We are an incorporated society now in our 25th year. Over that time we have generated a small horde of documents both printed and digital. We have a project underway to conserve and archive our documents, photos and ephemera. We are looking at scanning our printed documents but wonder what format we should use for future-proofing?! eg are pdf or word formats likely to survive the test of time, or is there another recommended format? Similarly with scanned photos, what format is best? And with digital photos that are in a proprietary format, should we be looking a converting them to another format eg jpeg? The advice on websites is to use "lossless" digital formats but we're not sure what this means in practice! Any advice you are able to offer would be very much appreciated.
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One of the things we would recommend that you do first is form a plan based around what you are trying to achieve. Are you wanting to archive your documents for posterity, make digital copies to protect the archived originals from damage, or make your archives more accessible to members or the public on the internet? Although not directly related, you may find our Family History guide in our Getting Started section has some useful advice about deciding what to digitise. If you goal is to archive your records for posterity, then your printed documents may outlast your digital copies by many decades - paper stock well looked after can last for 500 years or more. You can get free advice from the National Preservation Office at the National Library about preservation and archiving of your paper and film based media, http://www.natlib.govt.nz/services/get-advice/preservation. Apart from media like magnetic tape, digitisation is often not the best longevity strategy if an item was not created digitally. Your best option for now is to look after the printed versions. If you want to make digital copies to protect the paper originals from damage, then it is worth investing some time in getting the best quality copies so that you do not have to regularly re-copy fragile originals. Scans of printed documents are ideally done in TIFF format at in 8-bit grayscale or 24-bit colour at 300dpi. Photographs and film may require higher settings. TIFF is a "lossless" format that will last a long time, although it requires a lot of storage space compared to "lossy" formats. We suggest you read through our section on digital image compression in our Creating Digital Content guide for a better understanding of "lossless" and "lossy". If you have many digital files to organise and manage, our Managing Digital Content guide has advice on strategies to consider. You may need some software or a consistent file organisation system for managing this content. In most cases you best initial strategy is not to change file formats, but to make sure you make backups and regularly 'refresh' your storage media by carefully re-copying your digital files to new media every so often. Keeping good information about what software your files were created by and descriptions of your file contents will aid later access. File formats like Word documents and PDFs, while not necessarily ideal, will be readable for many years to come if well looked after, and you can also ensure you have printed copies of their content as additional backup. If your main goal is just to provide better access to members or the public over the internet, then Word documents and PDFs require no changes, while scans and images may need to be in JPEG format for easy viewing. Try to make those images as high quality as you can afford, and maybe in high resolution and medium resolution to cater for different internet connections and larger screen sizes. There are open source software solutions such as http://kete.net.nz/ if you need a way to organise and make your content accessible online.