The Personal Archive: Flickr

the personal archive badgeWhen it comes to building a photo archive, nothing beats Flickr. Flickr has set the bar by collaborating with a growing number of public archives to make their photographic collections more accessible.

The Commons at Flickr hosts collections from The Library of Congress, Smithsonian Museum, George Eastman House, the British National Maritime Museum, the National Archives of the U.S., the Netherlands and the U.K, libraries from Australia and New Zealand and many more.

Florida Memory collection at FlickrWhy do these archives post their content at Flickr? For one reason it is a very search-friendly platform and by taking advantage of the available metadata options, each image is even more searchable. In addition, viewers are encouraged to add their own comments about the images which these institutions then use to learn more about the photos in their collections.

Flickr is a Yahoo property and you can create a free Flickr account using your Yahoo username. Each free account has 1TB of storage available for photos and video. That is the equivalent to more than 560,000 high-resolution photographs. In addition, you control  the privacy settings for each photo,  making it is a great place to build a personal archive of the images you wish to display along with those you wish to keep private. And it provides a much-needed off-site backup of those photos.

Flickr setsUploading files couldn’t be easier. Click the Upload item in the Flickr menu at the top of the screen and start dragging photos onto the upload screen. From here you can batch add titles and descriptions, add tags relevant to these photos and set privacy and rights options. Need help? Click the New Here? item to display a quick walk-thru tutorial at the top of the screen. Mouse over a step in the walk-thru and you’ll see a number of notes appear on your screen showing you what to do. Once you’re ready, click the Upload Photos button and Flickr takes care of the rest.

Many of today’s photo-editing apps – especially those with photo-organizing functions – include the ability to upload photos to Flickr. In the example below, you are looking at my Flickr sets from within the iPhoto app on my Mac. Once I’ve added new photos or scanned old ones to iPhoto, all I have to do is select the Share to Flickr option and they are uploaded to my Flickr account.

Flickr in iPhotoFlickr uses two primary elements for organizing photos – sets and tags. Sets are similar to albums in that you must create the set yourself and identify which photos go into it. Tags are keywords you assign to a photograph to describe it. You can add as many tags as you wish to a photo. In addition, Flickr will automatically capture the metadata contained within the digital image file. When your image is a photograph taken with a digital camera, this metadata can include things like the date/time the photo was taken, location coordinates for the photo, the camera used along with camera settings. All these elements, along with the title and description fields included for each photo, are searchable. This means all of your public photos can easily be found by research cousins looking for your ancestors and the places they lived.

Flickr’s Uploader and most of the third-party apps that support Flickr make it easy to bulk edit your photos before uploading to add titles, descriptions and tags quickly. In addition, the Edit button found on your Photostream and Set screens let you rearrange and batch edit photos once they’ve been uploaded.

Not only does Flickr give you an affordable, off-site backup for your photo collection, it can also serve as an impressive archive to attract others. Need some inspiration? Take a look at Florida Memory by Florida’s State Archives in Flickr Commons.

This article focuses on Flickr’s capability as a personal archive and off-site backup for your family photos, but that’s just the beginning. As you can see from the articles listed below, there’s a lot more photo goodness available in Flickr.

Note: This article has been updated to reflect Flickr’s current features and capabilities.

The Personal Archive – a Valuable Asset

As Denise Levenick has so beautifully illustrated in her book, How to Archive Family Keepsakes, a good part of our family “stuff” is an historical record of our lives and those of our ancestors. Those of us who have taken on the challenge of preserving our family archives have worked hard to protect our treasures and to digitize them so they can be shared with others. Add to that the research, blog posts and family stories we have generated and our archives have even more value.

Thanks to our efforts, there is now a significant amount of personal historical artifacts in digital formats. Yes, there are a number of platforms that would like to “help” us organize and present this content in a manner that will also help them generate some revenue, but I’m surprised that universities and other archives have shown little interest. While local historical and genealogical societies would seem to be the logical starting point for building collections of personal archives, many have little knowledge or experience in the digital world and may not even be aware of the potential value their members’ collections offer. Even if they don’t have the expertise or budget to create and maintain a digital archive, they could negotiate a joint effort with a nearby university that could provide benefits to everyone.

I think it’s time to start lobbying our societies and local educational institutions to support our efforts to preserve our personal archives. Not only would it give family history more exposure but it could also become a real solution to what happens to our family archives after we are gone.

Managing Your Document Archive

I’ve raved several times about the Fujitsu ScanSnap Scanner and how it has changed my life. However, this fabulous scanner is only part one of my home document management equation. Part two is the software that helps me organize my scanned documents so I can find them again when I need them.

the personal archive badgeInitially, I bought the ScanSnap scanner to manage household business paperwork – statements, receipts, warranty cards, insurance policies and such – but I found it also works great for managing instruction manuals, magazine clippings, recipes and all those other pieces of paper you want to keep but are running out of places to store. And now I have a growing collection of periodicals (technical, genealogical and historical), family histories and other electronic publications. So, my need to manage all this has grown too.

My very first scanner came with a copy of PaperPort [Windows, $99.99]. It was an amazing application, allowing me to build a catalog of every document I scanned and keep track of where all my PDF files were located on my system. Over the years, upgrades added more and more business level features to the app along with higher prices. It was still very good at what it did, but it just did much more than I needed and at a cost beyond what my budget could afford. When I moved from Windows to Mac, I did not mind leaving PaperPort behind.

I found a simple replacement in Yep [Mac, $25.99]. It organizes your PDF, iWork and Office documents making it easy to manage and find things when you need them. The cataloging system used tags (I love tags!) to organize the documents.

Recently Mariner Software released Paperless [Mac & Windows – $29.99]. In addition to managing my scanned and saved stuff, it also has an OCR capability which not only facilitates searching my paperwork but copy/pasting text from them for whatever editing requirements I have. This is especially useful for my collection of family history articles and biographies from research cousins. Paperless supports both document and receipt libraries. The catalog form for receipts includes fields for categorizing the receipt itself providing both the total cost and individual items if you want. All of this information can be sorted, filtered and exported to other apps (tax software quickly comes to mind). The document catalog form includes its own set of fields for categories, dates and other details about the document. Both the forms and the category lists can be totally customized to suit the user’s purpose. I especially like the smart collections feature – building document collections automatically based on search criteria.

Both Yep and Paperless support scanning directly from the ScanSnap scanner. Using the scanner’s manager app, I’ve set up scanning profiles that will perform both single- and double-sided scans directly into my app. I then add the appropriate metadata for organizing the document and the document management app does the rest.

Yep desktopInstead of folders, these document management apps use tags to index your documents. Here you are looking a the Yep workspace. In the left sidebar you see the tag list. Click on one or more tags to display the documents indexed with those tags. Now select a document and the right sidebar displays all the metadata associated with it. The toolbar at the top provides even more options for displaying your content – including a search bar.

Notice the Scan New Document button at the top right of the app window. This is useful when you want to scan something using a flatbed scanner. Choosing this option displays the scanning screen shown here.


Yep scanned documentOnce the item is scanned, I can quickly make adjustments using the tools at the bottom of the screen, then add metadata before saving the document into Yep.

I should note that each of these apps allow you to add existing documents to the library. In many cases, just copying the existing file into the appropriate library folder will initiate an indexing screen for entering the appropriate metadata for that document.

While these apps are fabulous for managing your family history archives, don’t stop there. I love Yep for keeping up with all my household minutea too. From receipts to instruction manuals to magazine clippings, it’s all here where I can pull whatever I need up in a matter of seconds. And digital storage is a lot cheaper than shelving and filing cabinets. Ain’t technology great!