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LIBRARY GUIDE TO How to Document, Organize and Preserve Your Archival Assets

Archival assets are the output of your archival research, including photographs, photocopies, scans, and research notes. Incorporating archival management practices into your research projects may take time and effort, but they will save you time and effort in the long run.
How to Track Your Archival Assets
Tips for keeping a research log
  • Provide enough detail that a researcher in your field could re-create your archival research
  • Document the:
    • Description of your archival visit: location, staff contact info, date visited, brief description of collections used, relevant archival policies, etc.
    • Order of boxes and/or folders looked through
    • Items you did and didn’t photograph, scan or take notes on
  • Keep documentation in the order you are working
  • Aim for consistency
  • Digital research log : use Word, OneNote, Google Docs, EverNote, etc.
  • Paper research log: designate a single notebook or section of notebook for your notes
  • Photograph or scan important archival items?
    • Check the archive’s policies and procedures on photographing/copying/scanning archival materials before your visit
Additional tools to create a research log
  • Before using these tools, carefully read their Terms of Service. In some cases, using the app or software may give the company a license to re-use your archival assets.  
  • Scan items
  • Convert scans/photographs to PDF: Adobe Acrobat Pro (convert JPEGs to PDFs, paid version)
  • Optical character recognition (OCR): CamScanner (paid version has the feature to extract text from images/PDFs, Android)
How to Organize Your Archival Assets
  • Create your organization system before visiting the archive
    • Write the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of your system in your research log
    • Consistency is key!
    • Use the same organization system for both your physical and digital archival assets
  • Use a File Naming Convention (FNC)
    • FNC standardized naming system to give each file a unique name; name reflects the contents of the file; works for all types of files (text, image, audio, etc.)
    • Tips for creating a FNC
      • Abbreviate the archive name, collection name, box #, folder #, etc.
      • Separate words with an underscore (_) and avoid special characters (!, @, #, $, %, ^, &, *, etc.)  
      • Optional: include series and date visited (using a standard notation, e.g. YYYYMMDD)
      • For periodicals: include the title of periodical, year, month, and day
    • Example of a FNC
      • Archive name: Oakland University Archives (OU)
      • Collection: Billie Sunday Farnum papers (BSFarnum)
      • Series: Legislative Files (Legis)
      • Box: 2
      • Folder: Voting Records
      • Item: 01
      • File name: OU_BSFarnum_SeriesLegis_Box2_FolderVotingRecord_Item01
    • Software for batch renaming files:
How to Store & Preserve Your Archival Assets

Storing your Archival Assets 
  • Practice the 3-2-1 rule
    • Maintain 3 copies of your archival assets on 2 different storage media with 1 copy offsite
    • For example, you could store your archival assets on your personal laptop and have them backed up on a personal external hard drive and Google Drive.
  • Choose a physical storage space that will help prevent degradation of your physical archival assets (such as paper degradation due to sunlight and humidity)
  • Photograph or scan physical archival assets in order to create digital backups in case of loss, theft or natural disaster
  • Ideal storage hardware for digital archival assets depends on the research project, including the quantity of files, types of data and preferred backup method
  • Software to facilitate backing up to an external hard drive




Personal computer


Prone to theft or loss

External hard drive


Subject to degradation; lifetime is ~5 years

Local server or drive


Limited storage space



Subject to degradation due to mishandling; can be laborious to use

USB flash drive


Easy to lose; highly fallible

Cloud services (OakShare, Google Drive, etc.)*


Limited storage space in OakShare

* If you use cloud-based services besides OakShare and Google Drive (Box, DropBox, etc.), by agreeing to their Terms of Service, you may be giving the company a license to use your archival assets

Preserving your archival assets
  • Eventually, all storage media will become obsolete and/or corrupted
  • If you are using your own personal storage hardware, plan to migrate your archival assets every few years
  • Use non-proprietary formats for your digital files to ensure access to them years later
    • These types of file formats don’t require special software to open or use them
    • Examples include ZIP, CSV, TXT, and JPEG formats
Library Contact
Picture: Dominique Daniel

Dominique Daniel
Humanities Librarian for History and Modern Languages

Office hours (online or in person) by appointment

Book an appointment


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