DC Public Library Podcast

Memories on Tap: A Bike, A Book, and a Bundle of Photos

Episode Summary

Robert LaRose speaks with journalist Elizabeth McGowan, who used the Memory Lab to digitize photographs in preparation for her book about a 4,000-mile cycling trip she took in 2000 after a long battle with melanoma.

Episode Notes

Click here for more information about the Tour de DCPL, the library's city-wide bike tour of Washington, DC.

Episode Transcription

Unknown Speaker  0:00  

DC Public Library Podcast is made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and is a production of the Labs at DC Public Library.


Robert  0:12  

You're listening to the DC Public Library Podcast recorded from the Labs recording studio in the historic modernized Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in downtown Washington DC.


This episode is part of the Memories on Tap series, where we highlight the stories of real people who use our DIY digital preservation lab known as the Memory Lab to save the memories contained in their precious personal items including home movies, audio cassettes, photographs, and more.


I'm your host, Robert LaRose, and I'm a librarian in the Labs at DCPL.


As part of the Labs here at MLK Memorial Library, we have a do it yourself workstation called the Memory Lab for digitizing video and audio recordings in a variety of formats. And for scanning photographs, 35 millimeter slides and negatives.


You can find out more about it by visiting dclibrary.org/labs/memorylab.


As I mentioned, the purpose of this series is to feature the stories of real people who have used the Memory Lab  to preserve their precious personal collections. My guest today is Elizabeth McGowan, who used the lab to scan many of her family's photographs. All right. Well, to start off. Do you want to just talk about what brought you to the Memory Lab?


Elizabeth  1:54  

Oh, sure. I mean, I was listened, I had been writing a book. And it was a long process to write this book because it was I make my living as a reporter. I write about energy and environment issues. And this book was about me, a journey I'd taken across the country. And I had been fortunate enough to survive cancer. My father had died of cancer. I was trying to make make sense of all those things. So I wrote a manuscript, I finally got a contract. Yay. But then my it's a small publisher in Baltimore, and I needed to have photographs. I have plenty of photographs. But they're sitting in albums, because I did this ride in the year 2000. And we were probably on sort of a digital CUSP then. But I I needed photos anyway. So I had carefully put them in albums and organize them. So at least I had that part of things set. So what I needed to do was to digitize these photos, they were they were fortunately lovely photos from the ride. Now part of the challenge was the publisher wanted photos of me. I mean, I was born in the 1960s. Okay, so I had my mother who is in her 80s and went through stacks of photos and sent me things because she lives far away. And so here I had some nice color prints. I had black and white photos from my childhood from our family growing up. I had photos from a number of different sources. But so I I looked at all this and I thought, Okay, well, how do I turn this into electrons? So I went to one of your trainings, I felt so fortunate that you had the memory lab at that northeast library, because I live in the Brooklyn neighborhood. So I could ride my bike down there. I would and I would sort through I would take something well, first of all, what I did was I was trying I was working with, you know, a retail shop. And I did a few of the photos, some of the older ones of my father. And it was getting kind of pricey. And I thought, oh my goodness, I'm going to spend my, you know, I signed a little contract for this book. I'm going to spend the whole thing doing these photos. That doesn't make sense. So I remembered, I had heard a reference to the lab. And I looked I went thought wait a minute libraries have answers. Libraries help people. So I went on the DCPL site. And I went, I think I had seen an email about somebody using this resource. Anyway, of course I tracked it down because I'm a reporter's or I have to track everything down. I found your resource and I couldn't believe it was geographically so close to me. So I would go down regularly. I thought It was best not to overwhelm myself and take everything at once because your training was excellent. And I was just doing still photos. And that was enough for me to absorb. But I would go in with, I don't know, 25 photos at a time, say, so I could have a block of time, I could sit there, and I could do what I needed to do. And it was, it was just, it was kind of a meditative experience to do it, because you get into that ritual. And if you follow all the steps, things it worked out. And I in my last visit there, I made the mistake of leaving three photographs. On the scanner, I called somebody it might have been you, Robert, put them in an envelope for me, I made a separate trip down there and picked up my little Elizabeth McGowan photos, which I had left behind, which I thought was a very nice personal touch, which you don't get everywhere when you live in a large city. So that was that was a beautiful little ending to my, to my digitizing experience. Good.


Robert  6:16  

Yeah, the, that's a very good approach to take. Taking a manageable chunk, you know, so you don't get overwhelmed, because it is very easy to get overwhelmed, especially if you have a lot of stuff. And typically, if you have photos, you have a lot of them. So was there anything that? You know, you were mainly doing it for the purpose of the book, but was there anything that unexpected? That resulted from your digitizing work?


Elizabeth  6:53  

Oh, well, yes. I mean, what it did was it opened my eyes to possibilities, right. So now I look at, there's a place where I keep photos, and they're all organized. Except for the ones you know, maybe some family photos that are in a box, which is probably not the best thing, but for the most part. So what it did was it inspired me I mean, here I was, I was looking at, you know, my childhood, my adulthood. And then the bike ride was from Oregon to Virginia, right. So that was a finite, like you said, it was easy to define. But so that gave me I guess, the courage to say, wait a minute, if I can do this, I could frame other pieces of my, you know, photographic life and do the same thing, whether it's a vacation, and I get I think one delightful piece is that my, my parents, and my mother, especially came from two large families. And I have reconnected with you know, I have photographs of, you know, my, my grandfather, my mother's father who had, you know, there were 13 children, and on herb, and then he married someone who came from a family of I don't know, 10 or 11. So there were there are a lot of them. And I'm in touch. And part of this was just connecting because I would I would look at those photos, which didn't really have anything to do with the book. But in going through I set them aside. And I've you know, I've connected with like my mother's to have my mother's 90 year old cousins. Who, so that's inspiring to me, because I think, wait a minute, I could scan those photos and scan, you know, the the ones that I the pictures, the other photos that I have connected with that and make that sort of a digital photo story. Because I've write things down because that's my instinct, no words are my thing. But I have to think, wait a minute, I can illustrate this. So that's inspiring, instead of saying, Oh, I can't do that, that's too much. I can say no, I'm I can do it. And even if I forget some of the steps, there's a resource there you or somebody with your staff who can give you some guidance. So that that makes me happy. So I that's that's a fun circle that kind of caught me off guard.


Robert  9:32  

Yeah, what would you say? It's almost sort of empowering?


Elizabeth  9:37  

It is because it's not something. I mean, maybe to someone who's a digital native. It they might they just think that way. Right? But I think it's sort of like if you were born at a certain time and you had to use a typewriter, and then you had to graduate to a you know, a keyboard on a laptop or Whatever kind of computer you have, it's an evolution. And the thing is, we all come into the world with different steps. But it can be a little intimidating if somebody says, Oh, it's so easy. Oh, you can't, when you when you don't know those things, and it isn't your isn't your natural. It's just you don't have an affinity for it. Because you didn't grow up with it, it can be a little daunting. And I think that can hold people back. But it's, it's a matter of just, you don't you don't have to know everything. There were people who will help you who will guide you through these steps. So yes, I would say it's empowering. Because it's a it's a new skill. And I figure if I can learn it, other people can learn it. And it, it gives you it's access. And you know, the more access you have, usually your life is better.


Robert  11:00  

So, yeah, for sure. Absolutely. Yeah, that's really what we're trying to do is show people that you don't have to be a digital native at all, you don't have to be particularly tech proficient, to use the equipment, and preserve your or your your family's history. And share it with with them or whoever, who whoever might find it important or useful. So the photos that you were digitizing, some of them were from your childhood. And some of them were from the trip, the cycling trip that you took, in reading your book, I read this part where you mentioned that you didn't feel that you could ever know who you were, if you didn't know your father, that really stuck out to me, because I was wondering if you like what caused you to think that? I guess, did you think about that, as you were going through these photos and reliving these memories that you had? Or maybe memory remembering them slightly differently? Yeah, what, what do...?


Elizabeth  12:27  

No, I think that once you you know, it's kind of interesting. Sometimes we hang on to these memories. But once you once you write them down, you wonder if that changes, what you've been carry changes the story that you've been carrying around for for years. I mean, I'm in my 50s. So some of these things I've been carrying around a long time. And I should probably explain that my father died of, of melanoma, this this cancer that I'm talking about when I was 15 years old. And so when I was diagnosed with the same disease, when I was 2425 years old, I thought that that meant it was a death sentence. It turns out, obviously, I'm still here. So it hasn't been yet. But for him it was. And I think that it's hard to it's hard to understand an adult when you're a child, and only knowing someone 15 years, but I wasn't, you know, maybe Cognizant for several of those because I was too young, but so that my father seems sort of like a mystery to me. And I knew certain traits about him, I'd heard about him, and I remember my interactions with him, the few that I have. And one of my fears was, my goodness, I'm writing a book to discover. It's almost it's like rediscovering my father on this journey. How am I going to do that? Do I have enough material? And looking at those pictures? I mean, for one, you just you look at these older photos, we used to do a lot of camping as a family. And you see these images of this, this young man or you he had joined the Navy and I that was one of the photos I scanned. And I thought Who is this? I mean, he was he's a good looking guy. And I like Who was he to people? I know what I what I know about him. So that it that those images are sparks to ask more questions. And I had long conversations with relatives about him. And before I digitize the photos, it was so helpful to have a little array of them and just study them and then as we as I was talking with my mother with my aunt with his classmates, other people, some people I met I actually met through photos, I met a man who had, who had been his supervisor in the Navy who didn't even know when, when he didn't know that when I contacted him, I was looking for information about the sort of ship that my father served on, which I had a photo of. And he said, I'll go through my photos and send you some material. Well, lo and behold, he went through his photos, and he had some photos of my father, they had worked to get on the same ship. So that's mean, that's the power of imagery because he was, you know, at his home in Virginia, looking at these photos, and he sees Ron McGowan, you know, my dad. And so that was just strange, but it was a connection through, you know, I hadn't digitized things yet. But he did. And he sent them to me, so I could have those, which was another piece of the collection. So it, I think that it sort of maybe like the the sense of smell, and how it can bring back these memories. I think images can be just as potent and powerful in and how I just, I had this urge, it was sort of like when I had set out in the year 2000 to ride my bike across the country, I just had to do that. And part of this book was to make me sit down and say, Who was this man? Why was he the way he was? I need to make sense of this. And as I explored, I knew, I wasn't going to be able to answer 100% of my questions as I wanted to. But I could understand what it was like for somebody like him, you know, to be diagnosed with cancer when he was in his early 20s. To survive the Korean War. And to be, you know, and then to have these four daughters who I think he was always terrified, something was going to happen to one of us. So I I came to understand who he was. And, you know, when you look at the picture of this little innocent face, and you think I, I having been through what I've been through, I can I can make sense of him. So I hope that if you have a little more inquiry you want to make but I hope that gets at what you were asking.


Robert  17:26  

Yeah, I Well, the other thing is, I guess what struck me most is why you felt you had to get to know him in order to really know yourself, and did you I guess, did the process of going through these photos and trying to preserve them, help you do that? More so than your ride across the country? Or how are they different and how they helped you know, your father? And yeah, that's,


Elizabeth  18:02  

that's a really good question. Because when I, when I embarked on that ride, and I did it as a fundraiser for a hospital in I was living in Wisconsin at the time, and this hospital had been wonderful with the treatments that I had found for me and helped me we was a team effort. And so I wanted to do it. I was I had been declared five years cancer free. And being Elizabeth, like one of my friends said, Of course you couldn't just have a party. Elizabeth, you had to ride your bike across the country. Well, that's a separate story. But that's right. So when I embarked on that ride, I was doing it to connect with people I was doing as an outreach ride, I was handing out sunscreen coupons, it had a little bit of a different mission. I felt like I was carrying my father with me, because of our common history. But it wasn't I was not having these eye opening revelations on the ride. I was paying attention where I was going because I was going through Yellowstone and other places that we had camped out when we were kids and place. There were overlaps. And there was a lot of thought about him because I thought, good lord, I'm doing this ride when I'm you know, 39 years old, he only lived to be age 44. So that was that was at the top of my mind all the time. But I wanted to I wanted to make sense. So I think that's why it took me so long. You know, part of the book, it explains the geography that's sort of the spine of the book, right? And then I explained to people my own journey with cancer and what I went through in the surgeries and the chemo therapies and other treatments. So those things I could do, but the part that I wanted to get at was, how do I rediscover this man and part of it I wanted to honor More, because, as I mentioned earlier, he, he was a little mysterious to me. friends would talk about him as this charming he was, he was a teacher. So he had a way with people, people gravitated toward him. But at home, it was a little bit different. He was explosive. He was there was a lot of anger. And I was trying to put those pieces together because I, I had some anger too. And I that's why I thought, if I can make sense of who he was, man, I can be the same way a good sense of humor, I can laugh, I can figure things out, I enjoy other people. But I can also be explosive. And I thought, wow, looking at him going through this, I realized how much we had in common. And when people would say to me, I remember people would say, Oh, you remind me of your father. And I didn't know whether it was an insult or a compliment, before I went down this exploratory path. So thus, that's why it just became something that I felt I needed to solve it to the best of my ability. So the way I knew how to do that was to ask a lot of questions. But and the images, were something that could spur that, because it's, like I said, seeing something, and putting, I'm looking at it through different eyes. And so I feel like you know, you edit your life. And that's what other people see. I had many, many, many, many pieces that I was trying to, I guess I was trying to make a thread and figure it out. So I figured, oh, my goodness, we we not only shared DNA, but we had a lot of very similar personality traits, which I learned as I was writing. So I thought I, I, I can understand Elizabeth better if I can understand him.


Robert  22:07  

So yeah, it's understanding where you come from, I guess a little better,


Elizabeth  22:14  

exactly as an adult, instead of I wanted to do it as an adult. Because you know, what, or I mean, children's refract reflections are fine. I don't want to, I don't want to dismiss them. But I needed to. And you know, I don't know maybe it's maybe it's part of a grieving process. Maybe it's just part of a, it's a growth getting over that hurdle, instead of hanging on to that, what you knew when you were 15, it was a sad story, I wanted to just kind of blow that up and put it back together. And as truthfully as possible that that was my goal is just to say, I need to know, what are the facts so that I can make sense of myself. And I can also explain to readers, what it was like to reconnect with a parent. And um, you know, like I said, I'm using the ride as a tool. But the discovery was, as I was writing this as I was looking at photos and putting pieces together. So you know, was it hard? Yes, it was hard. Were there did I cry a lot, I did cry a lot. It was, it was kind of draining. But when I finished with it, I felt like I was so much lighter. I hadn't lost any weight. But boy, did I feel so much lighter. I wasn't carrying this around in this script in my head. And we all have these things where we go over and over things. Why was that? What happened here? Why I made sense of things, and I could let it go. So that was rewarding. satisfying,


Robert  24:01  

I'm sure. Anytime you complete a project that takes so much of your time. And it takes so much of an emotional toll on you. It's it's like, you know, it's like running a marathon or finishing a 4000 Plus, bike ride. So, you know, photos obviously capture things as they are there. For the most part objective, they tell a story a moment in time exactly as it happened, regardless of how we remember it to have happened or thinking happened. Did you come across anything like that either from your child or or from the ride? Any photo that you've kind of looked at and thought Hmm, that's not quite how I remembered that.


Elizabeth  24:59  

You That's, that's a good question. I mean, one, one part that was just to go back to the Father theme, I was, I found myself laughing a lot, because my mother had gone through the, I mean, you know, the little square photos that we had, whether they were black and white, and then they involved into color in the early 70s, which was exciting. And, and I have to say that your equipment did a nice job on either, you know, in the reproduction, which made me happy. But I would see photos of the, of the joy of my father. And I think that growing up, you know, you watch somebody dying, it's, it's hard. And I think that that might take up more of your brain than you want it to. And I knew he had a good sense of humor, and that he could be so much fun. And I think that those photos confirmed that because there were little moments like he'd be cooking dinner at the picnic table, or at one of our campsite out west. Or he'd be playing with me in the sprinkler in our side yard in Philadelphia. So it was, it was very satisfying to see this joy. Now, if I only had looked at those, I would have thought maybe I made all that up about you know, him being explosive. And But no, I have three sisters, and they can all confirm that as well. My mother and other relatives, but, you know, people don't generally take photos during arguments, right? So, but these peaceful moments and these moments of just unadulterated joy, whether we were, you know, splashing around in a in a lake or setting up a tent was just there. They might be very common, banal. But they, that there that was our life that and it was, and so that was that was very uplifting to see those pieces. And to know that that was that was part of our story, too.


Robert  27:12  

So yeah, absolutely. That's interesting. He really got me thinking now, saying that pointing out that you don't normally take pictures during an argument. It's it's really true, you don't people generally don't try to capture negative events in their life. So a lot of what people have in their, you know, photo or home movie collections are generally going to be more on the positive side. And that I'm sure can have an effect on how people remember their family lives or or maybe, you know, it could be that this picture brings back some completely unrelated event, a memory of that, that might not have been so positive. Right, it's really interesting to think about how we tend to not, we only want to preserve, preserve, or remember the things that make us happy, which I guess is natural.


Elizabeth  28:20  

Yeah, I know. And, you know, they talk about, you know, the aging process when they talk to people in their 70s and 80s. And they'll look back and remember the good things, and I don't know if it's, is it because they're going through, you know, photos and they see oh, you know, graduations and weddings and the celebratory causes that we have be the events that draw us together. So you you do wonder about that, because, I mean, the brain is very tricky. But for me, it was it was balancing, because what I what I had carried around for so long, was just, you know, sort of a Nimbus cloud impression of my father. And so looking at these things again, and looking at them through adult eyes, and also, you know, the passage of time, things maybe weren't as tender. It, it made for me, I felt like I had a much more complete picture. Because I has, and I can still, you know, conjure up those images of but now that I like I was explaining earlier that I've made sense of him as a human being and making sense of somebody doesn't mean putting them into the box that you want them to be in. To me it meant saying, okay, I can't explain everything. But I can look at this complicated human being. And I can see the pieces like I said, you know, serving in a war and being very young With a diagnosis of cancer and carrying that around for years and years and having a family and knowing you probably wasn't see these girls grow up, that's a lot. And seeing it through adult eyes made me realize how much it was. And, you know, do I wish he could have been a little kinder to his children? Sometimes? Yes, I do. But I can make sense of what it was. So I don't have to, I don't have to wonder anymore. I've answered enough questions where I feel that I can get on with things without continuing to carry that big satchel around.


Robert  30:38  

That's a huge burden to lift off yourself, I'm sure. Yeah, being able to understand your older relatives through adult eyes.


Elizabeth  30:51  

Yes, yes.


Robert  30:53  

That's something that I think most people come to terms with eventually. But it's different when you lose a parent, so young, before your brain is fully formed. And you have this kind of one dimensionality. In your view of that person?


Elizabeth  31:16  

That's right. That's right. And I think a lot of people don't want to open that box, which is totally understandable. But and I always wonder, Well, what if I had never been diagnosed with melanoma? What I have been is curious, because my sister's, you know, they've had, you know, some minor brushes with some with some skin issues, but not, you know, I mean, you have to understand this cancer was in my lungs, and my liver and my lymph system. I mean, it was, it was, like a monster. And I, you know, I think about my father, the barbaric treatments that he went through in the, you know, the 50s, the 60s, the 70s, mine were more advanced today, they're even more more progressive be just because of the science keeps, keeps moving forward. But I just, that's what I think one of the driving forces was to it that gave us this, this link, you know, Did either of us want it? No, but sometimes things are there, right there in front of you. And I guess you, I could have just ignored it. But I didn't, I didn't want to do that I wanted to. And part of I could have kept it to myself, right? Part of me always thought nobody wants to read any of this stuff. I should just, I could digitize the photos, I could make a little journal and have it for myself. Or I could, you know, do it for the immediate family. And maybe some people beyond, I could have just done a project like that. But instead, I decided to do the hard thing, because I guess my father would have probably made the same decision. We both like to do hard things. Because the easy thing is like, it's easy, okay, once in a while you do the easy thing, but with something big. I wanted. And people would tell me, Elizabeth, this message is worth getting out there and you earn your living as a writer, you've won some awards as a writer, use your words, and tell this story. And even better, put photos in it. And then people because I think that photos, help I mean, words can paint a picture. But a photo is really says something and it it captures, like you said it captures those moments in time when you you see somebody smile, or you and you just it brings back it can I think people can look at the pictures in this book, and see parts of their own lives and say, Oh, I remember, you know, my, my father was in the service and he had a uniform like that, or we've gone bike riding. It's, it's about it's not about me. It's bringing people along for this journey. And trying to understand because I try to tell people, this is not a boohoo story. This is not what I'm trying to do with it. I'm trying to say, this is how I moved forward. This is what I this is how I chose to look at this, this daunting problem and carve my way through it and come out on the other side because it was sort of like the, you know, the the journey that I made on the bicycle, it was about reaching out to people and saying, All right, I had this, these awful things happen. I went through all this treatment. I'm here to tell you You can come through the black hole cancer emerge on the other side. And it'll be alright. I don't know for how long, but I'm out here now. And, you know, come come join me Come celebrate this a little bit. That was my message. And I think that it was, you know, and that once again is, you know, my father who could like I said, Be this explosive person, he was an optimist and I learned it's like, Wow, so there is a genetic link here, right that he was always curious, what's next? What's around the next corner? I mean, why would Why would a man in his 30s I guess maybe we didn't do much campaigns first want to go camping with his my mother, his wife, and four girls. I mean, what's that about? Because he, he wanted to enjoy the the world he liked, you know, the outdoors. And it was it was. And that was that was brave, you know, in a way. And so


that's, and those are, like I said, those are the moments that you can capture and see somebody's joy, and that makes you feel better, because you think you don't want a person's life to be defined by a disease, right? Oh, my goodness, we want to, we want to know that there's more that that wasn't all. Horrible. There were there were good moments when we could I mean, and people need to see that it because otherwise, people don't want to they can't be around that all the time. It's too much. It's it's sort of like the this pandemic that we're all dealing with, we have to, we have to have our little moments where we can laugh about something. And, and, and even if it's just being outside or doing a zoom call, whatever you're doing something has to because you can't live in a in a chronic state of of, of disappointment and, and sadness. I don't think we're not wired for that, or I'm not.


Robert  37:08  

Yeah, I agree with you there. Yeah, that the seeing the image, and it says something or communicate something to our reptilian brains that the words alone can't. So now that you have, you know, you digitize these photos, mainly for the book, but do you? Were you sharing any of them with your family? And also, is there anybody else in your family that is interested in continuing preserving the family history?


Elizabeth  37:49  

You know, I, I feel like with with my sisters, I mean, having the photos is wonderful, because I scanned way more than I needed for the book, because I wasn't exactly sure what the you know, there was a woman doing the layout, it's kind of a fold inside the book, it's, I don't know, 24 pages or something. So having those, those extra photos is wonderful. And I can't say that. I mean, I have shared them with people, whether it's to, you know, do some book for publicity, or just to organize my own. And I have to laugh, because just yesterday, I had I told you, I had all those albums, and I had gone through them and plucked out the photos that I thought were worthwhile of scanning. And just yesterday, I got around to putting them back in the albums. Because I you know, you just you sort of want to have wholeness. I had taken them out and done them in increments in these envelopes. And I had a little system and that was kind of inspiring. I thought, oh, maybe this is a good day to do this the day before I talked to Robert because it'll be fresh in my brain of Oh, yeah. Why did I choose that? And where was I and what? So it's kind of inspirational because then I looked at it and I thought well, I could I could do all of this. I could. And so I don't. I don't I think that I probably would inspire like I mentioned earlier keeping in touch with my you know, those elderly relatives, they would love things like that. Because it's it's something they're not going to do. And my I should correct myself because my my youngest sister is in the film business in. She's up in New York. And she has done you know, digitized she's taken my father used to take these home movies right and she has put them on video and then she put them on. She took them to digital Because you know who's going to see anything on video anymore. So that is a connection, your she's been doing the moving images, I'm doing this still images do I know and having that just being able to look at that once in a while or you're getting together at Thanksgiving and looking at these images or watching those is, it's just fun. So it's uh, so I, I don't, you know, I'm not a, I'm not one of those people who you're going to interview who is doing, you know, my whole genealogy, that's probably not going to happen. But my mother has done genealogy on her side of the family so I could help fill in some gaps I'm not going to become or who knows what they're going to do, right? I mean, what are you going to do with the time with your, with your time here, nobody can say definitively. But I think I can be a supplemental resource to people. And I can, like I said, I still all the boxes that I have, of, you know, the childhood, the black and whites, the little all that, that needs to be those need to be digitized to though when I was going through those albums of my bike ride yesterday, I thought, Oh, I need to do those, those should be the priority. Because those I mean, they're fragile, right? And they need to be the ones that are worth keeping. And I think our family was actually pretty good about editing out. So that's a step that I don't have to do. I otherwise, it's paralysis, right? When you walk into a room and there the piles just seem too big. So you take you do it in increments and that way, because you can't do it all in one sitting.


Robert  41:49  

Absolutely, yeah, that's the the biggest, I think message of the whole. Everything that we're trying to communicate as part of the memory lamp service and doing all of our supplemental classes around it. And this, you know, these kinds of conversations, for instance, is that it has to be segmented. It seems overwhelming at first, but it has to be. Doesn't have to be overwhelming.


Elizabeth  42:22  

That's right. I mean,


Robert  42:23  

Take baby steps.


Elizabeth  42:24  

That's right. And it's sort of like riding your bike across the country and deciding you're going to write a book about it, you have got to break it down. If somebody if you have a list, a daily list a to do list that says, you know, brush your teeth, make your bed, write the article, you need to write Oh, and write a book.


Robert  42:47  

That Yeah,


Elizabeth  42:48  

you're not you're never gonna check that one off. Right? So what do you say you say, get started on chapter three, and digitize 25 photos from bike ride, right? You break it down into approachable bits? And, and because otherwise, you will you will not make progress. And then you'll wonder why you don't you feel awful about not doing it. And sometimes you need somebody to tell you those things. Right. And, and that here's where I want to segue into, you know, the joy of having access to a library is when we were talking earlier, and there's a there's a bicycle Tour, which you can fill in the proper name for but it's the I think it's the Tour de DCPL. That's correct. Okay, that I had gone on my husband and I I saw notice somewhere I said we have got to do this ride. What? How can you find any better person than a librarian who rides a bicycle, right? So we get this was a couple years ago, and we met at the Tenleytown library. So we live in the Michigan Park, Brooklyn area. So we rode our bikes across the country across the city. And we, I mean, there were there were several 100 people, I think, involved in this right. It was phenomenal. But they had waba on board, the bicycle advocacy group. And they they were clearly a well oiled machine to use a cliche. And so we stopped the various libraries and we toured, that was when the MLK Library was having its renovation, so we couldn't go in there. But they had broken, broken down all these various services into different branch libraries. Brilliant. So one of them we went to, and it was the maker lab, and we that I mean, that was just fascinating. I thought, Oh my goodness. And I think that's where I first got wind of this digitization that was going that was at another place, which I didn't know where it was. And then that research led me to it. But I was so grateful that the library, it exposed me to something because I don't think we think of books. If we're of a certain age, we think of books. And that planted the seed, which, you know, goes back to when I first started doing these, these, if I hadn't had to write the book and find the photos for the book, I don't know that I would have digitized, I don't know that I would have opened that door. But because I had to do it, I found a way to do it. And thank goodness for that library. And that has just helped me turn another page and say, Well, I don't have to stop here. I and I don't have to, you know, I don't have a deadline for it. And then maybe that makes it. I don't know, I as a reporter, I need deadlines, right to finish things. But it's, it's on my list now of Hey, if you know when libraries reopen, and we can go in Normally, I could start making progress here. So that's, that's exciting. And, you know, here it all started. I mean, I guess everything for me starts with a bike ride, right? I'm telling the books, the story in the book, I'm connecting with the DCPL that way, but however you get there, it's about connecting. And then you don't have to stop where, you know, your first assignment was, so to speak, you can you can go from there. And the nice thing is, there are resources, I can come in and talk to you, I can talk to other people and say, Well, you know, this is what I was thinking about doing that. Does that make any sense to me? Or I can, you can get ideas. So I think sometimes we we also become paralyzed when we think we have to have all the answers. And we don't. And so you can, you can take advice from people. And there's some over arching pieces of advice that are very helpful. Don't start too big winnow out the bad stuff ahead of time, have a plan, have a focus. But sometimes people are trying to do a, an individual, you know, they've got a little bit of a quirk, whether it's through their collection, whatever. And it's okay to ask somebody, hey, what do you think about this? people, people love to be asked for advice for one thing, and, you know, you might


Robert  43:16  

Especially librarians,


Elizabeth  47:02  

Thank you! And you might hear something where, you know, the bell goes off, you think that's it, that's what I should be doing. So it's, and I know, it's harder in pandemic times to do these things. And I am Oh, so grateful that I was able to have access. I mean, I thought it was bad enough when MLK was shut down. But the fact that I could go into a library, on my own time and accomplish this, I felt so fortunate about that, because I wouldn't have been able to do it in 2020. And I would have had to shell out a lot of money. And I like to think of libraries as a service we get for the taxes that we pay, which I'm happy to pay for good services. So that's so I just, I feel like people just need to know, don't don't set limits for yourself. I mean, yes, you know, meet your goals, meet your deadlines, but then think about what's around the corner, think about the next thing you might be able to do and it doesn't, you don't have to do it all alone, sometimes you can find you can find help in unexpected places.


Robert  48:49  

Absolutely. And we we hope to help, always at all times. That's our goal. Well, thank you for all of those thoughts and such wonderful heartwarming high praises for the library. I know we are getting sort of close on time here. But I wanted to ask you one more question. Which is, if you remember your earliest memory from when you were a child and if you do remember it if you care to share it.


Elizabeth  49:30  

Wow. That's quite a you know, it's interesting because I One of my earliest memories is about and I'm sharing it because it was, you know how I mean I had I had three sisters. I think at that point I only had I had an older sister. We're all two years apart and you When I was maybe two, three, I had a little scooter cart. I mean, now I see these kids riding these things. Mine was probably made out of wood. I know it had a little rabbit on it. It was blue, the seat was blue, and the rabbit was white. And I loved that thing. Because you could go mean, we were in the city of Philadelphia, you could ride it on the porch on the sidewalk in the alley. I mean, you could and you could do it was just your, your feet. You You pushed it along. And I remember, my, my younger sister must have gotten on the cart, because you know, your toys are your that's all you have. When you're that age. It's like your domain. That's fine. Exactly. And, and I remember hearing my sister, or I heard, because it had a distinctive kind of squeak, there was a noise to this little part. And I heard it. And I, I looked up I said, who's on my card? I'm not the most proud of that. And it was it was my little sister indeed trying to, you know, ride off in my cart, because she knew it was my or, you know, my scooter because she knew it was like my cherished possession. So that's, I guess that shows you my you know, my sort of selfish gene, maybe I should have been kinder to her. Said, Carolyn, right. Go wherever you want on my scooter. I don't need it. But I will. I was.


Robert  51:32  

We're all a little selfish at that age.


Elizabeth  51:36  

So I guess, exactly. So I figured, well, I have no place to evolve but toward generosity, right.


Robert  51:46  

I guess there's only room to improve. Exactly. That's interesting. And it's still even that young. You you it was about riding something. Yeah. That was your your early beginnings of cycling.


Elizabeth  52:04  

Exactly. It was the beginning. It didn't I guess it didn't quite have pedals. But it was something. Yeah, it was. I think there's an other people who do. I'm also a backpacker, so hiking, bicycling. There's something about that, that movement that is very, it's because it's methodical. It's, I mean, people always tell me about their Oh, they're doing their meditation. I'm like, I can't do meditation because it won't go well, because I know the evil side of my brain will pop in and say, Tell me the wrong messages. So I stay away from that. But if I can be moving in a methodical way, my my thinking is clearer. I can make more sense of things. And it's, it is my therapy of choice.


Robert  52:58  

Yeah, I agree. Actually, I think that taking even something as simple as taking a little walk. It does it works wonders to and I'm sure this has been. There's a lot of scientific research about this. I'm not familiar with any of it, but the the motion, the kinetic, you know, activity, does something to help your brain be more. Maybe it helps the neurons fire quicker. I don't know. But yeah, definitely helps. If it goes back, I think to your you clearly have an urge to for exploration, always trying to find out what the next thing is, like you said around the corner.


Elizabeth  53:48  

Right. And I, I just I think fitting the pieces together. It's sort of like, if you're doing research for an article, or for the book, you think, well, what if I didn't think about this one thing. Now we all know that things have to sometimes you have to finish your project by the end of the day, and you can't explore that. But generally, I always want to, and I have to be careful with my friends that I'm not like over querying them, right? You know, you don't want a conversation to be an interrogation. But always wonder, how, what, what could I do? How, how could I fit this together? And I think that's, you know, part of it just to tie things together is we're, I mean, I love the youth of this country. And I'm always so grateful for intergenerational experiences so that somebody younger can say, hey, Elizabeth, this is how you do this, because I years ago, I used to be able to be the person that could do that, too. But it's i think that i guess it's about you know, Two things together. It's about being brave enough, you live long enough and you learn, you know what? It's okay. If I fall off the bike, it's okay, I'll get back up, and we'll patch what's broken. And we'll move on. And I think that just, you know, circling back to growing up, my father, I believe, was a perfectionist and so anything outside you, you didn't have room to fail, right. So I had to learn that I had to learn that it was okay not to be perfect the first time because he his standards were, you know, unrealistic for children. That was another thing I had to realize. So when you're when you get old enough that you're liberated to do that, whether it's riding your bike down to the library with a packet of digital photos and said, Well, some guys said he would teach me how to do this. So I'm in, right, you show up and you learn things, because if you don't show up, you don't learn things. So that's, that's what, that's what it means to me going around that next corner, because you think why? Who knows? Maybe I'll find a $5 bill on the sidewalk. You don't know. Right? But you, you just you have to. And I just think that's, you know, that's curiosity. And you hate to have that squelched out of people, because that's what makes us our authentic selves.


Robert  56:35  

Yeah, I couldn't have said it any better. Well, this was it was very lovely to talk to you. Thank you for taking the time to share your your thoughts on all of these topics that we discussed and for sharing your memories.


Elizabeth  56:56  

Well, thank you for asking me. I feel honored that I was on your list. And I'm just you know, I'm happy to help.


Robert  57:04  

Thanks again.


Elizabeth  57:06  

All right, take care.


Robert  57:10  

Unfortunately, the Labs are still closed to the public due to challenges posed by COVID-19. However, we have a number of upcoming virtual events, which you can find out about by visiting bit.ly/labsclasses. You can also sign up to receive email updates about the labs by going to bit.ly/labs-email.


To learn about additional virtual programs being offered by DC Public Library, visit dclibrary.org/calendar.


You have just listened to an episode of Memories on Tap on DC Public Library Podcast recorded from the labs recording studio in the historic modernized Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in downtown Washington, DC.


Thank you for listening. Be sure to join us next time.


Unknown Speaker  58:15  

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