iPad memento use

It’s been over a year now since I loaded my digitised mementos onto my iPad using the SideBooks application – plenty enough time  to assess how useful it is having them on there. I don’t think having them on the iPad has necessarily increased how much I look at them, however, every time I do look at them I’m struck by how easy and simply wondrous it is to have all this material so immediately accessible on a tablet device. Being able to flick through all my old pocket diaries is particularly amazing. Despite my satisfaction with the iPad version, I know that at least once in the last few months, I wanted to find something out from my diaries, but opened up the laptop versions because I’d simply forgotten I had them on the iPad. This was probably because of a) infrequency of use, and b) because I have uppermost in my mind that the masters of the files are held in the laptop.  This combination will probably be generally applicable to most archival collections and will need to be addressed whenever a collection is made available on an alternative device.

I’ve now completed everything I set out to do initially on memento management. The challenge still remains of how best to make these items more visible so that they can be enjoyed and experienced to the full. However that is another piece of work for the future.

Done and Digitised – 1980-2011 !

I’ve just finished digitising the third tranche of my mementos – the material we have kept in separate pocket folders for each year since we got married in 1980. This was an even bigger job than the two previous tranches (one for work related materials, and the other for my own mementos from 1958 – 1979), since it involved so much material of such a diverse nature. The end result is 575 index entries, and 611 electronic files taking up 2.5Gb of storage. About 220 physical items were retained in either 40-Pocket Presentation Folders, Clear Foolscap Plastic Wallets, or a Display Cabinet.

Overall the whole exercise has taken about six weeks of at least a couple of hours work every day – often a lot more. The most time-consuming part of the exercise was the initial sorting and organisation of the material.  Scanning the items was relatively quick – though some couldn’t be scanned and had to be photographed and this added time to the process. I photographed three types of items: a) all the Birthday/Anniversary/Easter cards etc. that we had kept – these were photographed as groups – first the fronts and then the insides with the writing on – rather than scanning each one individually; b) large formats such as magazines, newspaper articles and some theatre programmes that were simply too big to fit on the scanner; and c) 3D physical objects such as a winners medal.

I attempted to identify the set of index terms (facets) as I went along, but inevitably requirements for new terms identified half way through affected the allocations made earlier. I also attempted to store the physical artefacts in a coherent way as I went along, but this too is difficult to finalise until the end of the process when you can see the full extent of the amount and type of material to be dealt with. To have any hope of keeping things under control it’s necessary to decide on an initial ordering criteria, such as date, and then to leave plenty of spaces to enable additional items that are encountered later on in the exercise to be slotted in. I failed to do that sufficiently well in this exercise and consequently now have most of the material in reasonable order but also a substantial number of items stored separately which need to be interleaved with the main set.

I’ve stored all the digitised items as PDF files for three reasons: a) PDF enables you to collect up several related individual scans or photographed images so that they can be accessed as a coherent set of items; b) The SideBooks App which I am using to display the items on my iPad, will only accept PDFs, ZIP, CBZ, RAR and CBR formats; c) There seems to be some consensus that PDFs are a good ‘data preservation’ format for enabling files to be read in the long term.

As with my work and pre-marriage mementos, I’ve loaded this new set into the SideBooks App on my iPad. I continue to be impressed at how easy that process is – just a matter of copying the files you want to move and pasting them into Dropbox. I tended to copy over groups of ten or twenty files at a time which take only a few seconds each to load into Dropbox.  After that, the Dropbox  page in Sidebooks can be opened and a tap on the file concerned starts the downloading process. A few seconds later it’s all done, and the first page of the PDF file is displayed as a thumbnail. I feel it is a startlingly effective way of bringing material to life that has been trapped in files and boxes. Since this set of items is as much my wife’s as mine, she too has the set of items in SideBooks on her iPad, so it will be very interesting to see if she feels the same way after she’s used it for a while.

Displaying Mementos in SideBooks

I finished sorting and scanning the initial set of mementos at the end of November last year. Of the 734 items considered, 434 were included in the collection, indexed and digitised; and, of those, 133 were retained in their original physical form and stored temporarily in presentation folders or a display cabinet. With that complete I was able to include the Memento Collection in work on understanding the role of the artefact in the digital age.

However, It was always my intention to explore ways of bringing both the physical and digital mementos to life and making them visible and accessible, at some point in the future. The opportunity to do so arrived sooner than I anticipated when, by chance, the SideBooks tool that I identified for my electronic bookshelf work turned out to be an excellent mechanism for doing just that. It displays the first page of a PDF file on a virtual bookshelf in an iPad tablet – and, since many Mementos are more pictorial than just plain text, this results in a very visible and accessible display. Furthermore, SideBooks has an inbuilt capability to import files using Dropbox. Consequently I was able to import and assemble the 400+ memento files into SideBooks on my iPad over the course of just a few days. I’m very pleased with the result. My mementos which had been locked up in a jumble in a box in the loft for years, are now visible and accessible in an instantly accessible iPad which I can carry round the house with me and take with me wherever I go. Some example screens are shown below.


I may do more work on bringing the mementos to life in the future but for now I have a very workable and serviceable solution. Of course, there is still the remainder of the Year Files from after I got married in 1980 to the present day that need to be sorted, indexed and scanned before this Journey will be complete. That exercise may throw up some further insights since, unlike the work I have done to date on my own, it will be conducted with my wife who may have other ideas of what to keep and why, and how to store and display items.

What Museums and Galleries are up to

Since my last entry five weeks ago, I’ve been consumed by digitising the Year files and am glad to say I’m almost up to 1978. However, this has been to the exclusion of most other things, so today I decided to release my brain a little and explore what museums have been doing on the net. It was a Guardian article on Gallery websites on 09Apr2013 that prompted me, and I’m very glad that I followed it up. Museums and Galleries have cottoned on in a big way that the net is another, most important, way to reach their audience. And they are exploring a variety of different ways of doing so. I was impressed by the ability to view, full screen, a huge selection of the Tate’s painting; by the Louvre’s simple and brief explanation of paintings, by a miniature avatar man (and by the fact that it was all in English); and by the Taipei’s National Palace Museum’s 3D displays of pottery which you can turn round and upside down at will. I’ve come away thinking that the ability to enlarge pictures and objects really makes a difference, and that it’s important not to overface the viewer with too much at once – give a little AND let the viewer seek more seems to work very well.  I have perceived that, once I’ve finished digitising all these year files – and family photos – and the remainder of the work-related files – once all that’s done, the real fun of exploring how to make it all come to life will begin. This initial exploration of some museums and galleries will feed my thinking for how to do that.

Update to the Wish Table Template

As I continue to deal with the Year Files (I’m up to 1972 now), I’m finding a number of ways to improve the Wish Table. So, today, I’ve completed an update [Wish Table Template v3.0 – 21Sep2013] in order to a) improve the categories of reasons for keeping things, b) include columns to specify that an item is being got rid of and why, and c) improve the layout for completing and printing the table. This will make it easier to fill in, and much easier to analyse the results – which is one the main reasons for recording  what I’m doing in the Wish Table. The original aim of the Wish Table (as described in the entry of 03Apr2013) was to help me decide what to do with each item. I can now see that the information it is recording could be analysed to contribute to our understanding of why people keep things and what they like to keep. It’s also beginning to dawn on me that the Wish Table might be useful to my family when they inherit these things from me. [NB. A further update to Wish Table Template v4.0 was produced on 18Aug2016]

Some professional input

My Memento Management activities have been interrupted for the past few months by an all-consuming effort to produce a Photo Book for my mother on her 90th birthday. I’ve just completed that, so aim to get back to Memento Management forthwith! Coincidentally, I’ve just listened to a TED Talk by Paola Antonelli, New York’s Museum of Modern Art’s senior curator, describing how she is acquiring video games as examples of interactive art, and how she goes about displaying them. Her motivation and philosophy is highly relevant to the notion of why and how to keep and display things. I shall revisit the talk some time in the future.

Today I have also emailed a contact in the Archiving field provided me by my good friend Robin Scott. The lady concerned is the Archivist for a stately home, and I’m hoping that she will be prepared to talk to me about how archiving is done professionally.

Updated Wish Table Template

Further experience of using the Wish Table has identified a need for another category for ‘Unusual item’ (U) to indicate that those inheriting a memento might find it interesting to look at. The Wish Table has been updated to include the new category. Another version of the Wish Table has also been constructed to facilitate more granular analysis of the categories that have been selected.


Wish List Template

As a precursor to starting on the Year Files, I used the analysis of what I want to achieve (described in an earlier entry), as the basis of a Wish List pick list to aid in deciding what to do with each item – the headings of that version of the Wish List are below.

After having used the Wish List for the several hundred items contained in year files for 1958 – 1969 I have observed the following.

  • New category required: Even if none of the categories apply, there are still some items which I’m reluctant to throw away. These tend to be rare or unique items which have an attractive appearance or contents of an immediate interest. An example is the first issue of the Loughborough University arts magazine Masque in 1968.  I have no particular connection to the production or contents of it – but nevertheless am reluctant to just throw it away. I propose to introduce a new category for such items called ‘Too Special to throw away’.
  • Named individuals: People other than oneself referred to in the Wish List must be specified. However, in practice, most of the time the individuals concerned are one’s family descendants. Therefore, the Wish List will be changed to require only those people other than family descendants to be specified.
  • Glance, Read and Remember categories: When selecting the Remember category I seemed to be always also selecting either a Glance or Read category as well. The Glance and Read categories are in effect the mechanism for remembering rather than a desire in their own right. To sort this out, I went back to the desires that I originally teased out for my Retirement cards (described in earlier entries), and I concluded that I was trying to distinguish between wanting to be reminded about some people/place/experience/feelings, and wanting to not forget some people/place/experience/feelings. The latter is the ‘Remember’ category and the former is the ‘Glance’ or ‘Read’ category. Therefore the three items ‘Glance’, ‘Read’, ‘Remember’ categories in the Wish List will be changed to ‘Not forget’ and ‘Be Reminded of’. These two new categories should have an impact on the storage and display options that are chosen.
  • Digitisation and Physical item options: The digitisation options specified in the ‘Digitisation to be performed’ column seemed to be always either ‘Scanned to PDF’ or ‘Photographed’; while the physical item options in the ‘What to do with the physical item’ column seemed always to be ‘Put in Presentation folder’ or ‘Destroy’. In practice these two categories seem to be mixing up a) whether a digital or physical version will be retained,  b) how the digital or physical item is to be retained, and c) how the item is to be presented in order to achieve the Wish List desires. Therefore, to make these columns more useful, they will be replaced with the following:
    – a column headed ‘Include in Digital collection Yes / No’
    – a column headed ‘Include in Physical collection Yes / No’
    – Text above the table stating “All items to be included in the digital collection will be either Scanned to a PDF file or photographed to a JPG file, given a file name which includes the Reference Number allocated in the index, and stored in the ‘PAW-PERS Files’ folder  on my laptop.
    – a column headed ‘How the digital item will be displayed’
    – a column headed ‘How the physical item will be displayed/stored’
  • Word or Excel format: The Wish List form is currently a Word file which works fine for recording the information, but makes it difficult to analyse the full set of choices that have been made. Therefore an Excel version of the form is also provided.

The Wish List Table now looks like this:

Templates of the updated Wish List form are available here:

Plans for Year Files

We have Year Files into which Su and I put material which we want to keep but for which there is no other obvious place for it to go. It’s a handy system which serves two purposes: it’s a short term store for things you might want to refer to in the next few years such as receipts, and it’s a long term store for mementos. However, as the years go by the storage space required increases relentlessly. We are now on our seventh box in the loft – below is an example of one of them.

Example of Year Files

As well as requiring storage space, there are several other disadvantages of keeping the material in this way:

  • it’s relatively difficult to access,
  • a lot of the material is generally invisible and often gets forgotten about,
  • if we move house it will add to the removal effort and cost,
  • if we move house there may not be sufficient storage space available to take it,
  • such a great pile of material may be more of a problem than a joy for those who inherit it.

To try and address these issues, we’re going to go through it, throw away unwanted material, digitise where appropriate and make visible the things we want to enjoy. The lessons learned when assembling the photobook of work experiences can be applied – particularly the approach to uncovering what we really want to achieve with each set of material and how to turn those desires into reality. As we work through it, I’ll be reporting on what we experience with each different set of material.

Sadly, the one unique feature of the Year Files will be lost – the ability to traverse a year chronologically through all its activities, family mementos, major events, and trivia. However, that’s a pleasure that, in practice, is not in great demand. In any case, once the material has been transformed, perhaps a future piece of work could explore how to re-create that experience on demand.

Photobooks work for mementos!

Well, the photobook arrived earlier this week, all pristine, clean cut, glossy and smelling like a new book should. Inside, the images and text are bright and clear. Overall, it’s everything I hoped for, and certainly looks great on my bookshelf. I’m convinced that this is a viable media for making mementos more accessible and enjoyable.

Having said that, a detailed look at the book highlighted a few points to remember for the future:

  • Snapfish doesn’t provide an automatic page numbering facility so I inserted my own in a small text box at the bottom of each page. However, some were too low and only half of some page numbers got printed. Of course, this and other typos should be picked up by printing out a draft and doing a detailed check before finally submitting for printing.
  • Some of the small headshot photos I included next to signatures on the retirement/leaving cards were too dark to be clear. Small headshots need to be relatively light.
  • Almost all the text in the jpg page images provided for the book, appears within a very faint greyish background. It’s not particularly noticeable until you focus on it, and it doesn’t detract from the look of the book – but it’s definitely there and I don’t yet understand why.

Regarding the second of my objectives – to try and understand what to do with the physical objects that are represented in the photobook – I have gained some clear insights. The answer in brief is one of the following: destroy, re-use, display, store, or make no change. The display option emerged, at least in part, from a TV interview with Aggie MacKenzie in connection with her series on storage hoarders. One of the things she said is that you should pick out a few photos that you like and put them on the wall and enjoy them; and throw the rest away. I think the concept is ideally suited to mementos in general, though slightly modified: pick out the things that are especially valuable to you and find a way to make those physical things accessible so you can enjoy them; digitise the other material that you value and find a way to make them accessible (for example, in a photobook); then throw away all the rest. Below is a list of the items I used in my photobook and what I ended up doing with them.

Item Digitisation method What I did with it afterwards
Leaving and retirement cards Scanned Destroyed and recycled
Retirement email messages None required Put in zip file and filed on PC
Leaving texts, poems and annotated gift wrap Scanned No change – retained inside the Atlas that was given to me
Job offer letters Scanned Destroyed and recycled
Paypacket envelopes Scanned Destroyed and recycled
Payslips Scanned Stored the first and last two from each job. Destroyed the rest.
Certificates (University Degree, Ergonomics Society award) Scanned No change (one in certificate file and one on the wall)
Special company brochures/newsletters Scanned Retained in display folder
Cosmos project brochure Scanned Retained in display folder
Reject drills and cutting bits (souvenirs from lathe job) Photographed Put three examples into my display cabinet and threw away the rest
Crystal paperweight from bid win Photographed Put into the crystal cabinet in the dining room
CSC Management principles in desk stand Photographed  and scanned Put into loft box of old folders and desk equipment, awaiting re-use
CSC marketing folding block Photographed Put into the toybox
CSC logo lapel pin Photographed Put into my jewellery box
CSC Vision Card Scanned Destroyed and recycled
CSC key ring Photographed Put into hall drawer in case we need a keyring
CSC marketing peppermint dispenser Photographed Threw it away for recycling
Plastic block certificate for contributing to CSC papers Photographed Threw it away

It was hard throwing away some of the things, particularly the retirement and leaving cards (some of which were over thirty years old), even though I know I’ll look at their contents in the photobook much more now than I would have before.  Somehow there’s something about throwing away an original thing (I can imagine having the same pangs about deleting a special set of electronic files). I guess different people have different thresholds – but whatever your threshold is, based on my experience, there’s a little pang of regret when they go.