Like many of you, I’ve got hundreds (thousands?) of photos. This is one of my favorites:
Of course, the photo is only in digital form, which means it’s got a “preservation” problem.
Digital preservation is the set of management processes that ensure the long-term accessibility of digital information. At NDIIPP we deal with these issues on a grand scale, working to ensure the nation’s valuable digital cultural heritage survives for the long-term benefit of all.
But the valuable cultural heritage material we’re interested in often starts off as a lone artifact in someone’s personal collection.
That’s why we’ve been offering guidance on how you can preserve your own personal digital information. Not to say that there’s any long-term national interest in my photo, but you never know. In any event, it’s valuable to me and that’s enough for now.
We’ve come up with four simple steps to start you on the digital preservation path: Identify, Decide, Organize, and Make copies (I.D.O.M. anybody?).
Identify means to take an inventory of where you have pictures. Are they still on your camera? On your computer? Stored on a photo-sharing website? Identifying where your photos are located is the first step to getting a handle on preserving them.
Next, decide which photos are the most important. Digital photography makes it easier than ever to keep every picture you take, but that’s not always a good thing, especially if you’ve got similar pictures with only slight variations.
A smaller collection of really essential photographs is easier to maintain than a sprawling mish-mash of everything, so don’t be afraid to toss some away if they aren’t important (a process known in the cultural heritage world as deaccessioning). If you do get rid of copies, make sure you keep the one with the highest resolution.
My photo is the only one I have from that time and place, so it’s about as essential as you can get. Luckily for me, the copy I have is at 300ppi (pixels per inch), which is a decent resolution for my purposes, including printing at its current size.
Next, organize the photos that you’ve selected. This is the most time-consuming part of the job (depending on how many photos you’ve got) but will be well worth the effort for accessing the pictures in the future.
Give each photo a descriptive file name. My photo has the relatively nonsensical name “butch_dogg.jpg,” but I know exactly which picture it is when I scan through my directories.
You should also tag your photos with descriptive information to remind you of the “who, what and where” in the photo. There are a number of photo editing tools that can help you add tags to your photos. Additionally, most cameras add valuable information to your pictures automatically in the form of Exchangeable Image File Format (EXIF) data.
The EXIF data tells me the exact date my photo was taken, something I wouldn’t know otherwise.
Next, create a directory structure for your picture storage environment. You can organize your photos by year, location, person, or any other structure that makes sense to you, like this:
Write a brief description of your directory structure and the photos in it and store it with the pictures.
Finally, make copies of your pictures and store them in different places. During the “identify” process you probably found pictures stored in a bunch of different places. This is good! That is, as long as you’ve got a system for keeping track of them.
How many copies? Well, more is certainly better (and you can get deep into the mathematics (PDF) of how many), but the main things you want to do are make multiple copies; store them on different kinds of storage media (CDs, DVDs, USB flash drives, external hard drives or online storage); and store them as geographically dispersed from each other as possible.
I have a copy of my photo on my current laptop (having outlived four previous computers), and on online storage that I’ve maintained for more than seven years. Still, I could probably use another back-up just to be safe.
You should check your photos and storage media at least yearly to make sure that you can still get at them and to mitigate against hardware or software obsolescence.
I.D.O.M. — the easy way to save your stuff!
This post was updated on 2/7/13 to fix broken links.