Maryland.
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