Becker Archives Digital Content Organization Plan

Stephen Logsdon
Archivist
Washington University School of Medicine
logsdons@wustl.edu

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. To explain how it works, I want to first draw your attention to the ornate document labeled Number 1 which is the US Army commission given to Dr. William Beaumont during the War of 1812. This document can be found in the William Beaumont Papers at the Becker Library. President James Madison signed this commission appointing Dr. Beaumont as a surgeon in the Sixth Regiment of Infantry in the US Army on December 2, 1812.

Imagine that a patron wanted a scanned copy of this document in PDF format. Once you scan it for them, you’ll need to provide a filename for the PDF on a screen that looks similar to the image labeled Number 2. What filename do you give it? Should the filename begin with “William Beaumont” or “Beaumont-William”? Should you only say it’s a commission, or should you be more specific and indicate it’s a surgeon’s commission in the US Army? Should James Madison’s name be in the filename anywhere? Should you include the date of the document in the filename? All of these questions are important to consider when choosing a filename.

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The Becker Archives Digital Content Organization Plan, with the unfortunate acronym BADCOP, takes the guessing game out of assigning filenames because this plan centers on a methodical file-naming system. The basic premise of BADCOP is that the organization of digital content should follow the principle of archival arrangement (the organization and sequence of items within a collection). All filenames assigned using this method will use a series of symbolic letters and numbers that represent the scanned file’s arrangement within a collection. The BADCOP-compliant filename that I would assign to this document is labeled image Number 3: PC012-S05-B20-F03.pdf.

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Briefly looking at this filename, you’ll see that it does not say it’s a surgeon’s commission, it does not include William Beaumont’s name or James Madison’s, and it does not even contain the date of the document.  However, if you look closer at the filename, all of that information is included.  The filename PC012-S05-B20-F03.pdf is a code, and you can see how that code breaks down into identifiable pieces in the much abbreviated view of the finding aid to the William Beaumont Papers represented in image Number 4.

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PC012 is the collection code for Personal Collection #12, the William Beaumont Papers. S05 stands for Series #5, which is the series in which the commissions are located. B20 is Box #20. F03 is folder #3, which contains the 1812 surgeon’s commission signed by President Madison.

There are numerous justifications for using BADCOP, but the most important reason to implement this file-naming convention is to answer this question: Once you have scanned this document, and you have assigned it the filename PC012-S05-B20-F03.pdf, how are you ever going find that PDF again? The answer to that question is the beauty of BADCOP. Let’s say several years from now, a different patron asks you for a PDF of that exact same surgeon’s commission. How would you find it amongst the 1000s of digitized images on your computer, server, or wherever you store your digital content?

You would find the PDF of the surgeon’s commission in exactly the same way as you would if you were looking for the original physical copy of it. You should use the finding aid for the William Beaumont Papers. Don’t start this search with your digital files. Instead, go to the finding aid first and search for the description of the item you are looking for, which in this case is the 1812 surgeon’s commission. Once you find it, then you have also identified the BADCOP filename because you know its organizational location in the collection. It’s the third file of Box 20 in Series 5 of the Beaumont Papers. You can then create that corresponding filename on the fly while you’re looking at the finding aid: PC012-S05-B20-F03.pdf.

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Now that you know the filename you need, you are sufficiently prepared to find it amongst all your digital content. The ease of finding the correct digitized file is illustrated by the filenames listed in image Number 5. In this case, you have scanned only six documents in that collection. Picking out the filename you need is rather easy in this case.

Imagine that instead of six scanned documents, you had scanned 600 documents from this collection. If you have assigned BADCOP-compliant filenames to each file, all 600 scans will line up in your file directory in exactly the same order as your finding aid lists them. So all of your scanned documents from Series 3, are going to follow all of those from Series 1 and Series 2. All of the scans from Box 13 are going to be found after all the scans from Box 1 through Box 12. This means there is no need to open up random files on your computer from this collection to check if it’s the specific document you want. Because you have the filename in hand, you know the exact file you are looking for. So whether there are six, 600, or 6000 PDFs from this collection, finding the exact file you need takes only seconds, and that’s what makes BADCOP such an effective tool to use.

For more information about the BADCOP file-naming convention, visit:

https://becker.wustl.edu/resources/arb/policies/becker-archives-digital-content-organization-plan

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Commission signed by President James Madison appointing Dr. William Beaumont as a surgeon in the Sixth Regiment of Infantry in the US Army on December 2, 1812. Personal Collection #12, William Beaumont Papers, Bernard Becker Medical Library Archives, Washington University School of Medicine.
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