Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Personal Digital Archiving

Personal Digital Archiving.  Gabriela Redwine. DPC Technology Watch Report 15-01. December 2015. [PDF]
     This excellent report looks at some of the  key challenges people face in managing and storing their digital files. It "stresses the importance of preserving personal files" that include physical, digitized and born-digital materials. The term ‘personal digital archiving’ or ‘Save your digital stuff!’ refers to how people keep track of their digital files, where they store them, and how the files are described and organized.

The report reviews the archiving issues and offers guidance and resources to help individuals be proactive and save their digital content. It also argues for the "importance and urgency of preserving personal files while also acknowledging the difficulty of managing digital media and files". Personal items increasingly exist only in digital format. "This brings a new understanding of what letters, photos and other sources look like in the digital age, and raises important questions about how to manage these personal items today and how to preserve them for future generations."

"Thinking of a personal collection of digital files as ‘archives’ places emphasis on the larger context within which those digital files exist. The records of people’s lives are intrinsically important and worth preserving." Social media archiving necessarily requires a considerable investment of resources so it is important to choose which social media services should be archived.  Some key threats to a personal digital archive:
  • old hardware and software
  • lack of secure storage and backup 
  • natural and man-made disasters 
  • neglect of content
  • loss of cloud-based host or service provider
  • lack of planning
  • death of an individual
The report lists recommendations (quick wins, more effort, maximum effort) for the threats listed. Some of these are:

Recommendations: addressing key threats to personal digital files
  • Choose software that is well supported and creates files that can be read by a variety of different programs.
  • Develop file naming conventions that are easy to remember and apply these consistently.
  • Create multiple back-up copies and store them in different geographical locations.
  • Test your back-up copies to make sure they are accessible and contain what you intend them to.
  • Transfer files to new media every 2 to 4 years.

Recommendations: taking good care of a personal digital archive
  • Choose high-quality storage media and refresh it regularly.
  • Be proactive about refreshing storage media, replacing outdated equipment before it
  • fails, and not relying exclusively on one service provider or storage solution.
  • Follow best practice when naming files.

With digital preservation, and especially with creating and maintaining a personal digital archive the hardest part is deciding how to start. Start first by making a back-up copy of your files, then address questions such as these:
  • Which files would you miss most if they suddenly disappeared?
  • What qualities about those files are most important – for example, does it matter if the formatting of a word-processing document changes if the text is still readable?
  • Do your digital photos include important descriptive or contextual information that you need to use a particular program to see?

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