Press Release December 1, 2023

Mellon Foundation Gift Supports Expansion of San Diego Public Library Digital Memory Labs

$350,000 grant to the Library Foundation SD will bring free digital conversion service to all parts of the city.

More library patrons will be able to access, digitize and share videos, audio recordings, photographs and slides.

The Mellon Foundation has awarded the Library Foundation SD a $350,000 grant that will allow the San Diego Public Library to expand Digital Memory Lab services throughout San Diego.

We are so grateful for the Mellon Foundation’s investment,” said Library Foundation SD CEO Patrick Stewart. Libraries are vital places of meaningful interaction, representation, and inclusion. Our libraries help foster conversations about literature, the arts, and our shared histories. The Mellon Foundation grant means these conversations can be more inclusive.”

The donation from the Mellon Foundation, the nation’s largest supporter of the arts and humanities, will:

  • Create three additional Digital Memory Labs
  • Deploy five new pop-up mobile Labs that will travel among branch libraries in all nine City Council districts
  • Upgrade existing Digital Memory Labs at the Central Library @ Joan Λ Irwin Jacobs Common and the La Jolla/​Riford Library, as well as the lab under development at the Rancho Bernardo Library
  • Implement an I AM SAN DIEGO” oral storytelling initiative with the San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture
  • Create a workshop series on personal archival preservation
  • Preserve valuable historical resources in the library’s Special Collections microfilm archives.

Digital Memory Labs allow patrons to save information and memories stored on antiquated media, including VHS and Betamax tapes; 8mm film; 8‑track, reel-to-reel, and other audio tapes; slides and negatives; and floppy disks. Library patrons are taught how to convert these resources into an accessible digital format.

The library’s mission is to inspire lifelong learning through connections to knowledge and each other,” said Misty Jones, San Diego Public Library Director. I am so pleased we will now be able to encourage more of our residents to connect the threads of their personal histories to those of others. The library is the place to share stories, and now we can ensure the diverse stories that make San Diego such a vibrant place are preserved and shared.”

Demand for the library’s analog-to-digital services is growing, but Digital Memory Labs are only available in two locations. Since its opening five years ago, the Digital Memory Lab at the Central Library has hosted more than 1,600 visits and transferred 3,700 hours of media into a usable, digital format.

The Mellon Foundation grant will allow the library to more equitably distribute these services and resources throughout the city, including in culturally diverse neighborhoods. An expanded Digital Memory Lab program helps the library engage with underrepresented communities and allows them to tell their stories and preserve their cultural histories.

The Library will also be able to help San Diego capture its diversity and preserve the oral history of its community members through the I AM SAN DIEGO initiative. The library will collaborate with the Commission for Arts and Culture to encourage San Diegans to tell their stories using video recording kiosks placed at library locations in 2024.

Public libraries are perfect places for memory labs, where community members may receive help to care for their personal artifacts in the form of audio and video recordings, for example,” said Patricia Hswe, program director for Public Knowledge at the Mellon Foundation. We are pleased to support the San Diego Public Library to undertake this important work and highlight the richly diverse communities in its midst through these labs.”