This post really intrigued me, since it addresses a very important issue that I feel does not receive enough attention in the new craze for digital scrapbooking and photography -- digital migration.
This is a topic that has bothered me for some time, but every time I tried to write a blog post about it, it came across very negative and critical. The truth is, while I don't want to be the Angel of Gloom and Doom, I am very critical of how people in Internet Scrap-Land have pushed this issue.
For years it has bothered me to see so many of the big "names" in scrapbooking talking about and really pushing digital photography, and now digital scrapbooking. I realize it is because these particular scrapbookers treat scrapbooking as something they do now based on what they feel like doing now.
This is a wonderful attitude and I feel like I am always saying that myself. Scrapbooking is about who you are now, what is important to you now, how you see the world now. Like all art, it is a manifestation of the influences, beliefs and priorities of the artists (that's you) right now. Look back at a page you created in 2001 vs now and see how you have changed, how what is important to you has changed, since then.
However, in the comments to these blog posts and in posts I've seen around the Internet Scrap-Land, I have seen many woman talk about how they want to do something digital now for a baby, so that s/he can have these stories in 20 years. They do not seem to know (or perhaps understand) that what you do now digitally will not necessarily be accessible in 20 years. And it certainly won't if your only advice or support in this area comes from other scrapbookers, from what I have seen.
Digital scrapbookers can get very up in arms about the issue. Many of them do address these issues, as best they know how. I don't mean to suggest that every single scrapbooker who likes using digital templates is thoughtless or ignorant. And for many digital scrapbookers, they don't care much because they do embrace the now. Digital migration is not an issue for those scrapbookers.
Consider this article, which states:
In 1996, however, a special US Taskforce on Digital Archiving3 drew the world's attention to the alarming fact that owing to ongoing technological change and the rapidity with which technologies now grow obsolescent, a vast amount of digitally generated information is effectively vanishing.
And that was in 1996.
If you will continue reading the page, you will see discussion of the British Domesday Project, a digitization project carried out by professionals, over the course of several years, at a cost of $3.75 million, with the intent of creating a permanent digital archive. And was it permanent? Heck, no. Even with an investment of $3.75 million, professionals could not find a way to make this project last more that 10-15 years.
How then does the lowly scrapbooker address this issue?
This is one of the reasons I like Stacy's Library of Memories. First, Stacy consistently advocates the importance of printing out your photos. No matter what happens in technology, no matter what happens to your computer, if you print out those photos and have them in binders or in drawers, people can always access those photos, and you don't need electricity, an internet connection, or a computer to do so. This year many digital scrapbookers have pushed back against that advice, constantly refusing to accept the idea that printing out is necessary. Because they are DIGITAL ONLY, thus printing photos is irrelevant. In the face of this resistance, Stacy has stood firm. Printing out even 10% of your digital photos is a worthwhile and even necessary investment.
While Stacy advocates the printing as an important aspect of scrapbooking inspiration, there is a larger issue there, one I have seen her try to address without really having the language to do so. Stacy understands intuitively that there is a difference between analog and digital information. Analog used to only mean a type of audio file, but more recently it has been used to describe any kind of non-digital information resource. This includes photos and print resources like books. One of the big differences between the two is that digital information requires a filter or translator, and analog does not. As a human with two working eyes, I can physically pick up an analog photograph, view it, and interact with it directly. I know how to read so I may pick up any book off the shelf, open it to any page, and read it for myself with my own eyes.
However, digital information requires a mediator -- that being, the hardware or computer system and the screen, and the software used to translate the data. Humans need these intervening mediators to interact with and comprehend digital data. You need a computer, with a screen, and a piece of software to view every single digital photo you take. And you need same to interact with and view digital scrapbook pages.
The ways that humans interact with, view, and interpret analog vs digital resources is different. It is different. If you prefer one or the other, then enjoy. But the attitude in Internet Scrap-land is that these are the same essentially, with one option just being done on computer and one not. They are not equivalent. One requires a mediator and that mediating force has an effect on what the human perceives and understands.
Stacy also has always advocated creating a digital archive and a digital back up, and she distinguishes between the two. So many people who have fully immersed themselves in digital land do not seem to understand the difference and the need for both. I feel if you are going to embrace the digital thing so closely that you resist the advice to print out physical photos, that is fine, but then you also should know enough about it to know the difference between a backup and an archive, and know which one you have.
I was also very happy this year that we have had a digital-only coach in the LOM class with whom I could discuss my concerns about digital migration, someone to whom these concepts are not foreign or irrelevant. But when I posted my concerns, it was like an alien from Mars came and plopped into the middle of a party like a wet blanket.
If you enjoy digital scrapbooking -- and it is a fantastic option for many many reasons -- I am not saying, don't do it. What I am saying is, recognize it as a solution today for your life today. I resisted digital photography for many years, but now I am wholly digital, and I do enjoy it and it does solve problems I had with film format. However other issues came along with that switch. In order to make sure my work with my digital files is still valid and usable by more people than myself, and for the future, there is work involved. This is work that I do, and regularly.
There is a difference between a lo-res 72 dpi graphic you find on the internet and a high quality, hi-res graphic you create yourself. There is a difference between what can be seen on your screen and what you can print out. Just because a file format can be read today is no guarantee you will be able to read it tomorrow. I have Illustrator files I created in 1998 that, until this month, I have been unable to access. I have files I carefully saved on zip disks and backed up, for years... only the coupling for those older drives is not USB, the standard today. I have lost files due to hardware and software changes. I have gone to events where I forgot my camera and someone took a great photo and promised they would share it with me... then I got it and they had cropped it tight and kept it at 72 dpi. Looks great on Facebook but can I print that out? Can I blow it up? Can I use it how I want to? No. All I can do is view it on Facebook. I have officiated at weddings where I handed my camera to an assistant (I always bring my own... assistant as well as camera) and told her to document the whole thing even though there was an official photographer, and then had the bride asking me for my photos because the official photographer messed up, everything is blurry, or accidentally lost or erased the digital files.
So it bothers me when I see the big push towards digital scrapbooking (and digital photography) without commensurate discussion that this is an option now for what you want NOW, but if you want now to extend 10, 20, or more years, there is more you need to know and think about.
If you go looking at houses to buy with your new husband and you decide to buy a lovely 2 bedroom cottage, understand that if you plan to have 3-4 children, that house is going to be a problem. You will end up having to invest money in expanding the house, and can you even do that? What if you physically cannot? Financially cannot? Or you will have to upgrade to another house entirely in a few years (more money and trouble), making this house a temporary option only. Or you might end up stuck in that cute little house and then either have to decide to give up your plans of more than one child, or you will severely lose privacy and other living options as your family grows.
My irritation: Any realtor who pushes that cute little house on you without asking you about your future needs is not a good realtor at all. Realtors are selling something. And most of the people pushing digital scrapbooking are also selling something. Are these people really concerned with your future needs? No.
The very short answer to all this is, in my own opinion: print your photos and store them still, and print your scrapbook pages and put them into albums. Understand that without an investment of further time and money those print outs may be all you have in 10, 20, or more years. Just understand that now, and make your choices with eyes open. Don't be surprised by it. Understand you are digitally scrapbooking because it is a hobby you enjoy now, not because you are really preserving for the future unless you take steps to ensure that.
So back to the blog post. My comment has not appeared and I am not sure it will. But I did address some of these issues. (I also adjusted the text a bit since I was very quickly writing out just a comment, then.)
I found this post as I was surfing and looking for info on digital archiving. I thought I might address your queries. I have worked in digital file archiving for over 10 years. Before that I worked in museum archives, and right now I am getting a Masters in library/information sciences focusing on digital archives. Last semester I did a research project on Project Gutenberg, an organization that is utterly focused on digital migration for future access, and the source of the first ever e-book, created in 1971. You might want to look into them; there is a lot of good info on their site as well.
So here is my opinion, take it as you will. First, I would say there is no way for you to ensure that whatever digital work you do now will still be accessible as-is in 100 years. It may not be accessible in 10 years, with the rate of digital migration. Professionals know that digital archives must be migrated to new formats and new structures as technology advances. It is the way of things and no one yet has discovered a way to overcome that reality. It will be up to you and your heirs to continue to move your archives forward in keeping with technology.
As a long time scrapbooker I can also tell you there is no way to be 100% sure that your paper archive will also be usable in whatever format you choose now, in 100 years. Printing on acid free paper and storing in museum quality boxes is one really great step to take. You also have to be aware of ink properties. Last I checked, Epson did guarantee their printer inks to last for 80 years with proper care of documents. You just have to do the best you can and hope that your descendants find your work valuable enough to maintain it.
Q: Should I scan photos to jpg or tiff? The massive size of a tiff file feels ugly to me, but that size difference will be meaningless in 30 years...
Right now the main differences between those formats involve compression and file sharing. JPGs are compressed files. TIFFs contain the most digital information. For me, scanning family photos from the 1930s, I chose JPGs at the highest quality, even though they are compressed. I chose this because JPGs can be shared online. I can email them, I can upload them to an online archive, I can share them now with the most people, and I can have the images reprinted as well. When working in print production, I always scanned art as hi-res (high resolution) TIFFs because printing presses will only take TIFFs, no JPGs. TIFFs are much higher quality. However, using the JPG format, I get around the compression by scanning the most important images/photos at a very hi-res -- 600 to 800 dpi (dots per inch). Therefore, even though these files, are compressed they still contian a large amount of data.
Q: Should documents be scanned to PDF? ...Will PDF be readable in 100 years?
In my opinion -- No. I scan my documents as TIFF files, simply because when it comes to handwriting, printing, text, etc, the TIFF captures more detail. In future, your heirs may have access to OCR scanners that can read your TIFFs and create editable documents from them. With my TIFFs, I then create PDFs for the purpose of sharing with others. I keep both types of files (or share the PDFs and delete them if I need space), but given the choice, I would keep a TIFF and create a PDF as necessary from the TIFF. You cannot go the other way, you cannot turn a PDF into a better quality file. And will PDFs be readable? No way to tell. No way to tell that TIFFS will be readable either. But right now PDFs are more sharable, while TIFFs capture more data.
Q: Metadata: how do I describe every document?
There is a set of metadata standards used by all librarians (well pretty much, I'm fudging for brevity) called Dublin Core. Within Dublin there are 15 standards which are the very basic, most important. You can Google to find out what they are and adapt them for your use. The positive of using Dublin Core is that for the next several decades at least there will always be people in the world who use it. The negative is, it may not work for your personal needs.
Q: My naive idea is to create an ASCII text file (probably still readable in 100 years!) which lists each file included in the archive by name, and explains the context and signficance of each. The same document would probably include a basic biography of each family member.
I think this is a great idea. Michael S. Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg, decided in the 1970s to use what is called plain vanilla ASCII for every e-book in Project Gutenberg, because back then he knew this was the format that would continue to be readable and accessible by the most people no matter what hardware or software they use. Currently Project Gutenberg does create more browser friendly formats, but those are in addition to the plain vanilla ASCII files of every single e-book.
The sad thing I have had to learn as a scrapbooker is this: just because I think something is important now doesn't mean my descendants will find it equally as important in 100 years. So you have to tell the stories that are important to you now, using what you have now, and leave it to them to continue to care for and find valuable what you have done. I have gone to so many estate sales where I have seen large scrapbooks some woman made over the course of decades, and they are for sale to strangers for a few dollars, because there were no descendants who found what she preserved to be relevant or worth keeping.
So do the best you can and leave what you have for the future, and consider you will have to migrate and redo things on a regular basis. But what you are doing is important. I wish so so much my grandparents had written on their photos who these people were, even a name or a date would have helped. But they didn't and now they are gone and no one is left to tell me why these photos are important. And *I* would have wanted to know.
So yes, this was supposed to be a short reposting, but I have had a lot to say, and I've been thinking about this topic for a couple years now. I don't know everything about the topic. And I feel like I need to keep saying this: scrapbooking is a fun hobby with a lot of value, and you (anyone) should do what you like, because you enjoy it, in a way that works for you. Just keep in mind that it is not really about what will be preserved 20 years down the road. It's about what you want to do now.