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Archives - Frequently Asked Questions - Donating Digital Manuscripts/Photos

Why do we need to know if it was born-digital or scanned?
Knowing the history of manuscripts is important for archivists, because it influences how we care for the documents, manage them, and provide access to them.
One major reason we ask whether the donor is also the author or creator is because that information helps us establish ownership over the intellectual content of the manuscript or document. Also, we know who to ask for additional information about the material if necessary.

Why do we care about ownership?
In addition to preserving the documentary history of North Dakota, another part of our mission is to make as much of what we collect available to the public as possible.  We need to be sure that we have the right to grant permission for the public to use material from our collections in books, articles, exhibits, etc.  To accomplish this, we require that gift agreements are signed for all donations, which transfer rights to the State of North Dakota and allow us to make collections available to the public. To sign a gift agreement, the donor must be the owner of the material being offered to the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Without gift agreements, we can allow people to look at collections, but no one will be permitted to copy or use them in any way.

Why we need certain file types
The Archives can preserve and provide access to some file formats better than others.  For this reason, we recommend saving documents as Microsoft Word (or other Microsoft Office products), PDF, PDF/A, Plain Text (.txt), or Rich Text Format (.rtf) documents, or converting documents to these file formats before donating to the archives.  There are a number of software tools available to assist with document conversion.  If your files were created using an alternate word processing program, if the documents you'd like to donate need a certain hardware or software to be read or used, or if you have any other questions, please contact archives staff.
If you are scanning maps, documents, or other printed materials with the intention of offering the digital scan(s) to the archives, please note our preference is for at least 200dpi TIFF files. JPEG files may also be acceptable, depending on the image quality.

Our practice is to scan documents and photographic prints at 600dpi, and photographic negatives and slides at 4000dpi. We save these scans as uncompressed TIFF files. These TIFF files are the archival masters that we keep for long-term preservation and make available for the public to use. We then create 150dpi JPEG copies for quick accessibility and reference use.

Where to find the resolution of files
To determine the resolution of a digital photograph, right click on the file, select properties, click on the details tab and scroll down to "vertical resolution" or "horizontal resolution." The number listed there is the resolution, in dpi (dots per inch).

Why we are selective about which manuscript materials we accept
Digital and paper manuscripts, maps and documents must meet certain criteria to be accepted into the State Archives' collections. Archives staff appraise donation offers based on: our collecting policies, existing collections, intellectual ownership, condition, storage costs, volume, and scope of the materials being offered, among other factors.

Digital documents place new responsibilities on the Archives for preservation, management and access. The costs of active management of digital files throughout their digital lifecycles must be weighed against the historical and research value of the material being offered to the archives. Because digital storage, technical infrastructure, and file management are all labor intensive, recurring costs, we will often select a representative sample of papers from what is being offered.  Moreover, we request that duplicative, personal, confidential, legally protected, or ephemeral documents are deleted before being offered to the archives.  This way, we can focus our time and resources to preserve and provide high-quality access to the manuscripts in our collections.

The value of good file names
Description is a critical step in preserving personal memory and documenting history. With time, memories of names, places, ideas and dates can be forgotten unless they are documented. One place to include this information is in the file name of digital files. Brief, descriptive, file names help ensure that files can be identified, managed, and found. Ideally, file names should include the subject or title of the document(s), date the document(s) was created (YYYY-MM-DD), and any other relevant information. It is best practice to refrain from using punctuation such as periods in file names. For more information about naming digital documents, please contact archives staff.
Ex. Bismarck history, draft for Bismarck Tribune article, May 2012

Best ways of transferring digital manuscripts
Please call or email us: to arrange the method of transfer. Our preferred methods for exchange of digital manuscripts are by CD, DVD, flash drive or FTP site. If using a FTP site, please notify us when the data is available to download. Email may be an option depending on the size of the file(s). If you have files on older media such as floppy discs, please let us know.

Other questions to consider
If any of the following questions/points pertain to the documents you'd like to donate, please discuss them with archives staff:

  • The electronic documents have suffered physical damage, loss of data, were infected with viruses,  etc.
  • Opening the files requires special hardware or software
  • Understanding the files or the file structure requires technical expertise
  • The material contains dynamic content (databases, spreadsheets with formulas, web sites, social media records, etc.)
  • There are legally protected private files, confidential or sensitive information present in the documents
  • You wish to place access restrictions on the documents
  • The content of the documents is published in paper form or available online
  • The files contain passwords, encryption, or hidden files
  • You have expectations for preservation, use or access

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