Personal digital preservation is important

This last week has been an interesting one, particularly as my students in Creating and Preserving Digital Content began to share their personal experiences with digital content both in the workplace and in their own lives.  I relate to their experiences in so many ways, and I am learning from them – as I always do when I work with students (kids or adults).

At the end of the day, there are so many issues to consider – and yet in school education circles they are not usually mentioned let alone planned for. The reality is, there are different stakeholders in digital preservation – librarians, archivists, museum curators, IT professionals, scientists – all of whom have different reasons for needing to keep things.

Are we throwing away the right things?  Are we preserving the right things?  Are we actually preserving successfully? I still have a small collection of floppy disks, with some material on them that I think I should retrieve – but I no longer have a device that can retrieve the information. My personal bits and pieces are possibly not too important, but your bits and pieces might be vital to your family.   This is such a simple example of obscalesence that is the premsie for Avoiding a Digital Dark Age – which we just might inadvertantly get sucked into if we do not take some firm steps now.

Rob Blackhurst asked Will history end up in the trash ?

It’s a sobering thought that the Domesday book, written in 1086 on pages of stretched sheepskin, has lasted more than 900 years. That latter-day Domesday project is a metaphor for the carelessness with which we’re treating the digital information created during the past 20 years. The first telegram ever sent has been preserved in a frame; the first e-mail, sent in the 1960s using a mainframe computer the size of a room, has been lost. Will future generations look back at this period as a “digital dark age” – a modern equivalent of the early Middle Ages, which left barely a trace on the written historical record?

So perhaps you are like me – and have to reconsider how you manage your digital memories? The Confessions of an Imperfect Digital Archivist got me thinking, though I have to say I haven’t begun any action yet!

Preserving your digital memories is possibily one of the most important things to do.

This Library of Congress site about Personal Archiving provides a good starting point in your personal re-organisation, or you can Download the Personal Archiving Brochure.  The content covers photographs, mail, audio, video, personal records and website.

To be honest, I am now quite glad that most of my personal history is not digital! Our photo albums, letters, home movies and paper documents are a vital link to the past.  Personal information we create today has the same value.  The only difference is that much of it is now digital. As new technology emerges and current technology becomes obsolete, we need to actively manage our digital possessions to help protect them and keep them available for years to come.

This video offers simple and practical strategies for personal digital preservation.

cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by Ian Muttoo

3 thoughts on “Personal digital preservation is important

  1. Hi Judy,
    Great post! I felt exactly the way you do. My wife’s father suddenly passed away at 62 just as we started our family and so I decided to take it upon myself to develop a product that families can use (individually) to not only archive their memories but also intuitively organize them for easy retrieval for their whole lives (and a mechanism that allows for the transfer of these emotional assets in the family posthumously). We’re almost ready for beta launch – scheduled for September.
    Families’ are in dire need to have a secure, private and long-term solution to their important content (with data liberation) and I am hoping we can deliver it. unfortunately most of our memories have been burnt on DVDs and CDs and will be reaching their useful life very soon and could have bit-rot and potentially erase important memories like wedding videos, photos, etc. and not to mention our content is also becoming increasingly spread across multiple platforms, products and services, and devices. Its a really big (future) problem that is coming at us faster than we realize. Hopefully we and the market can solve it before its too late.

    Thanks for the post.

  2. Judy, I actually teach History, yet I cannot help but feel that not all digital data needs to be preserved. Perhaps I am too pragmatic. I could question the usefulness of information but that argument is constrained in the present. Part of me feels that the planet is swamped with information. Personally, I hope future generations find a way to focus on lives that require less information, less material acquisition and a significant reduction in the need for technology. More local and less global. The planet is straining and the dominant species needs to rethink the way it exists. I am quite philosophical. I am not an extremist with respect to politics, religion or the environment yet I feel that the human race needs to reassess it’s priorities and for me, personally, storing every byte is not one of them. Cheers, John. ^_^

    • I have a feeling that you are ‘right up’ with the issues in personal preservation – more than many of us. I do agree with you in some ways in relation to historical material, but the truth is, without a full record of events etc future generations can too easily put an inaccurate interpretation on events. The Library of Congress has some other excellent videos about digital preservation that are more directly related to institutional preservation issues. But back to my own photos etc – I have a problem!

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