Over the past couple of months, the American Archive project team has been working with stations to contribute born-digital or previously digitized files to the American Archive. That is, the types of material we are now gathering for submission into the archive already exist on file-based media, such as Quicktime video files or .wav audio files. During the Content Inventory project, stations created inventory records for the tangible, physical media. As we have been reaching out to stations regarding born-digital, new questions arise:
- How do we record information, or metadata, about the digital files?
- What different types of information need to be captured?
- What are the best practices for creating, naming, organizing, and storing digital files?
Today we want to share with you some general best practices for managing your digital media files. These suggestions may already be common practice for some stations, and if that’s the case, you’re certainly ahead of the game! Best practices for creating and managing digital media are constantly evolving. If you have any suggestions to add to this list, please share them by commenting on this post.
Give each file a Unique Identifier, and if possible, add the unique identifier as an addendum to the file name, e.g:
Original file name: basicblack_140102.mov
Unique identifier that you assign the file name: wgbh_10467
New file name: wgbh_10476_basicblack_140102.mov
For camera generated digital files or Source Clips: DO NOT CHANGE OR RENAME THE FILES. Instead of changing the original file name, create a folder containing the individual file and name the folder using the Unique Identifier.
Record as much other information about the asset as possible by following the guidelines set forth in the Content Inventory Project. To download a sample Excel file with the basic metadata fields, click here.
Most importantly: Record where to find the asset on a hard drive by providing the full file path.
Naming Digital Files
Folder and file names should only use:
- A to Z (small case and capitalization are both acceptable
- Numbers 0-9.
- Underscores are acceptable but no other symbols such as !@#$%^&*() – +=|?,
- A period is acceptable only before an application extension (.doc, .jpeg, etc)
- No spaces within the folder and file name
Try to record essential information such as format type, date of creation and modification in the file names or through the folder structure.
Think carefully about how best to organize your digital files in folders. Consider the best hierarchy for your digital files and whether a deep or shallow hierarchy is preferable. Files can be organized in folders according to:
- Program Title
- Format Generation (Master, B roll, Interview, Stock Footage, etc.)
- Camera Model or Digital Format (P2, Quicktime, XDCAM, MP4, DVCPro etc.)
- Unique ID
Making back-ups of your digital files is an essential component to digitally preserving your files. Regular back-ups help to protect against hardware failure, software or media faults, viruses, power failure, or human error. Have multiple copies stored in different locations — on multiple hard drives, on your server, etc.
Like physical tapes, digital files are constantly at risk of being lost forever. Digital files really are only just a series of ones and zeroes — bytes of data — that must be rendered and played back. Like physical formats, digital formats can quickly become obsolete. A few suggestions:
- create digital files using standardized formats for long-term readability
- every two to five years, copy or migrate digital files to new hard drives, since the media storing the files are subject to degradation
- create a schedule to regularly check the files to make sure they are still playable
- store your digital files on two different forms of storage, such as a hard drive and a server
- organize and clearly label your hard drives or other storage mediums
- ensure that the areas where you are storing your hard drives and physical tapes are at a low risk of fire, flood, or other type of disaster
If you have any questions, suggestions, or resources you’d like to share about best practices for preserving born-digital media, please contribute your thoughts by commenting!
**Many thanks to WGBH Digital Archive Manager Leah Weisse for her contributions to this blog post!