How to Organize Your Photos Like an Archivist

a pile of vintage family photos on a black background

How To Organize your Photos like an Archivist

I’m a big fan of how archivists work, and I’ve learned to apply their workflow to my client projects. Here’s how to organize your photos like an archivist.
Before I dive in – here’s a few great resources if you’d like learn more about organizing like an archivist. Two of my favorite books are Margot Note’s Creating Family Archives and Rhonda Chadwick’s Secrets from the Stacks. This way you’ll become familiar with many of their guiding principles which will be incredibly helpful.
Here’s how to get started:
Assess Your Collection:
  • Start by gathering all your print photos from various sources like albums, shoeboxes, and envelopes.
  • Assess the condition of the photos and identify any that may need immediate attention, such as torn or faded pictures.

Gather Supplies:

  • List essential supplies needed for organizing print photos, such as archival-quality albums, acid-free photo sleeves, archival boxes, and nitrile gloves for handling delicate photos. More on that below!

 Sort and Categorize:

  • Review and decide on the best method for sorting your photos, such as by date, event, or theme. Preserve any original order inherent in the collections you’ve inherited (feel free to sort / organize as you please with your own collection).
  • Make sure to use a logical organization system that makes it easy to find specific photos later on.

Digitize for Preservation:

  • Archivists consider digitizing  print photos part of a long-term preservation strategy. And it makes for easy sharing with family and friends – now and in the future.
  • Scanning photo at a high resolution (300PPI)  and store them in multiple locations, including cloud storage and at least two external hard drives (the 321 storage method).

Use Archival Storage Materials:

Label and Document:

  • Be sure to label photos with relevant information like dates, locations, and full names of people.
  • Be sure to use pencils (2B or softer) for labeling, and document additional details in a separate journal or digital file. Create a Preservation Plan: Share and Enjoy:
  • Be sure to  share your organized photo collection with family members and reminisce about cherished memories together.
  • Remember the ultimate goal of organizing your print photos is to preserve and enjoy them for generations to come.