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I think I have it somewhere…

This morning, NPR ran a nice story about a lost recording of a Martin Luther King Jr. speech, returned to the world after 50 years. In the story are several important reminders for photographers to cultivate, maintain and protect their image library.

The Story
In 1960, three years before King’s landmark “I Have A Dream” speech, King spoke on the future of integration to an audience at Bethel College, a small university in Kansas.

In preparation for the 50th anniversary of this speech, Bethel College officials began searching for a copy of the speech, only to find that none existed in their archives. An e-mail plea to alumni unearthed a tape recording of the speech, luckily made by a student and kept as a keepsake to remember the event. The tape was frail and damaged, but an audio restoration company was able to digitize the recording, making Dr. King’s speech available for a new generation to appreciate.

The Lessons
Be comprehensive: When we migrate our computers, hard drives and systems forward, it’s easy to leave behind files that aren’t stored in a centralized location. Without establishing a primary point of backup for your image collection, it is difficult to ensure all your photos, both those that are valuable to you today and those that will become valuable tomorrow, are carried forward.

Get it out of your head: I’m sure you have an image sorting system in your brain, complete with captioning information, ways to access the images and exactly where each photo is stored. Over time, you’ll forget these details. I guarantee it. Use metadata to store this information so it’s recorded for years to come.

Be redundant: All media is fragile. Had Bethel College waited until the 60th anniversary of Dr. King’s speech, the tape may well have been unreadable and the recording would have been lost forever. Migrate your systems forward to new media every five years. When doing so, be sure to use file validation software to identify corrupted or damaged files so you know the archive you’re bringing forward is intact.

By following these lessons, my hope is that fifty years from know, when you’re looking for an important photo, you won’t echo the Bethel alum’s words “I think I have a copy of that somewhere” and instead say “I know exactly where that is.”

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