Big digitizing/scanning/archive project. Need your advice on a workflow!
February 5, 2021 11:39 AM   Subscribe

I have been assigned a project and would love to hear your recommendations on how to do this right. I have been asked to digitize and archive a family’s entire collection of photos/home movies. I’ve been doing this in piecemeal over the years, but finally got approval to get ALL my boss’s photos/movies at once, to be digitized/archived for storage/preservation. I’m excited at the idea of doing this in a comprehensive way and create a SYSTEM! I don't have a background in archiving, so I want to see if anyone has any ideas on a workflow or tips.

As it stands, the plan is to:

1) Receive (likely by FedEx or hand delivered) a mixed-bag of originals: snapshots, 8x10’s, slides, 8mm films, etc.

2) Digitize (scan to .jpg or have transferred to .mp4) originals.

3) Save digital files on our company network drive, which has a cloud backup. Third separate backup using Google Photos.

4) (Here’s where it starts to get hazy for me) Archive the hard copy originals (my impulse is to put them all in sheet protectors/binders but I know this is probably the wrong answer from a preservation standpoint. Many of the originals are very old photographs and are fragile. I would like to preserve them as best as possible while also storing them in an attractive and organized way. I have a budget (whatever it costs!) and can pay for the right products.

5) Another challenge is that some (15%?) of the originals I receive have already digitized (by me). Part of my work will be determining as I receive materials if they have already been captured. I’m fine with that, there’s really no way around that. But how can I best keep track of what has been scanned going forward? Again, would love to put a sticker on the back that states the collection name/file name/date scanned, etc. but I’m sure that’s a bad idea from a conservation perspective.

6) I have access to a family member who will be assisting in identifying the people in the family photos; the goal is so that in 100 years, someone looking at these photos will know who is pictured. I’d like to maximize the efficiency of her time, I was thinking about using the Google Photos face recognition feature and then doing a screen-share with her to review for that errors and confirm who’s who in the photos. But what’s the best way to link everyone’s identity to the digital copy of the media (and maybe the hard copy for that matter)? (i.e. in 100 years someone who has the photo won’t have access to my google photos account to find out who is pictured).

7) If you think I’m missing anything or haven’t thought about something please let me know that too!
posted by brbmaroon to Technology (6 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I can answer the hard copy aspect of this question. You should be fine to write on the back of your photos in pencil. Only a #2 pencil, not pen, no colored pencils. Write clearly the identities of the people, places and times the photos were taken. For my scanning system, I also usually utilized a coding system for myself, using a the smallest mark possible to convey the necessary information. So you could use a small checkmark on the back of the photo to show has been scanned, or an x to show you've determined it won't be scanned (for poor photos), etc.

Archival companies such as Gaylord and Hollinger will have photo albums and slide preservation material that you can purchase. Take a look at their sites and see what they have. You've got two choices here: you can keep the photos and slides in paper sleeves and boxes (much cheaper) or you can put them in clear sleeves and albums, so that people can handle and look at them. It depends on what your boss wants. The price difference can be pretty large here, it may be worth asking them how much they will actually look at the originals once they have the digitized copies. One last thing I will mention is that all the good archival supplies in the world won't stand long against poor environment and handling. The photos need to be kept in a cool, dry place, and not handled all that much. As you work on them, limit your handling, hold the photos and slides by the edges, and always wash your hands before you start.
posted by backwards compatible at 1:43 PM on February 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm working on an very similar project for my own family.
I do all scanning of photos at 600dpi (more for very small pics) and save them in TIF format . Much larger files than jpeg, but better quality (or so I've been led to believe). Easy enough to save a copy as a jpeg for emailing.
Irfanview is a fantastic piece of freeware for quick and easy photo viewing.
Picasa was the bomb for face recognition and cataloging until google bought it and left it by the side of the road to die. I still use it and will continue to until something close comes along that isn't associated with google.
posted by Carlo at 2:29 PM on February 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Such an interesting project!

One aspect I don’t know if you’ve covered is whether this is going to be a limited archive (only what you receive) or if this will be continually added to for the next couple decades as more material is created.

I’m not an archivist, but my first step would be to create a plain old excel spreadsheet to collect your metadata (file name, date, caption, tags). This would be a service-agnostic text file to act as a manifest, so even if all that is left in 100 years is the image files and text document on a physical drive, it would still be legible.

Also, that spreadsheet might be something that you could make tweaks to and import into a CMS down the line if you found one that suited your needs. But I wouldn’t want to rely on proprietary software to create and store all the tags and captions unless it could easily export a legible, archival database.
posted by itesser at 2:41 PM on February 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm an archivist. Good advice so far upthread. I would also create a document about your processing methods, including a plain text file for any digital work. The thing about anything digital related is you have to plan for forward migrations at some point, so you want to scan at the highest quality you can pull off the first time.

I haven't looked at it but I've heard good things about this new book about preserving family papers from Society of American Archivists, and my understanding is that it was written for non-archivists.

The other search phrase you might want here is "personal digital archiving." The American Library Association and the Library of Congress have some information about this on their websites.
posted by mostly vowels at 3:39 PM on February 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh hey was coming here to mention that book and also this one, Digitization in the Real World, which is free online and has a lot of useful case studies.
posted by jessamyn at 3:53 PM on February 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It has been a few years since I read it, but I can recommend The DAM Book

I've been working on the same project (slowly) for my own family. I use Lightroom Classic to organize the photos and to write any metadata into the actual files. I also scan to tif.
posted by miscbuff at 7:59 PM on February 5, 2021

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