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Montgomery Library to Open a Digital Media Lab as Borrowing Trends Move Online

By Melissa Drift | Posted May 11, 2023


While library attendance declined 21 percent nationwide from 2009 to 2019, according to Words Rated, borrowing has actually increased. It’s just moved online. From two percent in 2009, it increased to 55 percent of library borrowing in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted this even further, causing attendance to drop by 41 percent in 2020.

MovieMaker Pro is available in the new Digital Lab at Montgomery Library.


Libraries across the United States are adjusting to this change by shifting their focus to digital content and offering services such as libraries in Virginia and Texas, that lend toys, tools, and musical instruments, for example.


The new Montgomery Township branch of the Somerset County Library is following this trend by adding a new space called the Digital Preservation Lab. Many people have piles of old VHS tapes they’d love to be able to upload online, but are unable to do so. Companies offer this service for a fee, but it can be expensive. Now residents of Somerset County have a place where they can transfer those old tapes to digital formats for free. Patrons can also transfer super 8, slides, reel-to-reel audio tapes, and cassettes.


The Digital Preservation Lab is a room in the back of the library containing the equipment needed for all of these projects. The room also has a highspeed computer with the Adobe Creative Suite—which includes professional video and audio editing software—that people can use to edit the videos that they have transferred. The room also has what’s known as a studio-in-a-box, a light box for taking professional photos of important historical objects or any other items patrons would like to photograph, such as items they need to document for insurance purposes, for example.


The lab will also have a Zeutschel OSC2 Advanced large format archival scanner, made by the company Crowley. As of this time, the library is waiting for it to arrive from Germany. This machine can more easily scan large books and documents than a regular scanner can. It will offer the ability to make it possible to search text within a handwritten document. Manny Miracle, the manager of adult services at the library, says, “People are generally excited to find out that this space exists. There have been several folks who have come back and used it again and again.”


Plans for the Digital Preservation Lab started in 2018, when the library received a $12,000 Common Heritage grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The purpose of the grant was to “create a community memory,” Miracle says. “We are aware of what our community values and for this particular community, local history is a tremendous value. “People want to preserve not just their own personal history, but the history of the community as well.”


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When the decision was made to build the new Montgomery branch on Orchard Road, Somerset County Library officials took the opportunity to add a dedicated space for this equipment. The current space and any additional equipment they decide to purchase in the future will come out of the library’s normal operating budget. This is a free service, but a reservation is required to use the room. Patrons can book appointments to use the lab on the Somerset County Library website. There is a four-hour time limit. It is important to note that transferring a film reel is a “real time” transfer, so it will take the same amount of time as it would take to watch the film. Be sure to plan your time accordingly. Patrons are encouraged to read the guides on how to use the equipment online before their session, in order to make the best use of their time. Instructions on how to use it are also located in the lab in three-ring binders.


Staff members will be happy to help patrons who need it. Udemy & LinkedIn Learning The library also offers free access to Udemy and LinkedIn Learning, which have an extensive database of tutorial videos on how to do all kinds of things, including how to use the editing software available in the lab. This learning is available both at home, through the library website, for card holders, or on the computer in the lab. “I’ll tell you I’m not the most technical person in the whole world. I sat down with each guide, and I was able to use each piece of equipment without trouble. So if I can do it, literally anybody can do it,” Miracle says. The library offers tours of the lab twice per month, which they call Digital Petting Zoos, where people can come and see the equipment and try it out.


See library website for more information at sclsnj.org. Information about the Digital Preservation Lab is under the “Using Our Libraries” section. An open house is expected to take place on June 15.

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