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Data Management in These “Unprecedented Times”

Like many academic librarians, I left my campus library at the end of the fall semester not knowing whether I would be coming back in the spring. Our administration hoped to begin spring 2022 on campus, but they had warned us to take anything we needed home, just in case.

A colleague spent much of 2020 carting physical file folders back and forth between her home and the library. I tend to travel lighter, but hopping from my campus desktop to my laptop still required the transfer of hundreds of digital files. With our work locations still up in the air from week to week, here are some data management tips that can help make those transitions as smooth as possible.

A file folder containing a sheaf of papers.
Image from Free SVG

Make regular backups

This is good data management practice in general. I back up some critical files every Friday, and I made sure I left at the end of the semester with up-to-date copies of everything I might need. Our library doesn’t use anything fancy, either – we’ve got a lot of labeled USB drives. What you back up and how often will depend on your situation.

Keep track of file versions

There’s nothing worse than working on a document for a while before realizing it’s an outdated copy. If the date created/modified isn’t clear in the normal display you use to view and access your files, you might consider adding it to the file name, at least for files that are updated frequently and contain time-sensitive content.

File naming

Take it from someone who had to figure out what a .jpeg titled ‘link issue’ meant – if you spend the time to name a file clearly in the present, your future self will thank you. This is even more helpful if you may be sharing those files with colleagues who won’t know what you meant when assigning vague names or abbreviations.

Folder nesting

A logical system of nested folders can help you pinpoint what you need faster. For example, imagine looking for 2020 statistics in a folder labeled 2020 within a folder labeled Statistics, rather than digging through 80 different documents piled into one folder for old materials. (Not that this example draws from real life experience, of course.) Your folder structure will be based on your workflow and preferences, but keep it consistent and it’ll be much quicker to find what you’re looking for.

As of posting this, I’m headed back to campus, although many teaching faculty at my institution will remain remote. Even so, these habits have helped me switch between devices and find the documents I need with minimal headaches. What data management practices have helped you?

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