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Becker Archives Digital Content Organization Plan

Created and developed by Stephen Logsdon and Philip Skroska.

Introduction
The Becker Archives Digital Content Organization Plan (BADCOP) outlines the file-naming convention used for all digital content maintained by the Bernard Becker Medical Library Archives at the Washington University School of Medicine.  BADCOP guidelines should be followed when providing a filename to any audio, image, video, text, or other digital file to be stored for permanent retention.

Why is BADCOP needed?
A methodical file-naming convention is necessary to ensure that digital files can be stored in an organized manner.  The primary purpose of implementing BADCOP is to provide a unique identifying filename for digital reproductions and files consistent with the arrangement and description of the file’s parent collection.  BADCOP ensures a systematic arrangement of digital content in such a way that archivists can easily locate specific files when they need them.   

How does BADCOP work?
The premise of BADCOP is that the organization of digital content should follow the same principle of archival arrangement (the organization and sequence of items within a collection) that archivists are already familiar with to assign filenames to digital content. All filenames will use a series of symbolic letters and numbers that represent the file’s arrangement within a collection.  Following BADCOP guidelines, all digital content will be arranged in the same order in which the collection itself is arranged.

What does a BADCOP-compliant filename look like?
A typical filename using BADCOP guidelines will look like the example below: 

RG031-S05-B11-F15-I58.tiff

The sequence of letters and numbers in the above filename indicate the item’s record group number, series number, box number, folder number, and item number. By looking at the filename above, one can determine that the file is a tiff image of item number 58, within folder 15, within box 11, within series 5, within record group 31.

Why is BADCOP helpful?
Using this systematic method for assigning filenames will ensure that all digital files will be organized and stored in the in the exact same order in which they are arranged in the collection.  Digital content will be grouped first by collection number, meaning that all digital content from the same collection will be grouped together.  Within each collection, the order of the digital content will reflect the various hierarchical divisions (series, box, folder, etc.) used for each collection.  So all of the files that have been assigned series designations will be grouped together within each collection as well.  All of the files from series 1 will be listed before the files from series 2, which will be listed before any files from series 3.  The same is true at the box, folder, and item level.  If required, sub-groups, sub-series, or any other levels of description can be used as needed.  BADCOP accommodates for all levels of description.  More examples of BADCOP-compliant filenames are provided below the section on hierarchical designations.

General Rules
All filenames:
(1) must include only alphanumeric characters
(2) must not make use of spaces or special characters such as $, &, ?, *, #, or @.
(3) must not duplicate other filenames

File Format
Each filename must include a file extension indicating the file format encoding of its contents.  The file extension should always come after the hierarchical designations, and should always be preceded by a period.  Common file formats include tiff, jpg, pdf, avi, and wav.

Hierarchical Designations
All digital content should be assigned to one of the six highest levels of description classifications used at the Becker Archives:

  • Faculty Collection (FC) 
  • Oral History Collection (OH)
  • Personal Collection (PC)
  • Record Group (RG)
  • Vertical File Collection (VF) 
  • Visual Collection (VC)

Once assigned to a classification, each file will also be assigned to a collection within that classification.  All collections at Becker Archives are represented by a collection code consisting of two letters followed by three numbers.  The two letters represent a classification, and the three numbers represent a collection within that classification (Example:  RG003 = Department of Anatomy Record Group). 

Within each collection, digital content can be further categorized into any of the various hierarchical designations used by archivists:

Highest                *Record Group (RG)
                               |___ *Sub-Group (SG)
                                        |___ *Series (S)
                                                 |___ *Sub-Series (SS)
                                                          |___ *Box (B)
                                                                   |___ *Folder (F)
Lowest                                                                  |___ *Item (I)

Examples of filenames
Following BADCOP’s systematic method of assigning filenames, all filenames for digital content should reflect the hierarchical organization of each file as determined by its arrangement within a collection.  The sequence of letters and numbers in Example A (below) indicate the file’s record group number, sub-group number, series number, sub-series number, box number, folder number, and item number. 

Example A:  RG005-SG02-S01-SS03-B22-F18-I32.jpg

The filename in Example A indicates that the file is a digital surrogate (JPG) of item number 32, within folder 18, within box 22, within sub-series 3, within series 1, within sub-group 2, within record group 5. 

Most filenames used at the Becker Archives will not use all of the hierarchical divisions like the one in the Example A (above).  A more typical filename at Becker Archives is illustrated in Example B (below):

Example B:  PC051-S03-B11-F28.pdf

In Example B, only the hierarchical designations used in the arrangement of the collection are assigned in the filename.  In this case, the collection was not arranged using sub-groups or sub-series, so those categories have been left out of the filename.  Also note, this filename does not include the item category because this collection was not described to the item level.  The filename in Example B (above) indicates that the entire contents of Folder 28 have been saved as a PDF file. 

Another example of a common type of filename is illustrated below in Example C.

Example C:  RG112-S01-SS08-I55.pdf

Example C shows the arrangement of a filename that was assigned to born-digital content.  Note that it does not include any of the hierarchical designations representing physical containers such as the box and folder categories.  Instead, this filename utilizes only the categories used to organize the born-digital content within this record group. 

Consistency and Flexibility
Consistency is a very important component to consider when file-naming.  In general, all filenames should be assigned in a consistent manner.  However, because collections have varying levels of description, the number of hierarchical designations will vary from collection to collection.  For this reason, some flexibility in the file-naming system is needed.

No attempt should be made to create a fixed number of characters to use for all filenames for all digital content.  All filenames should include only the hierarchical designations that are used for that collection.  A “placeholder” for any hierarchical designations that are not used in describing a collection is unnecessary.  For instance, many collections at the Becker Archives do not utilize sub-series designations.  For this reason, it is unnecessary to include a “SS00” placeholder for collections that do not utilize sub-series designations.

Zero Padding
All filenames should be the same number of characters only within each collection.  The use of leading zeros (zero padding) should be used to create a uniform number of characters for all filenames within each collection.  For example, if there are 10-99 items within a folder, pad numbers 1-9 with a single preceding zero (01, 02, 03, etc.) so that all item numbers are two digits.  If there are 100-999 items within a folder, pad numbers 1-9 with two leading zeros (001, 002, 003, etc.), and numbers 10-99 with a single leading zero (010, 011, 012, etc.) so that all item numbers are three digits.

Locating digital content with BADCOP-compliant filenames
Using BADCOP, there is no need to change the finding aid system that archivists have already established to describe the arrangement of their collections, and there is also no need to change the way people search collections just because they are looking for digital content.  Simply use a collection’s finding aid to search for the digital content needed.  Simply note the item’s location in the finding aid (collection number, series number, box number, etc.) and then search for the digital surrogate of the item described by locating the corresponding filename of the digital file.  In the same way that it is much faster to search for items in a collection by skimming a finding aid than it is to browse folder by folder and box by box of a physical collection, it is also much faster to find digital content by skimming a finding aid than it is to browse through file after file on a computer. 

Conclusion
BADCOP is effective regardless of the various levels of description used for different collections.  BADCOP also works with born-digital content.  With the proliferation of digital content, archivists will move from having a few hundred digital files to manage, to thousands, and even millions of individual digital files that they must be able to locate at any given time.  Any system for storing digital content that is based on using descriptive titles for filenames (i.e. Hunter to Edwards - 1967) is simply not a sustainable practice.  Some kind of methodic numbering system for digital files (such as BADCOP) that can be searched by some kind of index (such as a standard finding aid) is the solution archivists need to organize and manage digital content.