4: Organizing Images
Increasingly, scholars working with archival material will spend their days snapping photos of documents and images (and their nights reading them at home on a computer screen). This is particularly useful if you have limited time in a distant archive. It it also useful it you plan to do digital analysis with the materials you gather. (Text analysis, explained in another section, would require converting documents to text using Optical Character Recognition, or OCR).
But challenges often arise in collecting and organizing hundreds or thousands of photographs. Konrad Lawson, a graduate student at Harvard, offers some advice on taking pictures in the archives here, including hardware (and rigged contraptions) to make snapping photos of documents easier and more efficient.
Other challenges arise in organizing hundreds or thousands of images. Lawson emphasizes the importance of quickly and efficiently organizing photos taken in the archives. Some prefer to use a simple folder system (a photo of the pull slip, box label, and folder label as thumbnail images). Lawson suggests taking spacer (blank or colored) pictures between documents that will allow you to more easily organize your digital photos later. He also emphasizes the importance of taking notes on the digital photos themselves, either individually or in groups, and marking those notes with the last digits of the photo’s number. For more details on Lawson’s system, click here.
Some digital cameras will allow users to add a numerical prefix to a series of photographs, making later efforts to organize those photos easier. Most new digital cameras also support geo-tagging, which will add location information to each photo. The option to geo-tag photos can usually be found on the camera’s menu screen. The geo-data is then imprinted and saved in what is called the “EXIF data.” Later, when you are reviewing images on your computer, you can organize images by location, making it easier to sort photos by archival collection.
Google’s Picasa and Yahoo’s Flickr are other options for managing image collections in the “cloud.” The best way to manage photos, though, is with a desktop application. Some of the easiest solutions are iPhoto for Macs and Windows Live Photo Gallery for PCs. These common applications allow users to organize images into albums and also allow easy ways to manipulate images (straightening, improving contrast, cropping, and knitting together images), which can be helpful for photographs of archival documents. These programs also allow you to easily label batches of nameless files with filename prefixes.
If you find yourself in an archive that does not allow digital cameras, there may be other ways to get what they have in digital form. You can, for example, order photocopies at most archives, then have those scanned into PDF’s. Many university’s have bulk scanners that students can use for free. (If the quality of those scans and the original document is good enough, you may be able to do an OCR scan and create a text file.)
There is no one way or categorically best way to organize photos and documents. In fact, many scholars seem at a loss to identify a single system that is most commonly used, particularly for photos. When it comes down to it, the most effective filing system is the one that you feel comfortable with and will use regularly.