Public Libraries Are Now Digitizing New Yorkers’ Personal Histories

Louise and Michael Toscano, mother and father of Brooklyn Public Library patron Vera Toscano, on their wedding day in Williamsburg, 1926. The photo is now part of the Culture in Transit online collection.

In the digital age, photo albums from generations past, decaying VHS tapes, and other analog artifacts of personal and cultural heritage are at risk of getting lost to time. Somehow, invisible bits of data have come to seem the more reliable option for preserving history, leaving those without access to digitizing platforms at risk for a kind of erasure.

Culture in Transit, a new program run by the Metropolitan New York Library Council in partnership with Brooklyn Public Library and Queens Library, seeks to preserve the memories of New Yorkers past and present. At participating libraries in Brooklyn and Queens, the program will give all city residents access to a mobile kit, with fancy scanners and cameras, which will allow them to record and digitize their historical items. So if you have old photos of your grandparents’ Williamsburg wedding in 1926, or your great uncle’s historic pharmacy in Clinton Hill, or your mom as a child on the Coney Island boardwalk, you can have them scanned and added to an online database.

The project “democratizes and preserves New York’s cultural heritage by helping communities and small institutions digitize items that would have otherwise been hidden,” Sarah Quick, a digitization specialist at the Brooklyn Public Library, told NPR. “These important items are not only inaccessible, but often suffering damage due to improper storage conditions.”

Culture in Transit donor Madeline Lipton’s grandfather Moise Silver standing in Loran’s Drug Store, Brooklyn,

The project will focus “on the collections of small libraries, museums and archives across the city who haven’t been able to digitize their collections due to cost or staff time,” Quick says. “The project allows these items to be digitally preserved and accessed without removing them from their communities or institutions.” It’s an example of how libraries are updating their programming and facilities to adapt to changing times.

Michael Toscano, father of Brooklyn Public Library patron Vera Toscano, in his company truck, around 1940. Via Culture in Transit

If you bring photos and other ephemera to participating libraries in Brooklyn and Queens, project specialists will make digital copies for you and for the libraries’ collections.

Eventually, the collections will be made accessible to all online, via METRO Digital Culture, Queens Memory, the Brooklyn Public Library catalog, and the Digital Public Library of America.

Vintage promotional material for a new exhibit at the zoo, via Culture in Transit. Image: © Wildlife Conservation Society

You can scan your memorabilia at community scanning events at various libraries. Read more about Culture in Transit here.

[via NPR]

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  1. I am enjoying all the photos especially the one of my Grandfather included here.
    A personal thankyou goes out to Sarah Quick for all her help.
    Much continued success on this wonderful program!