Personal Digital Archiving Tips

Whether it’s for sharing with family and friends via online platforms or for adding to a genealogical research collection, many people today are interested in digitizing old photographs, records,  letters, or other personal treasures. While it is always important to consider professional assistance, there are also lots of people who accomplish these projects from their own home offices or public scanning facilities. To help you get started, we have a few tips that we use in our own Digital Archiving Lab (DAL):

  1. Have a plan! Though we all know that challenges and changes arise during any project, it is helpful to know as much as possible about your task before you begin. For example, how many photographs will you be scanning? Where will you store them? Will you be scanning the front and the back of the photo? What will the file names be?
  2. TIFF vs. JPEG. The battle to end all battles – just kidding! We actually use both TIFF and JPEG formats for our projects in the DAL. For most projects, I scan TIFF files first, and then create JPEG copies later if I need them. It is a one way street, though, because it is not recommended to convert JPEGs to TIFFs!
    1. JPEG files are compressed and lossy, so every time they are opened and edited, they lose a bit of data. However, they are a smaller file size and are recommended for web display or emailing.
    2. TIFF files are the professional standard for digital preservation and are also more likely to be required for professional prints. TIFF files are ideal working files because they don’t lose data as you open and edit them, unless deletions are made intentionally.
  3. Resolution. I always recommend scanning at a minimum of 300ppi, so that you can be sure as much detail as possible is captured for future prints or display. If your equipment can scan at a higher resolution, go for it! You can always resize down later, but the reverse isn’t recommended. Finally, if you are scanning film, consider scanning at a minimum of 2400ppi so that your prints can be enlarged.
  4. Spreadsheets and descriptive information. You can actually use any tracking system that you’d like, but the concept is particularly important for large projects. As you scan, make sure to record the filename and any other important information about the photo or letter in a spreadsheet so that you can easily locate files later. I recommend spreadsheets because they can be easily converted into other formats.
  5. Storage. Make sure to save multiple copies of your files in different storage types (cloud storage and external hard drives, for example), and in separate locations.

Recording descriptive information as you scan will you help you find files quickly and easily later.

As you’re working on planning your project, don’t forget library staff are happy to help answer questions, provide consultations, or work with you on professional digitization services. The Digital Archiving Lab is located in the Hurley Convergence Center, room 322, and is open by appointment this summer!

July 20, 2017