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A few tips on managing your digital archives

According to a study done in 2015, 68 percent of Americans have a smartphone. If you count yourself among this number, there’s a very good chance you have some pictures stored on it. Birthday parties, spouses, kids, Christmas, selfies…just think of all the file space your pictures take up!

On a somber but related note, have you heard of the coming “Digital Dark Age?” Computer scientist Vint Cerf, widely recognized as one of the founders of the modern Internet, coined this expression, which is based on the idea that if we do not take active steps to preserve our digital information, it may disappear forever, thus rendering any records we’re keeping for future generations lost.

“But wait,” you say. “I have all of my pictures saved on a disk/external hard drive/the cloud, so I’m safe, right?” Not necessarily. Take a look at the lifespan of media formats through history (below).

Do you have files or photos that are more than 10 years old? Digital files more than 10 years old are at substantial risk for loss or degradation, such that you might not be able to access them.

Think about it: if you had all of your pictures stored on your phone and you misplaced it, it got stolen, or perhaps it burst into flames, what would happen? Those pictures would be gone forever! So what should you do with those pictures?

Did you know that in its current form, Google Photos is only a year old? In just that one year, Google has collected almost 2,000,000,000 (that’s Billion!) animations, collages, movies, and other digital objects. Taking up 13.7 petabytes of space (1 petabyte is 1,000 terabytes, and consider that 1 terabyte is a standard hard drive on a laptop you can buy in the store today) and 24 billion selfies, it would take you 424 years to swipe through that many photos, according to Google’s blog page.

Now, before you get too depressed by all this news, there’s still time to take proactive measures to ensure all of your digital treasures are not lost. Here are some ideas on storing your digital archive, with an eye specifically toward photos.

1. Set up a folder on your computer to begin the process. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

2. Identify where all of your pictures “live.” Where are all of my pictures? I use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Shutterfly, and many other photo storing apps.

3. Identify the important moments: do you really need 39 pictures of your 18-month old eating one dinner with her grandma? Perhaps you could pick the best 5.

4. Aim to have at least three copies of everything. I know how redundant this sounds, but if you don’t back it up, you run the risk of losing it. How you choose to do this is up to you, but you can use SD cards, a USB drive, DVD or Blu-Ray discs, external hard drives, or a cloud service.

5. Actively manage your archive. Now that you have a handle on your information, keep it that way. Post new pictures to your backup locations, make sure their date and geotag locations (if they’re turned on) are correct, and most importantly, keep up!

6. Lastly, if it’s feasible, print out the important moments and set a date to scrapbook. Think back to the photo albums you have or that you remember looking at as a child; maybe a picture or three per month that are important enough to want to pick up off your bookshelf.

We aren’t talking necessarily about preserving our cultural heritage by saving all the selfies you’ve taken; but we can begin to think about how to tame/manage our digital photo presence.

Denver Catholic archives

The communications office of the Archdiocese of Denver is taking steps to ensure that the Church’s rich history here in northern Colorado is preserved appropriately. We are working diligently to update our archives, and very soon, the Stafford Library will have on its shelves bound volumes of the first 20 years of the Denver Catholic Register. The rest will be added as they are completed in the coming years, with a fully digital archive to become available online shortly thereafter.

Stephen Sweeney is the director of the Cardinal J. Francis Stafford Library.

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