This week, thanks to the kindness of several people, I received some old cassette tapes containing interviews about local history. More on the tapes in a moment.
First, though, I want to let you know the problems future historians will face when collecting information from today.
Cassette tapes used to be ubiquitous. There were cassette players in most automobiles, folks had cassette players in their stereo equipment, and there were tons of portable players. My family owned a lot of these players back in the day.
When the kind folks gave me the tapes this week, I began looking through closets for a cassette player. I did find a few dusty machines, but none of them worked. I enlisted family members in the search, and the machines they found no longer worked, either.
So I went to the store to buy a cassette player. The young clerk looked at me with an expression of patience after I asked whether they still sold cassette players. It was the look one might give a person who was asking if Victrolas were in stock.
"No," she said, "we don't sell cassette players, and I'm not sure anyone still does."
I did find a plain cassette player at the third store I tried. It was available in any color, just as long as the color you wanted was black.
I relay this story only because I'm concerned about the historic preservation of our own era. Media formats we use every day will someday be obsolete. That's right cell phone, I'm talking about you.
Those digital photographs you own are recorded in a specific format, mostly as jpeg files. There's no guarantee that format will be common in the future.
Worse, the files are stored on a variety of devices, from your phone, to computer hard drives, to something ephemeral called the 'cloud.' Pulling those images from storage requires special equipment (a computer or a phone) which will be obsolete quicker than anyone can guess.
So, for someone like me who collects old Kerrville and Kerr county photographs, the old methods are the easiest: a negative, or a print made from a negative. No digital equipment is needed: you can see the photograph with your eyes.
Most newspapers today create their photographs using digital cameras; copies, if kept, are kept as digital files. This week I had a hard time reading files from a format (cassette tapes) that was, until recently, quite common. The tools we use today on "common" formats will soon be obsolete.
I'm concerned decades of information will be lost as formats and the devices which read those formats change. Of course, there is nothing I can do except sound the alarm.
However, if you have a lot of family photographs stored on your phone or computer, it might make sense to print out some of the best ones. I believe most photo processing places can help you with this. A print might be the only thing "readable" in the future -- because it doesn't require one of our current technologies to see.
Ok, back to the cassette tapes.
There are 10 tapes; most are clearly labeled. One is of an interview conducted by Merrill Doyle of Louis A. Schreiner, the son of Captain Charles Schreiner, and dated May 22, 1968. Others include the dedication of the Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library, the marker dedication of the Schreiner / Volentine Home, and several are labeled Merrill Doyle. Mr. Doyle was an artist; he painted the mural in the Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library.
What I hope to do is pull a copy of the recordings from the tapes and convert them to something I can share online with whoever might be interested. I'm still trying to figure out how to work the software to do this. If I ever complete the project, I'll post the results on my blog.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who can still work a cassette player. Well, mostly. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times January 23, 2016.