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The Importance of Digitizing Your Old Photographs, Documents, and other Artifacts

Heather Nickerson, Artifcts
November 03, 2021

Shortly after the launch of Artifcts, I was introduced to Steven Fuhrman, Business Manager of Didlake Imaging. Steven and I immediately connected over a shared mission, helping individuals, families, and corporations preserve pieces of “their” story. Be it family wedding photos from generations gone by to historic maps, documents, and other physical pieces of paper that help shed a light on who we are, and where we’ve been. 

Steven and I also bonded over our respective privacy first mindsets. It’s not often you find someone who goes the extra mile to help people protect their own privacy. I had an ear-to-ear grin as I listened to Steven describe in detail the steps he and his team take to preserve people’s privacy when handling their most sensitive and cherished objects. 

Two months and several conversations later, I had the pleasure of taking a tour of Didlake’s Manassas, VA digital imaging lab, and sitting down with Steven and Valerie Spencer, Director of Business Development, for an interview/extended conversation. 

Seeing that we at Artifcts get asked from time to time, “what should I do with this box of old photos,” we thought we’d share our conversation with our ARTI Community. But before I do, one more comment: their facility is amazing. First, it is spotless. Paper generates a LOT of dust, and you would never know it by touring the Didlake facility. Second, they take security to heart. From cell phone lock boxes to security cameras. No stone was left unturned when planning the security footprint of the facility.  

What should I do with this box of old photos?

Having said that, on to the interview! 

Heather Nickerson: Didlake has a fascinating, decades long corporate history as a non-profit. What prompted you to get into the digitization business?  

Valerie Spencer: Didlake’s mission is to create opportunities that enrich the lives of people with disabilities. (Editor’s Note: Didlake prides itself on hiring local individuals with disabilities for a variety of jobs, such as photo scanning.) The management team at the time saw an opportunity with the Coast Guard to digitize large format drawings leveraging our past experience digitizing microfilm. Our first major investment was a large format scanner, a requirement for this project. Once we could demonstrate our success with large format, we could easily do other, less complex formats. Given our government contracting background, we pursued other large format and traditional digitization projects, including one with an airport. This then led us into the mass digitization market. 

Heather: Tell us about the clients you typically take on.  

Valerie: There is no typical project or typical client! Really, we work with anyone who has paper, anyone who has photos, maps, documents, student files, etc. We saw a need to support people cleaning out their homes during the pandemic and the holidays, prompting us to invest in specialty photo scanning equipment and to make improvements to our webpage. 

We work with anyone who has paper, anyone who has photos, maps, documents, student files, etc.

Heather: Any surprises or heart-warming stories from over the years?  

Steven Fuhrman: Our goal is to never turn anyone away. Most people send us boxes of photos, but no job is too small. One customer sought us out in the middle of the pandemic. He had lost his dog, and he only had three or four really good photos of the dog. He asked if we would digitize them for him as a way to memorialize his pet. Since it was in the middle of COVID, we did it for him while he waited in his car. It brought tears to his eyes knowing the photos would be preserved for years to come.   

Another story that comes to mind is that one of our clients is an owner of an art gallery. She had recently discovered a box of letters that her father had wrote home to his family during the Vietnam War. She wanted to preserve the letters and his story. Our team handled the letters very carefully, taking them out of their original envelopes, digitizing them, and returning them to their original envelopes and safely storing/returning them. We were honored that she trusted us enough with those family treasures. You don’t just hand something like that over to anyone. We wanted to make someone’s life better and help preserve that piece of family history.  

We were honored that she trusted us enough with those family treasures. You don’t just hand something like that over to anyone. 

Heather: I can imagine you are dealing with people’s most cherished artifacts. What do you tell clients to reassure them that their items will be safe with you?  

Valerie: We have a stellar reputation and have built up a lot of trust over the years. If the U.S. government trusts us with its most important documents, that says something. We also reassure clients that all our employees have background checks and have signed confidentiality agreements. We also franchise three The UPS stores and are experts in shipping and packaging; we know how to protect items in transit.  

Heather: Not every digitization company has a state-of-the-art, secure facility. Can you tell us a bit more about that?  

Valerie: Security is really important to us so we chose a location in a professional business park occupied by other county service providers. We utilize security cameras to track entry from the exterior and access control systems to permit access to sensitive internal areas. Our storage facility is dual climate controlled, and we use a secure cloud server for our digital services. We have invested in the security infrastructure to make sure people feel safe sending us their items.  

Heather: You know the story of Artifcts. How do you think Artifcts could help you in your work with your clients? 

Valerie: Artifcts is a natural complement to what we do at Didlake. We’re both preserving items in a digital manner and making it accessible and easy for people to share their memories. We all like to tell stories, and Artifcts lets the user tell the story.  

We all like to tell stories, and Artifcts lets the user tell the story.  

If you are looking for someone to help digitize your old photos, documents, maps, and more, contact Steven at Steve@DidlakeImaging.com

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© 2021 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Do not dismiss the power of answering the “Why?” Here are four of its superpowers: 

1. CONNECTION

If you are going to make your niece cart around a sitting Buddha sculpture for her remaining days as part of your last will and testament, you could at least tell her why!

Wills and estate plans by nature focus on the what and often neglect the why. And that’s if the will even references an itemized list of tangible assets! The reality then is loved ones may act out of obligation to respect your wishes and hang onto the items you give them but with a tinge of disgruntled acceptance. 

2. REDUCED CONFLICT

Imagine two people who feel equally attached to an object that once belonged to a deceased loved one. In the will, the object goes to one of those people. To squash any potential disappointment or misdirected anger at the recipient, the owner could share the why and explain the bond between the person and/or object and recipient. Closure, in this case, is another great gift of the why. 

3. LASTING MEMORIES & LEGACY

Your loved ones want to remember you. But memory is fickle. And sometimes, that's your own doing. Did you make up three different versions of events as to how that painting came into your collection? Did you ever tell the story? Set the record straight with any combination of photos, video, audio, and a brief (or long!) story as you Artifct the truth of that object. 

Your loved ones want to remember you. But memory is fickle.

4. BETTER PREPARATION

How many of you reading this have an up-to-date will or estate plan? Odds are you do not, at least according to a report from Caring.com, which said that two out of three US adults and half of UK adults do not have a will.  

Introducing items you cherish into your plan and/or at least into the discussion if you're working with a real live estate planning attorney helps to ensure that your assets will be directed to the correct people, your wishes carried out. It also helps the professionals you rely on to guide you to better understand you and support the full scope of your financial, insurance, tax, and estate plans. 

Join us tomorrow as we discuss these themes and more during Evenings with Artifcts, with guest speaker Dutch Miller. RSVP now > 

Happy Artifcting! 

###

Did we miss a superpower of “why?” Let us know at Editor@Artifcts.com and we may feature your addition! 

© 2022 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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The Evenings with Artifcts Series, Fall 2022

Throughout fall 2022, we're hosting Evenings with Artifcts on Thursday evenings. Our guests in this nine-part series dive into the world of 'stuff' and stories. Below we've provided a week by week feature for each speaker in the series and direct links to the speaker's Artifcts, other related ARTIcles by Artifcts, and the Evenings with Artifcts event recordings. 

Want to suggest a speaker for future live events? We'd love to hear from you! Please contact us at Editor@Artifcts.com.

EVENINGS WITH ARTIFCTS

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DOWNSIZING, CLEANING, ORGANIZING, STORY TELLING

 

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Jeff Greenwald joins Evenings with Artifcts

Week 2: Jeff Greenwald (@Jeffji)

Acclaimed author, artist, photographer, and speaker

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Dutch Miller joins Evenings with Artifcts

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Estate planner, hobby family historian, Smithsonian volunteer

ESTATE PLANNING, FAMILY HISTORY & LEGACY

 

Related content:

- Gift Your Loved Ones a "Why" (Coming soon!)

- Visit Event replay on YouTube > (Coming soon!)

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Not Sure What to Write? Tips from Guest Jeff Greenwald

He's authored 1000s of articles, several books, and what's maybe the first known travel blog. And on Thursday night during Evenings with Artifcts Jeff Greenwald shared with us simple but powerful tips, and a healthy dose of perspective, to help us craft our own stories behind the objects of our lives.  

Watch the full Evenings with Artifcts event here.

  • It is hard to write about an object with no personal meaning but even harder when it has tremendous personal meaning. Bear that in mind and go easy on yourself. 

  • Start with something true. This is the trick to writing anything nonfiction. For example, start with a little line about where you got the object: “I bought this in a street market in Istanbul.” And from there go on to describe the scene a little bit and what happened there that connects you with the object.  

Start with something true.

  • Other starters for your Artifcts:  

        • Where were you when you acquired the object? 
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        • What feelings does it evoke in you?
  • If a story comes to mind, you can just start jotting it down anywhere. Let your thoughts go where they will. It can be a collection of random thoughts that you can look at later and put together into some sort of a story structure. 

  • We all have stories. Writers block comes from our internal critic. It challenges you with, “Why would anybody want to read it? What could you have to say? What makes you think you're so great that anyone should listen to anything you're telling them?” You have to tell yourself, “I have a right to do this because I’m a human being with a story, and the story deserves to be told whether or not you, my internal critic, thinks that it does.” Push the internal critic aside. 
I’m a human being with a story, and the story deserves to be told.
  • If you value the stories and need motivation to begin capturing and preserving those stories with Artifcts, make a deal with yourself like Jeff did. Jeff made a pact to give away the objects once their stories were told. Maybe you’ll choose to Artifct twice per week. Or perhaps you’ll start with those items that are most meaningful to you.  

  • A bit of advice Jeff shared from esteemed author Kurt Vonnegut: Write your stories as though you are writing them for one person, as if you are telling this person each of the stories. It gives all the stories a similar tone, a singular voice. 

  • Always include when and where the object was acquired. These are important details.

  • Struggling with a title? Write out 10 of them. It will help you to start to shape your story, too.

Our stuff, the objects that we collect, that inspire us, they are really not what's important. We do not need to keep them. The only thing that is important are the stories, and the only way to keep the stories is to tell them.

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© 2022 Artifcts, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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