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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Slides and Old Photos

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, January 6, 2013

During the recent holidays, I am sure photographs of family and friends were taken by the millions across the U.S.


Photographs today can be taken with a variety of devices, and produced on various media formats for future enjoyment.


Like most people, my standard 1981 35 mm camera has been taken out of service and relegated to a closet and replaced with a digital camera and cell phone, and the trips to a film processing center replaced with a computer download.


Photos are now stored in a variety of formats and media, and the proper storage of such photos is up-for-discussion in the world of photography.


Research shows agreement that however the photos are stored, they need to be “backed up” on a second storage system; and whatever software storage is used needs to be monitored for the need to upgrade so your photos won’t become “stuck” in an outdated software format that makes them inaccessible.


During the Christmas holiday, my family looked at the “slides” of days-gone-by trying to decide what to do with those 35 mm slides that many still cherish from the family archive.


My brother and I have a wooden box that contains 35 mm slides of our family from 1956 until 1980 when our parents changed to print format photos.


Color slides made their debut around 1936 when Kodachrome color film was developed and used primarily for professional photography and academic library archives.


After World War II, slides became a popular media for family photos and home parties became common where the family trips were shown to sometimes interested friends and neighbors.


Those photos in a slide format have a long “shelf-life” when compared to other photo formats, estimated to last 200 years with only a 20 percent loss of quality if stored in a cool, dark, and dry place.


I am still startled by the quality of those slides, but wonder what to do with them for future generations.  (Slide projector production was ended in 2004, and Kodachrome film is a thing of the past)


As the librarian in the family, I was given the task of developing a plan for managing these slides into the future.


First, some of these family slides were poor to begin with, out-of-focus or improper lighting, end-of-the-roll slides and could likely be discarded.  Photos of colorful trees or unidentified people may not worth the effort of preservation.


As we went through our slides, it was interesting to watch themes developing in the photos.  Every year, the Christmas tree was the subject of a photo, as well as birthdays or specific celebrations.  A new car brought a whole group of family members into a photo, to the point that the new car almost disappears behind the people.


Vacations were a time for photos, with my parents famous for a shot of every “state sign” along the way, often on a blurry bridge or in front of corn fields zipping by.


My father had several bachelor uncles who lived in Oklahoma, and amusing pictures of the Hall Clan sitting on a porch in Tulsa in August trying to look comfortable always bring a chuckle.


Technology has brought equipment to the market to transfer slides to DVDs, prints, or computer images, but if you purchased such equipment in 2001, you will be disappointed with the quality as compared to today; and you may wish that you still had the slides to do it over.


So do you keep the slides even if you transfer the slides?  What happens if you crack the DVD with those images of the slides?


Preservationists recommend that slides you wish to keep should be placed in Mylar sleeves made for slides, and placed in three-ringed binders for preservation.  If you have the slides transferred into another format, have multiple copies made and check them periodically for quality.


Academic libraries and research institutions in American have millions of slides in their collections and are dealing with these same archival issues of preservations.  Families across the land likely have the same quantity of slides stored away with the same dilemma.


Younger generations enjoy looking at family slides.  The slide of our family poised in front of the 1960 Dodge in Missouri always brings laughter.  We are a sorry sight appearing to be worn from a thousand miles of traveling in a car with all the windows down.


Actually, in 1960 cars didn’t generally have A/C, and lowered windows were the way to travel!