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As Simon and Garfunkel said, "Preserve your memories. They're all that's left you."
A scrapbook is, literally, a book full of scraps. The main content is usually photos: weddings, baby pictures, and travel photos. Of course, scraps are all kinds of things, not just photos, but ephemera of all kinds--ticket stubs, pressed flowers, menus, pamphlets, post cards, souvenirs--whatever helps you to remember the places, events, and people they're tied to.
A scrapbook can also be a journal, a way of displaying your thoughts, as well as your favorite things and pictures. Scrapbooks are about people, places, pets, or whatever tickles your fancy or tugs your heartstrings.
Scrapbooks have been around in one format or another for many years, but the concept of creating them digitally is new and exciting. With even a simple digital camera or scanner and some inexpensive software, you can jump right in and have reasonably professional-looking pages in a couple of hours.
If you love scrapbooking, you're not alone. About 25% of households now have scrapbooks, compared to 13% three years ago. The current craze is thought to have begun in 1981, in Utah. Mormons, always big on genealogy, started gathering family photos to go with the family tree. Scrapbooking really started back around the turn of the 20th century, as photographs printed on paper became readily available. Prior to that, photos were made on glass plates, elaborately framed with embossed metal edges and tooled leather covers.
Grandma's scrapbooks were nothing more than large books with black or manila construction paper pages holdingneat rows of photos, sometimes labeled, unfortunately sometimes not. Pictures were inserted at each corner into small triangular pockets, or were too often glued in place with anything from wheat paste to mucilage or even rubber cement. These glues destroyed most of the pictures to which they were applied. They stained. They cracked. It was usually impossible to remove the picture from the page without tearing it. The acids in the papers mixed with the chemicals in the photos and inks to bleach out the pictures or even eat holes in them.
Today, we have better adhesives that can be peeled off if you want to move a picture and are free of acids and chemicals that might eat the images right off the page. We have acid-free papers, better photo materials, and we can even save our scrapbooks on CD or DVD discs or send them out into cyberspace for the ultimate in long-term storage.
Scrapbooking brings people together, not only to enjoy the finished scrapbook but also to help create them. Scrapbooking parties, called croppings for the picture cropping or trimming that's a necessary part of the craft, are much like old-fashioned quilting bees. Groups of family members or friends get together to share snacks and memories as they work on their pages. It's fun, and there are always a few experienced scrapbookers in the crowd to give advice on making pages more interesting. There are even "cropping weekends" held at fancy resorts and "cropping cruises" to allow scrapbookers some working time while their spouses and kids have something else to do.
Just as the scrapbook originally evolved as a place to show off the then-new art of photography, our current obsession with digital photography led to digital scrapbooking. It's the next logical step forward. A digital scrapbook can even contain digital video and music clips, spoken journal entries rather than written, animation, and whatever else you can think of.
There are other virtues to digital scrapbooking as well. Unlike regular film photography, it's very easy to retouch a digital picture. You can remove anything that shouldn't be there, including dead tree branches in a landscape or Uncle Harry's tacky girlfriend. If the photo is crooked, you can straighten it. You can use the same picture as often as you want. If it's in black and white, you can color it; or you can remove some or all of the color from those overly bright 1960 Kodachrome prints.
If you make up the pages on the computer instead of with scissors and glue, you can set the type for captions, quotes, or journal notes right on the page. There are thousands of typefaces available, and you can make the type any size you like, knowing it will look professional. You can choose from all the millions of colors your computer screen displays, and you can, if you have access to an inkjet color printer, print copies of your pages to put in a "real" (non-digital) book.
Digital scrapbooks are easy to share. You can put them up on a website for family and friends. Use password protection if you don't want to open your scrapbook to the public. You can send your scrapbook as a CD-ROM with sounds and movies for less than the cost of an annual Christmas card. Distributing copies of your scrapbooks digitally is good insurance against losing all those precious memories in a flood, fire, or other catastrophe.
Why has scrapbooking become such a hot topic? In an interview in the New York Times, Deidre Bullock, a consultant for the Minnesota-based Creative Memories, the largest nontraditional retailer of scrapbooking products, says simply, "It keeps the art of storytelling alive." Even beyond that, sociologists have noticed a trend towards "cocooning" that started somewhere in the 1990s. Home and family are more important to us now than in the wild and crazy years that came before. Scrapbooking is a great family activity, as well as a good excuse to get together with friends for cropping parties and to teach each other new techniques.
Also, of course, there's money to be made. With one in four Americans making scrapbooks, it's now a 3-billion-dollar-a-year industry. That includes materials sold at general craft store chains such as Michael's and A.C. Moore; internet businesses that sell scrapbook supplies; and home scrapbooking parties, much like Tupperware parties, where a consultant demonstrates techniques and sells kits to make a specific page that features the user's photos. Finally, for those who can't, or haven't the time, to do it themselves, there are S4Os. That's short for "scrapbook for others," and it's becoming a lucrative home-based business. Typically, a professional scrapbooker charges about $20 a page to assemble your old photos into themed pages, or upwards of $200 to do a whole scrapbook or album. The latter are in turn moneymakers for the bakers, photographers, landscapers, and muralists who commission them. You can find a professional scrapbook maker by asking at your local crafts shop or on the Web
Whatever the cost, whether you do the work yourself or hire someone to do it, whether you work with a computer or scissors and glue, scrapbooking is time and money well-spent. After all, you're saving memories, and memories are priceless.
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Posted October 26, 2005