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What An Archivist Can Teach You About Organizing Your Digital Files

In another life (before my stay at home mama days) I worked in a university library. My specific title was Digital Projects and Oral History Coordinator. I worked in the digitization branch of the archives.

In my office we were responsible for converting everything (slides, reel to reels, paper, photographs, paintings, etc.) held in the archives into digital versions of themselves so that they could be accessed more easily by future generations. (The Oral History part of my title referred to digitizing transcripts of oral history interviews conducted by special collections and organizing them into readable book format with images as well as a video format.)

ANYWAY…. I learned a thing or two about properly organizing your digital files that I thought might be helpful to share here…Every special collections and archival department are going to do things just a little bit differently but almost all of them are going to follow a specific set of rules that’ll make finding and accessing their files in the future about a million times easier and these are the rules that I follow when I organize my files at home.

Be Specific and Consistent When Naming Files

File names shouldn’t be too long but they should be specific and consistent. Start right now naming all your files in a similar fashion. Decide on a format such as Date_Name_Subject or 001_Project_Stage1, for example, and then follow this format for all your files. Being specific with your naming will make it much easier to find that file when you search for it in the future.

Follow Common File Naming Conventions

Your files are more likely to be accessible if you do things like avoiding spaces and special characters, which some operating systems do not like. I like to use an underscore in place of a space.

Name Your Files So They Will Sort Alphabetically

There are two ways of doing this. The first is to use dates in your file names and the second (my preferred method) is to use padded zero numbers in your file names. If using the date method, your file would look something like 2018_06_12_Resume_KLynne. If using the padded zero numbers your file would look something like 001_Novel_TableofContents. I suggest using three digits if you chose to do it that way.

Utilize Sub Folders

There’s nothing more overwhelming than staring at 5000 random documents all placed in a single folder even though they don’t relate to each other at all. Nesting folders keeps things clutter free on your computer and will make it much easier for you to find what you’re looking for.

The files for this blog are nested in a Girlxoxo folder. In that folder you’ll find additional folders for each year that Tanya and I have co-blogged. In each yearly folder you’ll find a subfolder for each month with the corresponding blog images used that month.

Nest all your sub-folders and files under a single root folder. In Windows, this would be the My Documents folder.

Use Access Shortcuts

I find it really helpful to take shortcuts to my frequently used files and pin them to my desktop or task bar. The file will stay organized and nested the way you like it but you’ll be able to get to it with one quick click of your mouse.

Backup And Delete Files Regularly

This goes without saying but you should back up your files regularly. I try to do this once a month (once a week for really important stuff.) On the flipside…regularly comb through your recent files and delete what is no longer relevant or necessary to keep. When I do this, I like to create a file named ‘Old’ or ‘To Be Deleted’ and move everything I plan to get rid of into there. Then I do one or two more once-overs on the files to make absolute sure that I’m not accidentally deleting something important.


Following these practices will make it easier to search for, locate, and access all of your files for as long as necessary.

(image credit)

Kimberly Lynne
Librarian - History Nerd - Nature Lover - Notebook Hoarder - Mom - Wife

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2 comments

  1. This is also great for organizing files at work!

    1. Yes!