A comment about our procedures for accepting born-digital donations from cell phones is long overdue on this blog. Part of our reticence has been that, beyond a custom user interface (more on that later!), our various stop-gap procedures have all left a lot to be desired. However, the reasons for accepting born-digital cell phone donations are multifold:
- Lots of people are taking lots of photos on their cell phones, including at major life events (weddings, graduations, etc.) Any documentation of events within the last ten-plus years is likely to be solely born-digital.
- People who have recently immigrated, or experiencing housing insecurity may not have physical photos that have traveled with them, but will likely have kept their cell phone photos.
- Donors do not need to dig through the depths of their closets in advance of a community scanning event, but can just show up at the library and contribute to the project.
A donor contributing photos from his cell phone, early in the project.
At our early community scanning events, we started accepting donations from cell phones on an ad hoc basis. Library patrons were excited to contribute to the project – photos on their cell phones – and we were happy to facilitate these donations. For those first few donors, we had the donor simply email each photo to us (in addition to completing the standard consent and metadata forms). This method has a few drawbacks. Donors were initially emailing my personal Gmail account, since my official Queens Library account has a very small overall capacity. While this isn’t a huge problem, it’s far from ideal and not very professional. If we were to use this procedure for future donations, I definitely would create a generic email address for this purpose.
The iPhone allows you to control file size.
A bigger problem, though, is that different phones have different settings allowing you to control the size of the image file being attached to an email. On an iPhone there is a simple interface that allows you to select “Actual Size” when emailing a photo from the “Photos” app. This interface allows us to ensure that donors are emailing the largest possible file of their photographs. However, this interface doesn’t appear if the donor opens the Gmail app, and then selects the photograph as an attachment – Gmail seems to automatically compress the file size in this scenario. Donors must select the image in the standard “Photos” app, and then email each image individually. Additionally, in my experience, Android devices also do not have an interface to control the file size of attached images. This is controlled from within the “Settings” panel, and our donors are unlikely to be comfortable with a request from us to change the default settings on their phones!
In response to these frustrations, we purchased a variety of phone cords to start pulling born-digital material directly off donor’s phones. Some things to note: there are a lot of different phone cord types if you are trying to compile a comprehensive set, and you need to purchase proprietary cords. Other cords might allow the phones to charge, but can’t be used for data transfer. We purchased cords for the four most popular phones in the US: iPhone 4S, iPhone 5 /6 and Samsung Galaxy Notes 4 and 5. Once the phones are plugged in, permission needs to be granted both from the cell phone, and the computer to view the internal file structure. The computer also needs to be able to install the correct drivers, which should happen automatically if the laptop is connected to the internet.
I might not want everyone to know how many photos I take of my cat.
While this option definitely allows for easier transfer of files and control of image quality, it creates some privacy concerns. Most of our cell phone donors are already in the library, encounter our project, and simply select a few photos from their phones to donate. However, when I plug their phone into the laptop and open up the internal file system, all of a sudden I am looking at ALL the photos on their phone. This can be weird to say the least. And there’s not much of a way around it, other than asking donors to pre-select photos and bring them in on a flash drive. Even if the donors create an “Album” on their phone of photographs to donate, this is not visible in the accessible file structure (at least, of an iPhone).
For now, we are continuing to use a combination of emailing photos to a generic email address, and plugging in phones, deciding which is preferable based on donor phone type and the donor’s preference. However, good news! Queens Memory is developing a photo donation app for mobile devices (iOs and Android), with an initial release date of July 2016. Phase one of the app will allow for submission of digital photos, scanned items and audio recordings (both oral histories and wild sound). The second phase of development will allow for video submissions and uploads from cloud storage services (dropbox, google drive, etc), and will also have an audio recording tool that will generate .wav files for submission and a photo tool that will generate .jpg2000 images for submission.
The tool is being developed in Appcelerator, and what makes this tool really innovative is that public submissions land directly in QL’s DAMS in a submissions queue that our metadata librarians will review, edit and set public. Unlike other user generated content (UGC) tools that either make UGC immediately public without any staff review/notification or leave submitted content in purgatory in a temporary storage space, this app will put UGC directly into our regular publication workflow. Stay tuned to @queensmemory for more about this app as it rolls out this summer!