Do-It-Yourself Digital Preservation

Salman Rushdie's Computers

Computers from the Salman Rushdie Collection in MARBL

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Here on the Digital Archives team in MARBL, we know that keeping track of your digital assets can be overwhelming. You may have files stored on multiple computers, not to mention in the cloud. Over the last fifteen years, you’ve probably accumulated a number of email accounts and even more profile pages: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr, the list could (and almost certainly does) go on. Chances are that you have digital photographs scattered all over the shop: on your laptop, your smartphone, and uploaded to Flickr, Picasa and Instagram. Perhaps you Blog, share videos on YouTube, or write content for Wikipedia. Whatever your interests, it’s a safe bet that you are responsible for your fair share of digital content.

Pearl Cleage Facebook Page
Pearl Cleage’s Facebook Page

MARBL’s donors are no exception. Our collections include computers, hard drives, and a variety of disks and removable media. Alice Walker has been blogging since 2008; Salman Rushdie currently has over 500,000 followers on Twitter; and Pearl Cleage maintains an active presence on Facebook. In order to make sure that this material is preserved and eventually made accessible as part of our holdings, it’s important that we start conversations with potential and existing donors early and get them thinking about where they have digital content and what they might like to happen to it when their digital estate passes to us. To this end, Digital Archives has developed a questionnaire, designed so that curators and archivists can work with donors to assess the digital component of their collection.

To really improve the longevity of digital content, however, requires a pro-active approach to its preservation throughout its lifecycle. And improving the longevity of digital content is important because, whether or not you anticipate entrusting your personal digital archive to a repository, there are almost certainly multiple documents and files amongst its contents that you would hate to lose: family photographs, personal email, the dissertation chapter that you just finished drafting.
This is something that we’ve been thinking a lot about lately as we prepare a poster presentation for the 2013 Personal Digital Archiving Conference outlining our recommendations for do-it-yourself digital preservation. Our aim is to develop a resource for potential donors, providing effective guidelines that are easy to implement. Our advice in a nutshell?

  • Know what digital assets you have and where they are stored, whether locally, in the Cloud, or on removable media.
  • Keep your files organized: Create concise, meaningful file names and use a well-labeled folder structure to group related items and separate personal content from professional.
  • Don’t share accounts: Use your own accounts for services like email or Dropbox and create distinct user accounts on personal computers.
  • Choose email and social media services that allow you to easily export your data and try to perform regular downloads of your content. Don’t use social media sites as storage.
  • Aim for redundancy and make multiple copies: Store copies in different locations and, if possible, in different formats. Keep track of your copies and check up on them periodically to make sure that they are still readable.

The final set of guidelines will be published online, at MARBL’s Digital Archives page, so be sure to stay tuned for more information about do-it-yourself digital preservation.

Authored By:

Dorothy Waugh, Research Library Fellow, Digital Archives, MARBL

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