Ros Malone is School Archivist for Bunbury Cathedral Grammar School in Perth, Australia

Image Keys: Easing Barriers to Retrieval in the School Archives

It’s a familiar problem for many Schools and School Archives, and indeed for collections of all kinds – what can be done with our vast collection of untitled, un-tagged digital images?

Contributors of digital images to School Archive collections might include both teaching staff and students, as well as enthusiastic people from Marketing and Admin, with large groups of digital photos uploaded to central drives – sometimes known as ‘buckets’ – within a mass unmanaged donation.

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Regular problems for School Archivists include:

  • Sorting the sheep from the goats – that is, deciding which images have value, and

  • Creating any form of retrieval metadata beyond a system-generated number

Practical solutions are valuable for School Archives, where hours, equipment and software, and investment in any digital collection often fall far short of that which is required for adequate management. It’s revealing when as an Archivist you are approached by ICT and asked for assistance with a quantity of Marketing images that has taken three days to migrate to a new system. This is not just about creating collections, even basic management, or high-value archives. It is, in some cases, bordering on costly crisis.

Discouragement is not an option. With the rise of the digital image as evidence, donations of images are very welcome in the School Archive, preferably from all areas of the School. And one solution is the inclusion of information keys together with groups of images, as a starting point for more detailed description, and as a bare minimum for enabling retrieval.

Image keys in the School Archive are distinct information objects, usually types of documents, which provide sometimes very detailed information about a group of digital images, including lists of names, dates, places, and supporting information. Gathering quantities of digital images into categories based on School Functions such as Excursions, Performing Arts, Awards, Governance and many others is the first step.

Once images have been arranged by logical Function within a container such as a digital folder and given a meaningful title including a date or date range, add value to the container by sourcing an appropriate key.

Some good examples of image keys in the School environment are:

  • Performance programs for images relating to a Performing Arts event

  • A list of staff and students who attended the Excursion captured within the images

  • Invitation lists or other documents relating to major events involving significant persons

Metadata linking the key to the group of images within the container is best enabled with a unique identifier applied to both objects – in this way a search of large collections of images will retrieve both objects together.

Barriers to the retrieval of individual pieces of information like names and locations within digital image collections are increasing dramatically in the School Archive space, as easy capture and upload of digital images is provided to users. Digital images age before we are aware of it and details are quickly forgotten. Masses of unmanaged images are costly to keep and of low value unless they can be retrieved, used, shared, celebrated, and migrated efficiently to new systems. Attaching simple keys from available School documentation and ephemera to organised groups of digital images selected from the mass can be one simple solution.

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