Have you noticed the revolution in data management taking place right under our noses? The rigid systems of folders and sub-folders that kicked off the digital age are being replaced with libraries and metadata. First there were apps like iTunes and iPhoto which dumped everything into a library and used tags, dates, locations and saved searches to organize them. Photos and music could now be in multiple places at the same time without filling up our hard drives with duplicate copies of the same file.
At first I thought libraries was just a Mac thing. iTunes builds a library for your music and iPhoto does the same for your photos. Now I’m finding more and more content management apps are following that trend and the more I work with these applications, the more I appreciate the concept. Then Evernote came along. It took me a while to appreciate its value – mostly because I initially tried to create notebooks for every little thing. Once I realized that Evernote could keep track of my things better than I could, the number of notebooks dropped and I started treating it as another library. That’s when I really began to appreciate Evernote’s abilities.
Yes, I still have the remnants of the multi-level filing system I brought with me in my transition from Windows to Mac, but I have found these libraries better support my organizational style (or lack thereof). I probably should remodel my file folders, but these apps don’t seem to mind working within my antiquated system so I see no rush to change.
In addition to the iTunes, iPhoto and Evernote libraries already mentioned, I have a document library to manage personal, household and research documents and a library of electronic books and publications. There’s still a lot of other stuff filling up my storage system, but most of those are project-related – works in progress and their associated files. I manage my documents with Ironic Software’s Yep [$19.99 – Mac]. It works in a number of ways. First, I use it with my scanner to quickly index each scanned item using tags and other metadata before it’s saved in my document library. It provides fields to input the metadata I want to include with the document then stores the document in the library with the metadata firmly embedded. I also have it set up to “monitor” certain folders. When a new file is added to a monitored folder, Yep will include it in the library. It takes advantage of the Mac’s new file tagging system as it updates the library.
Once cataloged, I can easily find that item again either with Yep or with my Mac’s built-in Spotlight search feature. And, because of their metadata support, when a document is related to multiple topics or surnames I no longer need to stash multiple copies in different folders. I just keep adding tags and let the library handle the rest.
Here’s a look at some of my research docs as they appear in Yep. Although I do have the ability to manually place each item into a specific folder, I generally let Yep stash them in its document library. If you look at the status bar at the bottom of the screen, you’ll see that the selected document is buried within my own filing system. It’s one of the migratory files left over from my Windows days and I’m happy to leave it right where it is. Yep knows where it is and can find it for me in an instant.
Yep isn’t the only document manager out there. Mariner Software offers a very nice app called Paperless [$49.95 – Win and Mac] and the folks at Nuance have been managing documents for years with PaperPort [$37.49 – Win]. They all do much the same thing so it’s just a matter of style – how the application’s interface and workflow fit with the way you work.
My last library is the growing number of electronic publications – ebooks, magazines, journals, user guides and more – that reside on my network storage. I use calibre [open source – Win, Mac and Linux] to not only organize and manage these publications but to send them to my reading device of choice when I want to take something with me. It can convert HTML, rich text or plain text files to either Kindle or ePub format so I can package research files onto my e-reader for easy reference while on a research trip. I’ve found it especially useful for managing my collection of public domain books related to local and family history topics. I can use tags and notes to document what topics are contained in the book and where that information is located within the publication.
These four apps are always nearby. When I plug in my camera, iPhoto opens to accept and manage my latest photos. Scan a document and Yep is there to quickly tag and index it properly. Both iTunes and iPhoto provide media support in my other Mac apps – like the iWork suite – when I want to include an image in a document or add a soundtrack to a slideshow. These tools give me more time to concentrate on my research and storytelling as they reduce the time spent maintaining my collected files.