01 November 2011

Opening Day 3: Dear Diary ...

Each month I open, catalog and archive a box of memorabilia.  Box 3 contains diaries dating  from the late 1800s and early 1900s.  I've done some work with these diaries and love the additional detail they provide.  It is time the contents were scanned and properly archived.

On Opening Day 1, I demonstrated a technique for making a record of box contents by photographing as you unpack.  It was an infinite improvement over trying to describe each item!  But, one of the drawbacks is that some items had loose papers inside.  No problem as the location of the item can be recorded during the scanning process.  But, since archival storage materials were determined during opening day, the unique needs of the inserts were not taken into account.

Stream-lining the process, for each diary, I first photographed the lead page of the diary indicating the year.  I then removed loose papers from the diary and photographed them.   Loose papers were then placed flat in an archival quality folder labeled with the diary year and author.  Before the final archiving, some items will have to be stored  separately - newsprint is notorious for causing problems.  If a particular item is deemed worthy of scanning, the scan will replace the photograph in my digital catalog (see Creating an Archival Finding Aid with your Digital Cataloging Software).  Below is an example of the photograph catalog of one diary.

The value of the receipts and other diary inserts is easy to underestimate.  Having worked with these diaries before, it is critical to know that Jack was a dog!  I might not have thought to include dog licenses before beginning to transcribe the diaries.  It is impossible to predict what will be important.

Already I am thinking about the next steps.  For diaries, digitization questions hinge more on what to scan than complex scanning issues.  The items in the diaries include newspaper clippings, paper and stamps.  There are some interesting storage considerations.  Finally the fun part!  There are many different ways that people have shared diaries - publish (online or in print) or only share with family? annotate transcriptions or not?  print or not?  complete or partial transcription?

If you have any recommendations on diaries or have seen any great examples of diaries in print (online or offline), please share them in the comments.


  1. I like just how serious you are about this. There is a commitment to this, but also a good sense of organization, which is necessary if you don't want this becoming a nightmare. makes me think on how I organize materials for my blog.

    keep up the good work!!

  2. Ticklebear
    I had to move my digital photo collection to an iPod while my hard-drive was crashing. I hadn't yet converted them all to tiff formats so I was converting as I saved. It was a near-run thing. The hard drive put it's toes up for good within hours after the back up. I don't EVER want to be there again! So, I am trying to incorporate professional photography practices as well as archiving the originals.

    Thanks for the encouragement!

  3. I've never used the tiff format. Is it better, less compression than jpeg? I've always been content with jpeg but since I do lot of [amateurish] photography, any improvement would be welcomed.

    I dare not imagine your situation then... I finally bought myself this year an external hard drive, and when I switched computers, I felt more confident that the transfer would go smoothly. I would have hated to lose all of my data...

    an iPod, eh?!?
    one more candle on Steve Job's tomb!!

    I love what you do.
    I don't think you are into such things, and neither am I really, but I was given an "award" recently, and you were among my nominees, as I like what I've seen so far on this blog here.
    keep up the good work!!

  4. Ticklebear - Your photographs are fabulous! You should definitely be saving them as TIFs or if they are RAW format to begin with, using Adobe's free DNG format would be preferable.

    JPGs are loss-y formats meaning that each time you re-save the photo there are potential losses. The effects can be quite dramatic at times. From what I've read, professional photographers are moving to DNG. This is largely because of issues with the RAW format used in professional cameras.

    However, with this comes the issue of needing to convert the TIFs to JPGs so you can put them on the net. Most photo editing software programs make this easy. I don't even bother to keep a local JPG on my computer. (At least not anymore!)

    Thanks for the vote of confidence and encouragement! You definitely deserve the award. Your posts are fab.

  5. I'm fascinated by this project and look forward to your discoveries. I have similar organizational challenges and recently bought an inexpensive software called Frostbow Collection Manager 3.2 for cataloging my photos. My attempts at a custom spreadsheet/database had too steep a learning curve and were unfriendly for doing the data entries. This software is very adjustable and could catalog just about anything that needed several layers of sorting systems. Good luck. If I can remember where I've seen internet items on diaries I'll drop a note.


Comments welcome!