How to Archive Your Life

Working at an archives is all about keeping organized. Here’s what I’ve learned from my two years of being an archival assistant, researcher and writer at Columbia College Chicago Archives & Special Collections:

1. Discard duplicates and declutter.

If you have one hard copy and a few digital copies backed up on a couple hard drives and clouds in different parts of the country, there’s no reason to keep that second copy of yesterday’s Columbia Chronicle. In other words, if you have at least one form of back-up, you don’t need the extra physical copy that will probably end up lost anyway, unless you plan to frame it and call it art. Why not, right?

2. The scanner is your friend.

Scanners are your friend

A paperless organization system is easier to navigate through than piles of loose bills, tax information and school work.With a scanner, you can turn paper into PDFs and … Poof! Like magic, you can access the contents of your junk drawer in a simple search if you should need to. The scanner is to thank for the vast majority of our digital collections. I’ll personally be asking for one of these babies for graduation:

3. There’s no such thing as over organizing.archives posterboard

Our team recently covered five poster boards with sticky notes in order to re-organize our storage spaces. We made a master spread sheet to keep track of the 1,500 boxes in our possession and spent days moving and arranging the shelves until they were organized by collection. My biceps have never looked better.

This is only one poster board of five, so I’d probably only need half a poster board to organize my studio apartment.

4. Twitter is the best for networking.

Since creating our twitter profile last year, we’ve garnered over 500 followers. Sure, a fourth of them are spam-bots but another fourth are students and the remaining half are archivists! Being on twitter, we are able to engage with other archives and support each-other’s work. On the internet, we’ve found a valuable and supportive community that we are happy to be a part of. Who said social media was a bad thing?

5. Library databases are everything (not to mention, free).

School and public libraries are absolutely invaluable to studying any trade or skill. There are so many free resources you can access online just by using your library card. I’ve used OverDrive to borrow e-books, the Chicago Public Library’s subscription of Mango to brush up on my French, and Lynda through Columbia Columbia College Chicago to learn more about SEO & Marketing. And of course, the Archives has its own online database to peruse to your heart’s content.





About Calley Nelson

Calley Nelson is a freelancer based in Chicago who enjoys collecting records, going to rock shows, and writing fiction. She is currently Director of Communications at Lpdeezign and the editor of I AM FEMINISM MAGAZINE. Follow her @calleynlsn
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1 Response to How to Archive Your Life

  1. Kevin says:

    Thanks for Sharing, this is great!

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