Digitize the past

Now you can digitize the past!

For the better part of two decades, an entire generation of parents relied almost exclusively on videotape-cassette-format cameras to capture footage of their childrens’ milestone moments and momentous family gatherings.

But nowadays, with even the DVD systems that replaced the once dominant VCR player now largely considered obsolete, those cherished memories from the 1980s and much of the 1990s are now trapped in dozens of unplayable VHS tapes.

For those stuck in that technological limbo, look no further than the Burlington Public Library.

According to Burlington Reference Librarian Donna Manoogian, visitors to the Sears Street building can now utilize the facility's digital converter at absolutely no charge and preserve those VHS recordings.

"It's been very popular," said Manoogian of the digital converter, which was recently installed on the second floor of the Burlington Public Library. "We have several people who have been coming in fairly regularly, so we are suggesting people call first [to make sure the system is available]."

According to Manoogian, the system allows users to convert VHS format recordings into an MP4 format. The converter should work for all types of video cassette recordings, so long as users still have access to the common VHS adapter that was used for VCR playback.

Some visitors prefer to transfer their memories to a DVD, but depending upon the age of their home playback systems, those MP4-burned discs might not be readable on all DVD players.

In the coming weeks, Burlington library officials hope to acquire some software that will solve that common issue for older DVD players.

"More recent DVD players and Blu Ray players are more likely able to read the disc and play the video with no issues," library officials explain on the their town website. "We’re currently exploring various DVD burning software that is quick, easy to use and able to burn DVDs that are playable on all devices." 

In order to utilize the converter, residents are advised that they will need to bring their own memory stick or external hard drive, which is needed in order to save copies of the new MP4 files. For those instead looking for a DVD copy of VHS recordings, a blank DVD-R disc will be needed.

Those looking for an idea of how much memory is needed are advised that two hours worth of VHS camera footage should translate into roughly 2 gigabytes (GB) of required storage capacity. Visitors are also advised that it will take a full two hours to make that transfer, as the conversion is a "1-to-1 process".

According to library staff, the VHS conversions can be played back using various types of popular media software, including iTunes, Quicktime, and Windows Media Player. They can also be uploaded to cloud-based services such as YouTube.

Manoogian and other library staff say the new video files can also be edited by various Mac and Windows applications.

"We've gotten a lot of phone calls. Some people are on a mission. They have many tapes at home and they are trying to convert all of them," said Manoogian, who is overjoyed by the popularity of the new library offering.

According to Burlington Library Director Michael Wick, reference desk staff successfully pushed for the acquisition of the VHS converter as the town department looks to implement an increasingly popular "library-of-things" philosophy.

"It's a catch phrase that many libraries now use, when referring to these types of services," said Wick, who explained that some neighboring towns have taken to loaning out wireless "hotspot" devices, computers and tablets, musical instruments, and even popular toys that promote learning.

The service motto is a twist on the technology industry's reference to a coming "Internet-of-things" era, when high speed 5G data connections are expected to bring about an explosion of new household goods, all of which will be capable of wirelessly connecting to the Internet.

For Burlington's library, the new library-of-things model looks to expand the town department's mission well beyond its traditional book-and-reading materials loaning model. Instead, says Wick, the library is hoping to become the place where people come to "explore learning".

"Libraries aren't just storehouses of books, and we just recently redid our mission statement. Our new mission statement says we're a community hub that promotes lifetime learning, exploration and innovation," the library director said. "It's about challenging yourself and using the library to get outside your box."

Besides the new VHS converter, Wick also mentioned the library's recent purchase of popular "American Girl" dolls. The popular toys, which cost as much as $95, are viewed by many as a way to promote learning, because each doll has a backstory that often ties into historical events.

Burlington has purchased a dozen of the dolls, which come with books and other educational materials that enable children to learn about the experiences of people from different cultures and historical eras.

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