Cloud Storage: Dropbox

Photo of boxy, internally-lit cloud sculpture

Photo of the Ardent Mobile Cloud Platform by Aaron Muszalski, licensed CC BY 2.0. It has been cropped from the original..

All Hail Cloud Storage

Summer’s an excellent time to reenergize, as well as a fine period for preparing for upcoming classwork or for reevaluating old methods & making new tactics. Having experienced computer failures in the past, I’ve become a big fan of using cloud storage. With this in mind, setting up some sort of cloud-based backup or file system is one thing I’d add to Zack’s great First Term Library School Starter Kit. For a broad overview, Joanna mentions a number of Web Apps here, a nice update of Micah’s earlier post.

Since none of these posts really delves into how the author chose what they use, in this post I’ll discuss how Dropbox fits into how I work. I emphatically suggest you check out whatever options suit your own priorities. SpiderOak, Google Docs & Drive, Evernote, and Box are all alternatives I’ve explored to varying degrees and think are well worth considering.

Why Dropbox?

My campus actually provides students with a Box account that holds about 5 times as much as my Dropbox, so why do I use Dropbox instead? Most importantly, it’s because there isn’t a good exit strategy from the campus account; my access to it stops when I graduate.

Secondly, I came to campus with Dropxbox already deeply integrated into how I write. When I first got a smartphone, word processing programs weren’t available for it yet. Since I wanted to be able to jot down thoughts on my phone and be able to keep working on them when I got back to my computer, I started writing in Markdown (which I’ve previously discussed here). Writing in lightweight .txt files that lived in a Dropbox folder meant that I could work on a single file from anywhere, and no longer had to email thoughts to myself and then remember to weave them into much larger and less accessible .doc or .docx files. If Markdown doesn’t appeal to you, you might want to consider writing in Google Docs, since it now provides a similar sort of ubiquity.

Third, I really appreciate Dropbox’s approach to file versioning. Similar to the Track Changes feature you might be familiar with in Microsoft or the Time Machine program on Macs, Dropbox automatically saves different versions of your work as you make edits to a file or save new versions. If I get carried away on wings of hyperbole and turn a well-considered essay into a charged polemic, I’m not stuck with the last version I’ve saved. I can always roll back to earlier versions through Dropbox’s web interface. Also, since I’m saving these files to a local Dropbox folder on my own laptop (or local files on my smartphone, for those text editor programs), I can keep working on these files even if I don’t have internet access. I can happily type a paper as a passenger in a plane, train, or automobile and just sync up the changes once I get back into internet range. File versioning and saving local copies aren’t features unique to Dropbox, so it’s worth checking out whether any cloud-based tool you use has simliar capabilities.

How Now?

Without going into gruesome details, here’s a quick run-down of how I have my library school-related files on Dropbox. I have a folder for each school term, with another folder for each course in that term. Within the course folders I organize things however makes the most sense for that particular course. Beyond that I also have folders for my cv, reference contact information, and other things related to the job search. Finally, I also have folders for things related to librarianship in general, such as the readings I’ve found most inspirational or otherwise worth revisiting.

I hope you don’t ever experience a hard drive crash or get visited by other computer gremlins. Cloud-storage services and apps like Dropbox not only help give you a bit of a safety net for important files, but they also can help you write or access things even when you’re not at your primary computer. Of course, since the “cloud” is ultimately just another term for other peoples’ computers, you’ll want to have a robust password or even opt for two-factor authentication so that whatever you consider private stays that way. This is particularly true if you work on computers at your school or local library.

Do you have favorite features or uses for cloud services? Do you use something I haven’t listed here? Please let us know in the comments!

Categories: Starter Kits, Technology

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