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Using iPad and laptop on back porch

Using my iPad and laptop out on the back porch

More and more, I am finding that my iPad is becoming an indispensable research tool. When I first started using it, I was wowed by all the cool apps I could use. But I’m surprised to discover that one of the things I love most about it is the way I can view historical documents on it.

A NARA researcher located a client’s civil war pension file for me and sent it to me via a shared Dropbox folder. There were a lot of documents in the pension file, all in jpg format, and I knew it was going to take a good chunk of time to open and review each one. I put it on my list of things to do later.

A day or so afterward I was exploring the Dropbox app on my iPad. I tapped the first document image in the pension file and it filled my iPad screen. Wow! It wasn’t an image in a photo editing program amongst a busy computer screen, competing with other open windows. It was just the virtual piece of paper in front of me. To my delight I discovered that I could swipe the screen to move effortlessly from one page to the next. It was a very natural way to interact with the documents; it almost felt like having the file on the table in front of me. But even better, I could pinch two fingers together or apart to zoom in and out of a particular place in the document that needed a closer look (like a word that is hard to read). This was a totally different experience than opening each digital file one at a time on my computer screen!

Since then, if I have documents to review, I almost always pull out my iPad rather than look at them on my laptop. When I work at the Vermont State Archives, I save documents on their digital microfilm reader/scanner and email them to myself or save them on a memory stick.

There is no digital reader/scanner at my local FamilySearch Center. When I was viewing microfilm of Ireland’s Griffith’s Valuation Revision Lists there recently, I used the iPad’s camera to photograph the image that the microfilm reader projected on the white base of the viewer. The image wasn’t perfect, but very useable. When I got home I loved the way I could swipe through the images, forward and backward, in such a natural way–no more opening multiple files trying to figure out where the page I want to view is.

I’ve also experimented with photographing some baptismal and marriage records from a German parish register on the microfilm viewer using the camera within Evernote. The advantage to this is that I can immediately type a note, source or translation below the image. I don’t know if I can extract the images from Evernote into separate jpg files (anybody know?), so I took an extra photograph of each document just in case.

The iPad also handles digital books and pdf documents in a similarly natural way. If I am using my laptop for a client research project and want to look at a county history or other source on Google Books, I grab my iPad and download it there. I have a whole collection of historical books downloaded with the Google Books app.

How do you view and manage your document images and digital books? Any great apps you’ve found that help?