Tag Archives: disaster response

Heritage-DIY: What I learned the hard way about home digital preservation

The door to the storage area of our house (which included our holiday decorations and other heirlooms) reveals the flood water line in our home in 2006. A lot of memories were lost, but we learned some lessons too.


In October 2006, I was away on a business trip when a freak 150-year flood event destroyed the contents of my family’s rural home. Facing an oncoming five-foot wall of water, my wife had little time to consider our possessions. For all the things we lost that day, I still feel a tremendous sense of gratitude for having married someone who (first) had the presence of mind to survive an epic disaster with a two-year-old in tow, and (second) managed to save our scrapbooks and photo albums in the process.

I’ve heard of many stories like that. In the moment of choice, we instinctively cherish photographs as windows to another time. An instant reconnection to faces that fade in memory as they (and we) grow older and pass. The world’s wide-scale shift to digital mobile photography makes capturing these memories easier. It also makes them harder to preserve.


If you haven’t done it already, it’s time to take stock of your photo collection–digital and print–and get them into a trackable inventory. My suggestion is to simply grab a sheet of paper and list the places where your photographs can be found, and the major themes and events found there. Keep in mind, your photos could be anywhere from traditional photo albums to hard drives, Facebook, or (if you’re like some people I know) still on your camera’s memory card after several years.

Cull and Label

When you have a complete inventory of what’s available, it’s time to focus on what’s important. Chances are, your life is cluttered with images that are low-quality, unflattering or lacking any memory of their significance. Pick the very best photos from your collections and start giving them context. This means “tagging” them with words and names that mean something to you.

Tags can be used in variety of ways. Collect major themes into directories/folders on your computer’s hard drive. These could be named something like “birthdays” or it could simply be organized by year. Tagging also extends to the names of the files. The point is to make them searchable for the concepts that are important to you. If you take a photo, and never see it again, does it really exist?

Diversified Digital Systems

Pick a good photo management application. Most now have the ability to automatically recognize and categorize faces. Something established an relatively cheap, like Adobe Lightroom may be the best way to start. Your local library likely sometimes offers free classes in digital photography and photo cataloging programs, so be sure to take advantage of those opportunities. Many of these programs can upload to online photo sharing sites like Google Photos or Flickr as well, so take advantage of that secondary backup option!

These software programs will allow you to add as many tags as you like and embed that information in the image itself, so your images will still be searchable even if you switch to another program, or upload them to the web.

Just remember, photos are meant for sharing! The more places you have your important photos, the better the chance that they survive into the future. It’s okay to save them on your hard drive but be sure to back up your entire collection on DVDs about once a year.

Print is NOT Dead

For the best of the best, it’s still important to have prints made. All things being equal, a print on professional-quality photo paper will outlast digital storage every time. My digital photo collection contained on an external hard drive did not survive the flooding on my house, but I was able to piece most of it back together by scanning in our surviving photo albums, and using DVD backups and web tools.

So how do you handle personal image cataloging and storage? Know of any tools (perhaps online) or techniques that could be widely used?


Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wlef70/5676576994/sizes/s/in/photostream/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/wlef70/5676246631/in/photostream

Heritage resources define community, even in their loss

It’s in times of hardship that a community’s character is revealed. The destruction of the Kate Chopin House by fire this past Wednesday was a harsh test of character for the heritage community in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana–where I was born, and live still.

The Kate Chopin House was a Creole-style structure in Cloutierville that was named for the groundbreaking feminist author who lived there during the 1880s. The house was important enough to have been named a National Historic Landmark by the United States Department of Interior in 1993.

Just days ago, the house was a testament to what small-town heritage organizations could do. Without the Association for the Preservation of Historic Natchitoches, the house would have been gone decades ago. Local memory had faded so that not many folks remember the extent to which the house had deterioriated before APHN became steward of the property in 1979. The organization invested in several restoration projects, including the installation of central air and heat in 1999.

Indeed, countless people have invested their time and hearts into the restoration of this structure. So much had been done. But the real tragedy lies in how much more could–and would–have been done to make the Kate Chopin house a preservation showcase for the country. There was much to love about it–the architecture, the history, the literary tradition.

Witnessing the house’s utter destruction–not to mention the loss of the entire contents of the Bayou Folk Museum–was a hard pill to swallow. So many locals had donated family heirlooms to the museum that it literally defined the community.

And it’s still defining us even in its loss. By Wednesday evening, representatives from most of the heritage groups in the parish had been to the site and were finding ways to help. Early Thursday morning, students from the Heritage Resources programs at NSU were moving surviving contents to a safe location. The National Park Service offices provided funds and manpower as well. Even Stine Hardware donated many needed supplies to assist the response effort.

And thank heavens for forethought! For folks like Dusty Fuqua who led a Cane River National Heritage Area grant to document the museum’s major contents through his Cultural Lore organization. It was a laborious effort that was only recently completed, and an earnest example of why folks in the heritage community do what they do.

Where do we go from here? With so little left, folks assisting with the recovery effort are taking special care of every item that is pulled from the rubble with some semblance of its original character intact. It’s a process of expanding our collective knowledge about proper conservation response.

And through this process we recognize that even through the smoke of our biggest cultural loss in recent memory, we have more resources, better knowledge and stronger determination to do the right thing. There’s a measure of comfort in that realization.

Annual Report: Hurricane Katrina Response

The 2005 NCPTT Annual Report covers departmental reports and research in narrative form. Designed in a 20-page signature with a removable promotional centerfold focused on the organization’s response to Hurricane Katrina. Conforms to strictures of National Park Service messaging standards.

Read this document on Scribd: NCPTT 2005 Annual Report