The Library of the Future Series Part 1 – The Time Capsule Room

by | Mar 1, 2008 | Future Scenarios

The Community Archive

What was your community like in 1950, or for that matter in 1850 or even 1650? What role did your community play during the Civil War? How active was it during the Presidential elections of 1960? What was it’s reaction to the bombing of Pearl Harbor?

We have access to plenty of history books that give us the “official story” of all the major events throughout history. But understanding the intersection of our city, our village, or our community with these earth-changing events has, for the most part, never been captured or preserved.

Is this good or bad? As an information junkie, my desire is to always err on the side of too much information. However, we shouldn’t be placing labels of good or bad, or right or wrong on the situation. It is simply our current state of affairs.

So how important is it that we preserve this information? If we spent millions trying to capture this information, will anyone ever care?

The Essence of Community

One of the most valuable things we can pass on to our children and grandchildren is the gift of perspective. Their ability to put themselves into our shoes 30-50 years ago, even for a moment, gives them a vastly different understanding of the world around us today. We are all influenced by policies and trends, pressures of money and family, cultural norms, and a variety of other factors too tangential to list.

Communities have been built around the intersection of people and ideas, people and money, people and systems, and other forms of human connectedness. There are indeed eight forms of human connectedness that are shaping our communities, and the evolution of these connections in the coming years will have a profound impact.

Community Archive

Libraries have always had a mandate to archive the records of a local community, but it has rarely been pursued with more than passing enthusiasm. Archives of city council meetings and local history books made the cut, but few considered the library to be a good photo or video archive.

Over time, many of the newspapers, radio, and television stations will begin to disappear. As these businesses lose their viability, their storerooms of historical broadcast tapes and documents will need to be preserved. More specifically, every radio broadcast, newspaper, and television broadcast will need to be digitized and archived.

In many situations, enterprising businesses will digitize the information and build revenue streams from the online content. But not always. In these situations, libraries might consider hosting the original collections, and installing the equipment to digitize the information.

Other Forms of Sensory Information

It’s easy to fall into the trap of only thinking about information only as text-based information. But information takes a variety of different forms. Audio, video, and images are the most obvious alternative forms, but many more exist. Here are a few examples as they relate to a community archive:

  • What did the pies taste like at the pie competition in 1974?
  • How did teenagers have fun in 1964?
  • What did it smell like to walk into the famous bakery on Elm Street in 1948?
  • What did it sound like to “drag main” in 1956?
  • How strict were the schools in 1938?
  • What did it feel like to ride in a stagecoach?
  • How important was agriculture to the economy in 1924?

All of these questions require a variety of different sensory queues in order to understand what the situation was really like. Over time innovators will develop new technologies that will capable of capturing smells, tastes, texture, vibrations, frequencies, pressures, and a variety of other situational attributes.

The Time Capsule Room

Perhaps the most engaging way to create a good community archive is through the development of a “Time Capsule Room” in the library.

Most libraries will find that the Time Capsule Room takes on a personality of its own, as local people begin to participate in populating the spaces. Ideas about what constitutes a Time Capsule Room will vary from city to city, but it is the ability to differentiate, uniqueness of operation, and variety of perspectives that will give a dimension of personality to the library.

While it may hold actual time capsules, hard boxes or containers that say “open on a specific date”, it can also be built around historic milestones, the history of specific families or entities, or community changing events. In some cases the content will only be in digital form, while others may decide to accept historical items and museum-type pieces.

Potentially, this can be a fully volunteer-run operation. The contents will be donated, so the cost of operation will be kept very low.

A few ideas on how to engage the community:

  • Businesses, service organizations, clubs, church groups, schools, and community associations should all be asked to participate.
  • Each can contribute the history of their organization, accomplishments for the year, goals for the coming years, and “news items that made a difference”.
  • Schools can hold annual events around producing “time capsules” for the library.
  • Items can be sent electronically. Images, videos, documents, and audio recording can be submitted online.

Archiving the information will be relatively easy, but making it usable and easy for people to access is a bit more difficult.

Reading areas and computer terminals are straight forward enough, but some other options may include viewing rooms for videos, listening rooms for old radio broadcasts or audio recordings, or interactive screens that allow people to view changes to the city over time. Photo archives may need to be equipped with face and location recognition software, location-stamped photos, and archival scanners that can date the photos.

It’s easy to see how the Time Capsule Room will add a new dimension to most libraries. Its content will have historical significance, be engaging to the community, and add a unique identity to the library operation. It may even be possible to create a branch library that is specifically a Time Capsule Library, a place reserved for archival activity.

As with other papers in this series, these ideas are intended to spark your imagination and add a new dimension to the list of possibilities.


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