U4.3 Examples of OFC projects

Below are some examples of OFC projects that have been fully documented within this web site:

A. Letters: Around 1900 letters and cards were scanned and a subset retained in physical form.
B. Mementos: Around 1500 mementos were digitised, of which about 350 were retained in physical form. The work mementos were made into a 72 page book produced by the Snapfish service.
C. Books: Around 180 paperback and hardback books were digitised by cutting them from their spines and putting them through a scanner sheet feeder. The digitised books were transferred into an iPad where they were displayed in the Sidebooks app.
D. T-Shirts: Ten T-shirts with logos and pictures of relevance to the owner, were photographed in various settings. The photos were used to make a climate change collage. The logos and pictures were cut-out of the T-Shirts and assembled together in a frame.
E. Music: a complete collection of music and recorded conversation originating in various formats, was digitised and transferred to an iPhone. An Amazon Echo ‘Alexa’ product was installed and a subscription taken out to Amazon music. All the albums with their covers and contents, and an indication if they were available via Alexa, were printed out and hand-bound into a hardcopy book.
F. Photos: Over 18,000 family photos spanning 130 years were digitised, given meaningful file titles, and indexed. The hardcopy photos were placed into albums.
G. Posters: About 80 posters and paintings were photographed. Some of the posters were stored in the back of a large frame so that they could be displayed in rotation. The first display in the frame was a collage of journal covers with a surround made up of thumbnails of all the posters and paintings.
H. Household Files: Over 9,000 household documents, both hardcopy and in emails, were sorted and reorganised. Some paper items were digitised.
I. Loft contents: The contents of the loft were sorted and many items discarded. The remainder were photographed, allocated a unique number, and placed in a numbered position in the loft. All this information was recorded in a database, so that the contents of the loft could be viewed without actually going up there.

Each of the above projects is described in more detail below using the activities defined in the model in unit 4.2.

A. Letter Keeping

Define what & why: Entire collection of most letters received over a 50 year period. Saved for reference and sentimental reasons.
Plan: Sort in date order by sender. Scan and keep only a subset in physical form.
Sort & organise: 1900 letters and cards from 145 people were sorted over a 10 week period.
Digitise: All letters from a single person/couple were scanned together into a single PDF file  – or into several PDFs if there were a lot. File titles of the following form were specified: date range, Name of sender, type of relationship or key information contained.  This structure enables single letters to be filed as they arrive.
Store: An overall ‘People’ folder was created containing a single folder for each correspondent into which the individual files were placed. Physical letters that were retained were stored in display folders in alphabetical correspondent order, which were placed in a cupboard.
Use: The letters are accessed for reference and to refresh memories.
Exploit: A subset of the letters were downloaded to the Sidebooks iPad app via Dropbox, where they now reside in a Letters folder.
Maintain: The People folder is backed up to a cloud service, and also periodically backed up to an external hard disk. A Digital Preservation project will be undertaken on the collection in the future in order to produce a Digital Preservation Maintenance Plan.

B. Memento Management

Define what & why: Contents of 30+ folders in which sundry documents were placed and stored in boxes in the loft. Saved for reference and interest.
Plan: Discard uninteresting items. Log the rest in an index and digitise them. Keep the physical version of a subset of the items.
Sort & organise: Separated into two groups – work-related & pre-marriage mementos;  and post-marriage mementos – then worked on each group in turn. Discarded unwanted items and put the remainder in date order. In the work-related & pre-marriage group, 734 items were sorted of which 300 were discarded. In the post-marriage group, 575 items remained after unwanted items were discarded.
Digitise: Two Indexes with the same structure were created in Excel spreadsheets – one for each group. An entry was created in one or other of the Indexes for each item in turn, after which it was either scanned to PDF, or, if it was too big for the scanner, photographed to JPG.  The files were given titles containing the unique number allocated in the index followed by a short description then the date of publication of the item.
Store: Each group of memento files were stored in a separate single level folder. 133 work items and 220 post-marriage items were retained in physical form and stored in display folders which were placed in a cupboard.
Use: The mementos are accessed for reference and to enjoy with family and friends
Exploit: A 72 page,  8x11in, book was produced of various work mementos including offer letters, leaving cards, example payslips, major achievements, and retirement messages. The book was created in the Snapfish web site and printed and delivered by Snapfish in about a week at a cost of just under £40. A subset of all the mementos were downloaded to the Sidebooks iPad app via Dropbox, where they now reside in various folders.
Maintain: The memento folders are backed up to a cloud service, and also periodically backed up to an external hard disk. The work-related & pre-marriage memento collection was subjected to a Digital Preservation exercise in which some files were converted to PDF/A-1b format, and a Preservation Maintenance Plan was produced. A similar exercise will be performed on the post-marriage group in the future in order to produce a Digital Preservation Maintenance Plan.

C. Electronic Bookshelf

Define what & why: Personal collections of paperbacks, university books, and technical work-related books. Saved for reference and because they represent my professional position and capabilities.
Plan: Photograph the books on their shelves and produce posters from the photos. Scan the books. Attempt to find a system whereby you can select a book on the posters and have the text appear on screen.
Sort & organise: All books containing a contribution from the owner, and a few other special books, were separated out and retained in their physical form. Each of the three sets of books – paperbacks, university, technical work – were arranged in appropriate order on their shelves.
Digitise: Each set of books was photographed on their shelves. The books were then cut from their spines and scanned through the sheet feeder. The covers were scanned separately, and those too big for the scanner (including dust jackets) were photographed. The text and the jackets were brought together in a single PDF into which named bookmarks were placed at the start of every chapter. 111 paperbacks were dealt with over a 7 week period; and then, after having gained the experience with the paperbacks, the 75 hardbacks were dealt with over a 10 day period. All hardcopy pages were thrown away apart from the covers and the publisher pages which were retained to prove ownership in case copyright issues arise. No economically viable system was found to automate the link between selecting a book on a poster and opening the book on the laptop.
Store: The digital files were placed in one single level folder in the laptop. The physical dust jackets and publisher pages were stored in the loft in an old portable computer bag.
Use: The digital books are accessed for reference or to re-read.
Exploit: Four sizes of posters were printed using the Snapfish service from the photos of the books on shelves – 40x30cm (full size), 30x20cm, 18x12cm,  and 15x10cm. These were placed on various walls in the study to see which size worked best. Eventually the second biggest size was selected and was placed in a frame and hung on the wall in front of the study desk. The third biggest size was placed on white paper and put underneath the plastic transparent desk mat on which my mouse and keyboard sit; and the smallest size was put into a 20x16in frame and given to my son and his wife for the library area in their new home. All the digitised books were also shipped to an iPad app called Sidebooks via Dropbox; and were stored there in one of three sections – Paperbacks, University Books, and Work Books.
Maintain: The Books folder is backed up to a cloud service, and also periodically backed up to an external hard disk. A Digital Preservation project will be undertaken on the collection in the future in order to produce a Digital Preservation Maintenance Plan.

D. T-Shirt Transmigration

Define what & why: Collection of 11 T-shirts with logos, pictures or words on them. Saved because they were reminders of past events, activities, organisations, or people.
Plan: Photograph the T-shirts in four ways – as images in their own right; as evidence that I was somewhere or was doing something; as reminders of the purpose they were created for; and as illustrations of the feelings I had for the purpose they were created for. Create a collage about climate change from the photos and the T-Shirts. Create a collage of the logos, pictures or words that have been cut out from the T-Shirts.
Sort & organise: No sorting was required – all 10 of the different T-Shirts were used and the one duplicate was discarded.
Digitise: Each T-Shirt was photographed in the four ways envisaged – as images just laying on the floor; with me wearing them indicating evidence of my involvement with them in some way; with various related artefacts on and around them to act as reminders of what was associated with the T-Shirts, and hung on a frame with a cardboard cutout head painted in a way that represents the feelings I have about whatever is represented by each T-Shirt. The individual logos, pictures or words were then cut out from the T-Shirts and photographed in their own right.
Store: All the T-Shirt pictures were stored in the T-Shirt Transmigration folder in the laptop. The physical logos, pictures or words cut out from the T-Shirts are stored as a collage in the large picture frame used for rotating pictures and posters (see Exploit)
Use: The collage of physical logos, pictures or words cut out from the T-Shirts is used to refresh memories of the event or person represented (see Exploit).
Exploit: The individual logos, pictures or words cut from the T-Shirts were assembled together in a large collage. The four sets of photos were used to construct a collage about climate change.
Maintain: The T-Shirt Transmigration folder is backed up to a cloud service, and also periodically backed up to an external hard disk. A Digital Preservation project will be undertaken on the collection in the future in order to produce a Digital Preservation Maintenance Plan.

E. Music Management

Define what & why: Entire collection of music, recorded conversations, and spoken word publications on tapes, LPs, 45s, CDs and MP3s. Saved for the pleasure of listening to or because they record a unique moment in time.
Plan: Digitise all items and obtain a digital cover for each album.
Sort & organise: The first tranche of work was undertaken in 2008. LPs that were not replaced with CDs were set aside for digitisation. All reel-to-reel and cassette tapes, 45s, and CDs in the study, were also assembled in separate groups. Some particular LPs, and all singles, were also selected from parents collection. The second tranche of work in which all the remaining household CDs were assembled and sorted into alphabetical artist order, was undertaken in 2017.
Digitise: In the first tranche of work, reel to reel tapes were digitised, for a fee, by an ex-BBC sound engineer who was a friend of a friend. LPs and 45s were digitised using a Numark TTUSB turntable and the Audacity software. Cassette tapes were digitised in the same way by playing them on an old ghetto blaster cassette player plugged into the Numark turntable. A single file was created for each track, amounting to about 4,500 files. Cover art for each album was either downloaded from the net, or acquired locally by photographing an existing cover or by creating a cover in Powerpoint. The second tranche of digitising about 80 CDs took place in 2017 using the Windows media player RIP feature. For each of these items the ‘Details’ tab of the file properties was ensured to be filled in correctly with Track Title, Artist Name, Supporting Artists, Album Name, Year, and Genre; and cover art was downloaded from the net or scanned from the CD covers.
Store: The track files for both tranches of work were stored in the My Music section of the Windows laptop in folders for each artist containing sub-folders for each album. There are about 135 artist folders, some 280 album folders, and approximately 5,600 tracks taking up about 22Gb. The physical tapes, LPs, Singles, and CDs are stored in the loft to prove ownership in case copyright issues arise.
Use: The music was played as required through the laptop and also through the house TV via a Wi-Fi connection.
Exploit: Much of the collection was originally stored in an Apple iPod and played on a shuffle basis. More recently it was stored on an iPhone and played as and when required. In 2017, the cover art for every album, together with the track listing underneath, was included in a word-processed document. The document also included albums we used to a have but haven’t any more; and also items picked out from listening to samples in Amazon of albums that appeared in a regular newspaper review. In the document, each album is colour coded to indicate whether it can be played from Amazon’s music library (to which we subscribe) via Amazon’s Echo (Alexa) product; or whether it has to be played through Alexa from the iPhone. The book was printed and hand bound as a hardcopy book; and a cover was created in Powerpoint and reproduced by printing on an extended length of wallpaper lining paper.
Maintain: The My Music folder is backed up to a cloud service, and also periodically backed up to an external hard disk. A Digital Preservation project will be undertaken on the collection in the future in order to produce a Digital Preservation Maintenance Plan.

F. Organising Family Photos

Define what & why: Four entire collections of photos, slides, cine film and video have been dealt with using the same approach: husband’s pre-marriage photos; wife’s pre-marriage photos; couple’s post-marriage photos; and husband’s parent’s photos. Saved for reference and sentiment, and to pass on down the family.
Plan: Create a single digital index for all the photos, including new additions. Deal with the collections in the following order: husband’s pre-marriage; couple’s post-marriage; wife’s pre-marriage; and husband’s parents. Digitise all photos and store all physical photos in physical albums.
Sort & organise: Sorting was undertaken at the following times: husband’s pre-marriage material started in 1978 and was completed in approximately 1994; couple’s post-marriage material started in about 1995 and was completed around 2011; wife’s pre-marriage material was undertaken in 2011; and husband’s parents material started in 2012 and was completed in 2016 (some audio recordings were also made of the mother talking about the photos in the course of them being sorted). Physical photos for each collection were sorted into sets (ie. photographed on a single roll of film) and the sets were sorted by date.
Digitise: A digital Index of the sets of photos (not each photo within a set) was created in Microsoft Excel. Each set was allocated a unique number in the Index and this number was used to generate a unique number for each digital photo. For example, in the set numbered 1347 containing 20 photos, the first photo was numbered 1347-01, the second 1347-02, the third 1347-03, and the twentieth 1347-20. Audio recordings of the mother talking about some of the photos were made using the ClearRecord Lite app on the iPhone. Physical photos and slides were initially scanned to TIFF using an HP 5690 scanner using HP scanning software but this was found to produce file sizes which were too large. They were subsequently scanned to JPG at 600dpi. The scanner was replaced by a Canon DR-2020U during the period when the husband’s parents material was being scanned. Cine film and VHF-Video was first converted to DVDs using a specialist service; and then converted to MP4 using Windows MovieMaker and DVDVideosoft’s Freestudio software. Each file produced from all these digitisation processes was given a title in the following format: Unique Number – description of content – earliest date of photos in the set.
Store: All still photos are stored in the My Pictures folder within a folder for the relevant set, on the Windows laptop (there are currently about 18,000 still images in the collection taking up about 50Gb). All moving image files are stored directly in the My Videos folder on the Windows laptop (there are currently about 90 moving picture files taking up about 13Gb). All physical photos are stored in 2 slot 6×4 slip-in albums (larger photos are made to fit in the albums by slitting the top of the bottom slip-in slot). A slip-in tab provides the file title for both photos on each page. All negatives, duplicate physical photos, and original slides, cine films and VHF videos, are stored in a case in the loft.
Use: Physical albums are used to look up particular people, events or places. The Windows search facility is used to search the digital file titles when looking for particular photos or types of photos.
Exploit: Two photos have been printed out as canvas prints for the walls in one of the bedrooms. Two others have been printed out as posters and placed in frames in the conservatory. All images in the My Pictures folder are displayed on a revolving basis on the laptop desktop via the Windows Slideshow Desktop Gadget.
Maintain: The My Pictures and the My Videos folders are backed up to a cloud service, and also periodically backed up to an external hard disk. A copy is also held on the other laptop in the house. The photos collection was subjected to a Digital Preservation exercise in which some files were converted to PDF/A-1b format, and a Preservation Maintenance Plan was produced.

G. Poster Management

Define what & why: All the posters, paintings and drawings in the house, some of them stored away and others on the walls. Saved because they are good to look at, or for sentimental reasons.
Plan: Digitise them all by photographing them. Include the digital files in the photos index. Create a revolving display of the posters in a large frame.
Sort & organise: About 80 items were assembled in the course of the sorting exercise.
Digitise: Each item was photographed over a two week period, included in the Photos Index, and given the standard photos file title: Unique Number – Description of Content – Earliest Date.
Store: The digital files were stored with the photo collection in the My Pictures folder. Some of the larger physical posters were stored at the back of the picture frame that was purchased to facilitate a revolving display of posters. The remaining physical items were either hanging on the walls, or stored in the loft.
Use: The digital versions are not accessed on a regular basis, but will be available should it ever be necessary to make an insurance claim. The pictures that are hung on the walls are viewed and enjoyed on a daily basis The physical folders that are stored in the back of the picture frame may be displayed from time to time as the posters are rotated through the frame.
Exploit: The Windows Screen Background facility and the Windows Screensaver facility have both been set up to revolve through all these digital items, so one or other of these pictures is usually viewed by the laptop user each day. The purchase of a frame to enable posters to be revolved through it, prompted the creation of a collage of covers from the ACM Interactions magazine (addressing Human-Computer Interaction topics) which had long been intended.  The collage was the first occupant of the frame.  Thumbnails of all the photos of the posters, paintings and drawings were printed out and used as a surround to this collage.
Maintain: The My Pictures folder is backed up to a cloud service, and also periodically backed up to an external hard disk. A copy is also held on the other laptop in the house. The photos collection was subjected to a Digital Preservation exercise in which some files were converted to PDF/A-1b format, and a Preservation Maintenance Plan was produced.

H. Household File Management

Define what & why: All items to do with running the household, including both physical and digital items. Saved to enable the efficient operation of the household.
Plan: Go through all the items, digitising and discarding as necessary.
Sort & organise: 9,800  documents residing in 113 files in 15 separate locations (71% were in email folders) were sorted over a 6 week period. 1980 documents were discarded (some of these will have been discarded after digitising them.
Digitise: Most documents were scanned to PDF  and given file titles in the format: Date – Substantive Information. Other documents such as instruction manuals and recipes were not digitised.
Store: Household digital files are stored in various folders on the laptop. Most of the physical files are stored in a chest. Others physical items are stored in the kitchen, study and shed.
Use: Accessed in the course of conducting household business.
Exploit: No exploitation as yet.
Maintain: The household folders are backed up to a cloud service, and also periodically backed up to an external hard disk. A Digital Preservation project will be undertaken on the collection in the future in order to produce a Digital Preservation Maintenance Plan.

I. Loft Management

Define what & why: All the contents of the loft. Saved for a variety of reasons including possible future use and sentiment.
Plan: Obtain an RFID system and place an RFID tag on each item. Create a database of all the items in the loft and synchronise it with the RFID system.
Sort & organise: The loft was first sorted in 2004 during which many items were discarded and about 250 items were retained. About a further 90 items were added over the following 11 years. Several more items were discarded in the move to a new house in 2015. In 2016, a new loft system was initiated with about 95 items. In the Specification document for both the old system and the new system, Containers and Loft Positions were also defined and given unique numbers.
Digitise: In 2004, no RFID system that was cheap enough could be found, so a filemaker database was set up to allocate a unique number to each item and to record a photo and a description of each item. Changes and additions to the contents of the loft were managed in this database. In 2016, when a loft system was being established in a new house, the UGrokIT system was found to be almost, but not quite cheap enough. However, the UgrokIT iPhone app was free, so it was adopted to replace the Filemaker database in lieu of the UGrokIT RFID reader coming down in price.
Store:  All items, containers, and positions are now documented in the UgrokIT database along with their photograph (taken on the iPhone from within the UGrokIT app). The physical items, containers, and positions all reside in the loft.
Use: The loft database is referred to when a) trying to find out what is in the loft; b) when trying to find if a particular item is in the loft; and c) when trying to add, change or remove an item to/from the loft. The loft itself is accessed when wanting to access an item in the loft or when placing new items in the loft.
Exploit: In the original loft system in the previous house, the database entries, including photos and descriptions, for all items were printed out, 8 to a page, and assembled in a display booklet for the family to use.
Maintain: A copy of the UGrokIT database is maintained in the UGrokIT cloud. The iPhone version of the database is backed up periodically in iTunes. A Digital Preservation project will be undertaken on the collection in the future in order to produce a Digital Preservation Maintenance Plan.

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U4.2 A model of OFC activities

The model below illustrates what the main OFC activities are, and the way in which they relate to each other.

Define What & Why involves identifying what objects and/or locations are going to be dealt with, and the rationale that is going to be applied for keeping and discarding items.

Plan refers to deciding how you are going to do the work; what sort of storage is going to be used; and what digital technology will be employed.

Sort & Organise concerns the process of organising the objects in the collection, and keeping some while discarding others.

Digitise is the activity of creating digital versions of physical objects, and/or creating digital support for the collection.

Store refers to placing the physical and the digital items into their permanent locations.

Use involves all the ways in which the re-organised collection will be put to use.

Exploit concerns the way objects from one or more collections can be manipulated and combined in innovative ways to create interesting experiences for the person performing the exploitation and for others who enjoy the results.

Maintain is the activity of backing up digital materials, and keeping digital systems up to date, to protect against loss or the inability to read the materials in the future.

Each of these activities is described in more detail in units 5 – 12.

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U4.1 The basic approach – with no digital support

A key element of the OFC approach is the organisation of a collection of things. Understanding how to go about this, and being able to actually do it effectively, are essential pre-requisites for a successfull OFC project. The following 11 step process is one way of doing it:

  1. Be clear about what specific categories of stuff you want to deal with.
  2. Figure out why you want to keep each category.
  3. Take the opportunity to reassess what you really want to keep/collect going forward.
  4. Decide where the best place is to store each category.
  5. Be clear about the specific space you are going to use for storage.
  6. Decide how you will set out, equip and organise the storage space.
  7. Do a quick sort of each category into sub-categories.
  8. As you do the quick sort, set aside the stuff you want to throw away or dispose of.
  9. Decide exactly how you will store each sub-category.
  10. Go through each sub-category in detail, organising as required.
  11. Set up the storage space/containers/equipment and store the sorted sub-categories.

The short 2 page description of Practical approaches to Order from Chaos provides a more detailed description of each step.

If one was to undertake a lot of OFC projects – especially if they were to be on behalf of other people – it might be worth creating some checklists of requirements and activities. The requirements could be in the form of a Service List specifying what is required (for example, are photos required of each object); and the activities could be in the form of a Process List including items such as, Inspect site/artefacts, Assemble kit, Define end layout etc. The Service list and Process List in the links above assume that the work is being undertaken as a service at a price. However they can be modified to suit your own requirements.

Two other approaches which provide alternative perspectives on organising collections are documented in the following books:

The links above take you to reviews of the books which include summaries of their general approaches.

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U4 Approach – Introduction

Before embarking on an OFC project, it’s worth understanding the general approach that you will need to take. This section provides the following material to help you with that:

4.1 The basic approach – with no digital support
4.2 A model of OFC activities
4.3 Examples some OFC projects
4.4 Points to bear in mind

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U3.5 Why do it? – Why bother exploiting your collections?

There is little point in keeping things if you are not going to enjoy them and/or use them. By using the flexibility of the digital you can exploit the contents of your collections, make them visible, and bring them to life. There are a huge numbers of ways in which you can present items, relate items together, make up quizzes about items, tell stories about items etc. etc.; and then use digital technology to produce the results in some form or other.

The process of doing this will enable you to explore your collections, and may remind you of things you have forgotten. The results can be shared and enjoyed with family and friends. Indeed this is an effective way of helping family members to learn a bit more about their history.

The actual doing of such exploitation activities can also be fulfilling as a way of expressing one’s own creative desires and inspirations – even if you are worried that they might appear a little unusual or strange. This story about Kurt Vonnegut provides encouragement to all who may have such concerns: Schoolchildren wrote to him asking him to speak to them. he replied saying, “……What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: practise any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, no matter how well or badly, not to get money or fame but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow… Do it for the rest of your lives!”

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U3.4 Why do it? – Why use digital technology to organise your collections?

Some of the more common reasons for using digital technology to organise a collection are:

To free up space: Scanning documents and discarding the paper originals is a very common solution to the problem of overflowing file cabinets and drawers. The same principle can be applied to objects by photographing them.

To make the contents of a collection more portable: Digitised documents, books (see the 4th para of this link), music, mementos, and objects can all be enjoyed anywhere on light, easy to carry, tablet computers.

To provide an index to make it easier to manage and find things: Collections can have their own in-built filing structure (alphabetical order for example, or all electrical goods in one place and all sports equipment in another). However, this requires you to be actually looking at the collection to discern the arrangement and scrutinise its contents. Having a digital index enables the collection’s contents to be inspected at the time and place of your own choosing. It also allows an item to be searched for and, if position information is included in the index, its exact location to be established before visiting the collection itself.

To exploit a collection’s contents: Once digitised there are many different ways in which items can be put to use, made more visible, and just generally enjoyed. For example, documents and photos can be reproduced in books; posters can be produced of various aspects of a family’s history; greetings cards, cushions mugs etc. can all include photos. All these things and more can be achieved quite simply and cheaply using services available on the net; though much can be achieved simply with a home computer and printer. Of course, if you really want to combine the best of the new with the old, you can create a book on your computer, print out the pages, and then bind the pages manually using book binding techniques developed over the centuries.

To get rid of things but still be able to see them: Sometimes you have things which you never really look at or use, and that you think you ought to throw away; but to which you feel an attachment that prevents you from taking that final step of destruction. Digital technology resolves the problem for you. Once digitised the physical artefacts can be destroyed but you will still have the digital images tucked away, taking up no visible space, but always there should you want to take a look.

To make things more visible: Unless a physical collection is deliberately displayed, its contents are usually hidden and have to be  accessed to look at. However, the contents of a digital collection can be continually displayed on a computer as a desktop background, a screen saver, or as an image display gadget. Alternatively, they can be displayed on a digital picture frame. Books provide another example: when physical books are displayed on a bookshelf, you can’t see their covers. However, digital book collections are usually displayed on screen with their covers side by side (see the last para of the link). Interestingly, physical book titles have to be read sideways down the spine, whilst in the digital environment a stack of books can be displayed on their sides (see the penultimate para of the link) so that the titles can be read horizontally.

To share copies: The ease with which digital copies can be made  and distributed makes it much easier to share digital items than physical items. Of course true sharing, in which only one copy exists but is accessed by two or more people, can also be enabled in the digital environment by the use of cloud services or by the use of a shared computer server.

To record pictures and sounds: These days, we don’t have to choose to use digital technology to take photos or videos of our family, friends, experiences and places we visit: digital photography is the norm. Similarly, the digital recording and playing of music and spoken word books is also the norm. Sometimes people also employ digital recording to capture the spoken memories of their older family members and of local people.

There are, of course, some points to bear in mind before deciding to use a digital approach:

The choice between physical and digital: Physical objects have characteristics which can’t (currently) be replicated digitally, for example, the scent of a love letter, the touch of a fabric, the weight of a medal, or the fragility of a falling-apart book. These are characteristics that we are deciding to destroy when we choose digital over physical. In these cases, a hybrid approach in which a collection has both the physical and digital versions of an object, is worth considering.

Physical naturalness vs digital engineering: People appreciate and make use of the physical things they find and have – they enjoy the simplicity and immediacy of the physical. They may engineer systems around them (for example, put them in albums) but that is usually just for additional enjoyment. In the digital world, however, we are forced into engineering systems. For a start, you need another device (a computer), primed with appropriate software, to enjoy the digital artefacts. So what was a simple and straightforward world of physical things for individuals and the previous generations of their families, has now been encroached upon by an engineered world that requires continuous care and attention in order to access these new digital things. An example which illustrates this tension between physical and digital is the daily To Do List. On the face of it, this is an activity which cries out for digital support: a text list is created, items are crossed of it, and things still on the list at the end of the day need to be transferred to the next day’s list. Despite this, however, some people try the electronic version but then revert back to paper (see the 3rd and 5th paras of this link) citing its immediacy and simplicity.

The fragility of the digital: Our digital systems have many vulnerabilities. For example:

  • Both the hardware and the software is prone to developing faults and requiring repair or replacement. They also require periodic updating to enable them to use the newer  systems and to operate effectively within the support regimes of the suppliers.
  • The inter-connectedness and complexity of computers make them vulnerable to criminals intent on data and identity theft.
  • The information that is held on a computer can be totally lost in a system crash, disk crash, computer virus attack, fire, or flood.
  • The digital world is complex to understand and sometimes to use. Even if you have figured out how to deal with one type of digital object, there is no guarantee that other objects in your digital collections can be accessed by the same software, or that they can be moved from one software system into another. For example, extracting emails and texts from multiple different services to establish a single file of communications could be very difficult to achieve.

Conversion can sometimes be difficult: Scanners and digital cameras are usually easy to use; but sometimes the demands of the objects being digitised make things more difficult. For example, trying to scan an A3 page, or a whole page of a newspaper, can’t be done on an A4 scanner in one pass. The only way to do it is to make a scan of each part and hope that the reader will make sense of the combined set of images.  Similar problems occur when scanning documents with multiple folds in which specific areas are revealed when specific elements are unfolded. The person doing the scanning has to make choices about what elements to scan in what order; and the reader may find it difficult to make sense of the resulting multiplicity of scanned images. Books, too, present a problem if you want to scan them. Sometimes the spine will not bend enough to allow a clear scan up to the spine side of each page. If you want to be able to use a sheet feeder on a book (to avoid the trouble of having to scan each page or pair of pages), it will be necessary to cut the pages from the spine which effectively destroys the book. Photographing objects may also be problematic. There are, of course, the normal challenges of getting appropriate lighting and minimising glare and reflection. Beyond this, however, it can be quite difficult to photograph flat items without making them appear larger or smaller on one side than another. The camera needs to be positioned in exactly the same plane as the item being photographed  in order to achieve a picture that isn’t distorted. A tripod can help – but the camera still has to be positioned correctly in the first place.

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U3.3 Why do it? – What are the pros and cons of organising your collections?

It’s not essential to be organised or tidy – life will not come to an end if you’re not. However there are certain advantages and they are outlined below. Of course, most good things come with a price and the disadvantages and difficulties are also described.


Perhaps the biggest benefit of having an organised collection is that you are actually able to find things in it; and possibly much faster and more easily than otherwise. By the same token, it may  also be easier to store things simply because there is an established place for things to go.

Another key advantage is that having an organised collection probably means that you are managing the space it takes up. That’s not to say that it’s necessarily taking up less space – just that you are more likely to be in control of the space and ensuring that it’s not interfering with other activities or generally being a worry. By being in control, you can decide whether to adjust/move the storage space to optimise your overall layout.

By actively organising a collection, you are probably going to be making more careful judgements about what you are putting in it. You may even be more diligent about going through it and clearing out items that you no longer need; and this closer attention to its contents may renew your interest in certain items and inspire you to give more visibility to them.

If part or all of a collection is covered by insurance, then any records that are kept to manage the collection could be invaluable in a) assessing how much insurance to take out, and b) in making a claim for loss or damage.

If you spend the time and effort in organising a collection, you may be more inclined to keep it in order than you were previously because you won’t want your efforts to be wasted. Both Marie Kondo and Liz Davenport believe that if you apply their techniques to your collections you will experience a changed mindset which will make it easier for you to keep organised going forwards.

Completing the organisation of your collections may make you feel better and more content with life. Indeed Marie Kondo and Liz Davenport both believe that once you have become organised, you are more likely to be able to discover what it is you really want to do in life.

Summary of the advantages

  • Enables you to find things
  • Makes it easier and quicker to find things
  • Makes it easier to store things
  • Prevents storage requirements spiralling out of control
  • Inspires greater selectivity about what is included
  • Increases the likelihood of undertaking regular clearouts
  • Improves the chances of discovering forgotten items
  • Supports the insurance process
  • Changes your mindset such that it becomes easier to keep things in order subsequently
  • Makes you feel better and more content


Organising a chaotic mess is a hard thing to do. It will require some effort and some sort of plan of how you are going to do it. Some people don’t even know where to start.

Getting a collection in order may well take quite a bit of time – time which you may feel could be better spent on more important things.

In the course of organising a collection you are likely to have to make some hard decisions about what to throw away and what to keep.

One person’s idea of what an organised collection looks like may still look chaotic to another person. So, when a collection belongs to two or more people in a household, office, or elsewhere, it’s important to ensure that the way it is organised works for all the owners. This can complicate matters.

Once you have finished organising a collection, you will have to continue to manage it to ensure that it doesn’t fall back into its original state. This treadmill of continuous work that has to be done to keep collections in order can feel like a chore and not something that you particularly want to do.

Summary of the disadvantages and difficulties

  • It’s hard to do and requires some effort
  • Takes quite a bit of time
  • Requires difficult decisions to be made about what to keep and what to throw away.
  • It may be more difficult to organise a collection with multiple owners
  • Continuous work required to keep collections in order

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U3.2 Why do it? – What problems arise as collections build up?

The most obvious characteristic of a growing collection is that it takes up more space; and it is usually space that we haven’t got. Many people are disinclined to have clear-outs unless they really have to, and so, as a collection gets bigger, the clearout task seems more and more difficult so is less and less likely to happen. Whether it’s a desk drawer, a garage, or a mobile phone, we usually end up having to have a rapid clear out in order to make room for the new things we urgently want to store.

Another feature of a collection that’s getting bigger is that it often gets harder and harder to see what it contains and to find something within it. Sometimes things just become invisible and then forgotten about in an amorphous mass of stuff. Even if a collection is well organised, it is very likely that mistakes will be made and items will get stored in the wrong place. Over a period of time such errors may result in a significant number of misplaced items that can’t be found. This problem is exacerbated by the way in which we often design our storage to be easy to get things out, whereas it would be more helpful in the long term to make it easy to put things away in the correct place.

In the longer term, large unmanaged collections will require increased removal effort when we move house; and they will present more of a problem than a joy for those who inherit.

Marie Kondo in her book ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying’ believes that letting collections grow like topsy is not just a practical problem, but that it actually affects people’s lives. She says that, if you keep putting stuff away in drawers or boxes, before you realise it your past will become a weight that holds you back and keeps you from living in the here and now.

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U3.1 Why do it? – Why do we keep things?

Marie Kondo, the author of ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying’, has some very clear answers to this question. She says we that we keep things because either we become too attached to the past or we have a fear of the unknown future; and that we fail to get to grips with clutter as an instinctive reflex to avoid thinking about the other issues in our lives. That we may become too attached to the past seems a valid point, however the other two assertions may be a little speculative, and, in any case are made with respect to one’s general household possessions. If we consider something rather more specific such as photos, people seem to keep them a) as a reminder of the past, and b) to share their experiences with others. There are many aspects to the first reason including:

Most of these reasons could also be said to apply to keeping letters sent from someone you were close to. However, there are two other important reasons for keeping letters – to be able to find out facts about the sender at a later date; and also to act as a focal point for reflection – reflection about the relationships one has had and about the value of friendship.

We keep our personal writings, diaries and poetry for similar reasons, though, in this case, the reflection we may wish to do is about how we feel about things, what we have done and how we have conducted ourselves. Interestingly, the ability to find out something you had forgotten from personal writings includes the ability to find out the true facts about something you had remembered wrongly. One’s own published work is rather different. Such material is probably kept because it represents the individual and the work he/she has done. There’s an element of pride involved. If the material was lost or destroyed then somehow the individual would feel a part of their being was missing.

Many of the reasons already discussed also apply to mementos – documents and artefacts that people acquire in the course of things they are doing or experiencing. However, to try and understand keeping rationale further and to provide an aid which would help people decide what to keep and what to discard, an analysis of a work memento collection was undertaken. Out of that exercise emerged a so-called Wish Table with the following categories of reasons for keeping (the percentages indicate the relative numbers of approximately 500 personal mementos that the Wish Table was subsequently applied to):

  • Not forget (1%)
  • To be reminded of (28%)
  • Reference (42%)
  • Feel pride (7%)
  • Pass on to family (9%)
  • Too special to get rid of (20%)
  • Unusual (5%)

The ‘pass on to family’ reason is particularly important as most people seem to have an interest in where they came from and in the history of their forebears. As people grow older, some perhaps realise that it is incumbent upon them to pass on their knowledge and artefacts safely to the following generation – otherwise the knowledge about the family will get lost and forgotten in the passage of time.

The types of objects already mentioned – photos, letters, personal writings, published work, mementos – are all very intimately related to the individual. We might imagine that other objects may be kept for rather more mundane reasons. For example, people may keep books simply because they like the touch and feel of them and like having them around. However, books also make a statement about an individual and their personal interests and what information and ideas they have been subjected to. The same goes for record collections.

One of the more unusual types of objects explored in this site is a collection of T-shirts with logos or legends. These were kept because they were evidence of being somewhere or doing something; or because they were a reminder of an experience or a person.

Collections in the more formal sense of the word (such as stamp collections) tend to have less of an intimate relationship to oneself. They are usually started because a person has an interest in the particular type of object that is being collected, and because there is a desire to complete the collection – or at least to expand it to be significant in size and comprehensive in content. People find it fun to collect things, and see it as an interesting hobby with which they can fill some of their spare time, or which provides a diversion from the other parts of their lives.

In summary, the experiences of this site suggest that people keep things because they like to be reminded of the past and to be able to reflect on it. They perceive some objects to define them in some way and therefore would feel less whole without them; and they see the importance of maintaining a history of the family. These all seem perfectly good and healthy reasons for keeping things – provided they don’t become all-consuming or disruptive to day-to-day life.

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U3.0 Why do it? – Introduction

If you are going to spend a lot of time and effort organising and managing your collections, at some point you and others may start to wonder things like why you are doing it and is it worth it. The following five questions seem to be the ones that are most useful to get some answers to before embarking on OFC activities. Each of them is discussed in subsequent units.

Why do we keep things?
What problems arise as collections build up?
What are the pros and cons of organising your collections?
Why use digital technology to organise your collections?
Why bother exploiting your collections?

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