Shades Of The Departed

7 June 2009

A Monthly - Weekend With Shades - Column

The future of your memories begins with your digital library. A digital library offers many advantages over a hard copy library and allows us to reference any piece of our collection at any time while the original remains safely tucked away in appropriately protected storage. And, a digital library is much easier to manage than the hard copy library.

Unlike paper records, digital records physically reside in one location on your disk drive and can be virtually connected to any number of topics, people or places. You don't have to make copies and file them in multiple locations. Digital records and photos can include metadata - information about that record or photo - which is then used by your computer to find that item through searches. Instead of spending hours setting up formal filing systems, spend a bit of time building a simple system of keywords (or tags) to describe each item and its relationships. Your taxonomy might include tags to describe the type of item (photo, birth certificate, census image, deed, etc.), family surname, location, date and any other descriptive keyword that suits your needs. Now, as you scan or save a new item in your library, just add the appropriate tags to the file's metadata and your done. When an item is associated with more than one family, don't create a new file. Just add another surname tag to your metadata. It's that simple!

So, what does it take to manage a digital library? Here are a few tools and tips you can use to get your digital library in order:

  • Disk space. Yes, scanning photos and documents at archival levels will eat up disk space. No problem, you can buy reasonably-priced external drives to extend your library. My 500GB Western Digital drive cost me less than $100 and is the size of a Tom Clancy novel. It will hold more than 140,000 high quality images. When that one fills up, I'll just get another.
  • Backup system. I use Mozy, a web-based backup service which automatically backs up my files to their server. After setting it up, it's totally automatic and I don't have to even think about it. It costs me $60/year for unlimited backup, but since hurricanes are a fact of life in my world, it's worth every penny. I also spend another $25/year for a Flickr Pro account. Not only is it additional backup, but it's also a great way to organize and share my photos.
  • Photo and document management software. Most of the photo management applications (Picasa, Photoshop Elements for Win and Mac and iPhoto to name a few) provide the ability to add metadata to your image files. The tags, geotags and descriptions you add all become part of the file. There are similar applications for managing documents. Both Paperport (Win) and Yep (Mac) allow you to organize both scanned and saved PDF files using the same tagging and description metadata elements.
  • Learn to use your system's search. The Spotlight search tool on my Mac is truly awesome. It finds photos, files and email quickly and easily. I don't need to spend hours developing a rigid system of folders and sub-folders to organize my digital files. Spotlight searches both the metadata and the actual text to find the file I want faster than manually drilling down through multiple folders. I can also create "smart" folders - virtual folders based on a search. Smart folders collect files from all over your system and "list" them in the smart folder. None of the files are moved or copied - just listed here for easy access. Do you know how to use your system's search capability? If you're not happy with the built-in search, you can always take advantage of apps like Google Desktop or Yahoo's X1.
  • Plan for obsolescence. Technology is constantly changing and the day will come when the file formats you use to save your digital assets are left along the wayside. You hear a lot of ranting and wailing about digital files that are no longer accessible. My response? How many of us still have a turntable to play records? When's the last time you listened to an 8-track tape? If TIFF or JPG image formats are dumped tomorrow for some new and improved format, every photo-editing software package will offer some way to save your old files into the new format - and quite possibly scripts to batch-convert files automatically. What equipment and effort will it take to get those old video tapes of your wedding moved to a different media? Regardless of the original media, conversion will always be an issue so plan for it now.
  • Take advantage of open standards. I use as my primary office system because it supports the Open Document Format (ODF). ODF doesn't use any proprietary components and there are no licensing fees to use it. An ODF document, spreadsheet or slide presentation can be opened and edited in any application that supports ODF. The number or apps supporting ODF continues to grow as more people realize the advantages and make the switch.

Your digital library not only protects your precious hard-copy treasures but makes it easy for your to organize, find, manipulate and share all your digital assets. It supports your research as well as your archival efforts. Learning to manage your digital library is not difficult and will reward you with extra research or creative time to concentrate on the future of your memories.

Copyright © Denise Olson


Blogger amyrebba said...

Great post. Thanks for all the information. I have been in the process of scanning and retouching a lot of originals that were just given to me. I always do this so I can put the originals safely away like you suggested.

June 7, 2009 at 9:40 AM  
Blogger Family Curator said...

You make a great case for digital archiving and organizing. Now I just need the discipline to make it happen! Thanks for the clear instructions... I'm ready to get to work.

June 8, 2009 at 8:57 AM  

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