New York Libraries Are Digitizing Family Histories

Courtesy Madeline Lipton via Culture in Transit
Courtesy Madeline Lipton via Culture in Transit /

Courtesy Madeline Lipton via Culture in Transit


New Yorkers have a new way to add their family’s story to the annals of history. Culture in Transit, a project spearheaded by the Metropolitan New York Library Council, aims to archive the cultural heritage of the city’s residents by digitizing memorabilia and records that could otherwise be lost to time—old photo albums, VHS tapes, and other archival material that might be gathering dust in attics or closets. 

“Many communities are excluded from the nation’s digital cultural memory because they lack the equipment and technical support to contribute their history to local and national archives,” according to the initiative’s Knight Foundation grant summary. Events that allow people to add their own photos and documents to archives “democratize the process of history-making—allowing people to contribute to and help define their local history.”

Culture in Transit’s mobile digitization kits allow organizers to travel around the city with high-resolution scanners and other equipment designed to add archival material to the public record. Since mid-July, select libraries in Brooklyn and Queens have hosted digitization events where local residents can bring their old photos and memorabilia and have it scanned, both for the individual’s collection and the library’s archives.

The documents will eventually be made public as part of the Brooklyn Public Library catalog and in the archives of organizations like Digital Culture of Metropolitan New York, the Digital Public Library of America, and Queens Memory. The project is also helping small libraries and museums digitize their archives, providing a wealth of resources for future historians of New York life. 

[h/t: Brooklyn Magazine]