Volume 21, Number 5/6
Table of Contents
Helping Members of the Community Manage Their Digital Lives: Developing a Personal Digital Archiving Workshop
New Mexico State University Library
It is estimated that over 90 percent of all new information is born digital. We create new digital materials practically on a daily basis. What can we as libraries do to help our users manage their personal digital materials? This article explores resources and methods that could be used in the development of a personal digital archiving workshop and how to best tailor it to your library audience.
Madonna once sang "we are living in a material world." While that may still ring true, she might also now sing that we are living in a "digital world." It has been estimated that 93% of all new information is born digital.1 Whether we realize it or not, we create digital materials on a daily basis. Emails, text messages, voicemails, social media "status updates" or "tweets," documents, etc. the list can go on and on. Because of the immense amount of digital information and its fragility, digital materials are very much at risk; more so than paper and analog materials. Files can be deleted, hard drives can crash, websites can disappear there are many ways in which we can lose our digital materials. As with physical materials, it's likely that many of us have digital materials that are important to us and that we do not want to lose. Whether it be digital music files that we have paid money for, a trail of emails that may serve as evidence in an office dispute, or simply a digital file that has an emotional attachment, there are various reasons why we want to hang on to our digital materials.2 Because of this, it's necessary to practice what is being called personal digital archiving. Personal digital archiving consists of saving and archiving digital materials and managing them so they will be available for future use. While this is not always easy, it is vital if we want to maintain our digital lives.
The fear of losing our personal digital records is nothing new. Adrian Cunningham, now working as the Director of the Digital Archives Program at the Queensland State Archives in Australia, offered this warning in 1999:
I believed then and still believe now that the issue requires urgent attention. We cannot afford to postpone dealing with the challenge of electronic personal records until tomorrow. This is because important personal records are increasingly being created in electronic form only. Waiting for a solution rather than working towards a solution effectively consigns into limbo those vital electronic personal records that are created during our period of inactivity. Make no mistake: there is an electronic records time bomb ticking away out there in the land of personal records, and it is up to us to start working out how we are going to defuse it before it blows us all away.3
Because of the prevalence and fragility of digital materials, and because practically everyone today is actively building collections of personal and/or professional information, the responsibility to educate library users about personal digital archiving should fall on library shoulders. Libraries and librarians have the means and knowledge (or can gain the knowledge) necessary to inform our users how to successfully build, search, and organize their own personal and scholarly information collections.4 Traditionally, libraries have helped individuals care for physical items that tradition should now extend to digital items as well.5
What, then, can libraries do to help their users organize and maintain their digital lives? One way of doing this is hosting a personal digital archiving workshop. Before we dive into how to develop such a workshop, let us first look at some of the literature relating to personal digital archiving.
The area of personal digital archiving has essentially branched out from the overall field of digital archiving, where there have been concerns for some time now regarding the sustainability of digital materials. Several scholars began making warning calls in the mid to late 1990s. Rothenberg notes the fragility of our digital records, even going as far to say that the "record of the entire present period of history is in jeopardy," and offers some suggestions, as well as a call for further research on how to better preserve digital records.6 The potential for living in a "digital dark age" is addressed by Kuny, although he also lists areas where institutions and individuals can help fight off the impending doom.7 As stated earlier, Cunningham also offers a warning, but also pushes strategies for maintaining digital records.8
As the idea of personal digital archiving began to take hold, more literature arrived specific to individuals maintaining their digital materials, and offered solid overviews of personal digital archiving. Beagrie's "Plenty of Room at the Bottom? Personal Digital Libraries and Collections" has become one of the most heavily cited articles in the field. He looks at the main issues surrounding personal digital archiving and what current research was being done at the time. The article is also one of the first to address digital estates something we'll look at in our discussion of developing a workshop.9 One of the leaders in the field, with multiple publications to her name, is Catherine C. Marshall. Marshall has produced several overviews of personal digital archiving. In 2008 she addressed both challenges faced and potential solutions for those challenges;10 a year earlier she had looked at personal information management over the course of an individual's lifetime, including examining several case studies and scenarios that everyday people might encounter.11 An all-encompassing look at the field can be found in a chapter of the book I, Digital: Personal Collections in the Digital Era, where Marshall examines what personal digital archiving entails.12 Williams, et al., also provides a good overview of the subject, connected to studies done as part of the Digital Lives Research Project;13 while Jones' Keeping Found Things Found is another monograph length discussion of personal digital archiving.14
Another area of study within personal digital archiving reflects a greater context within library science and information studies as a whole: that of user studies regarding personal digital archiving. Marshall, et al., explores how people are archiving their digital belongings and the risks we are facing, as well as barriers to effective personal archiving; the authors also present ideas for how to develop a better service model for personal digital archiving.15 Kaye, et al., looks at both physical and digital personal archives, examining the reasons and needs that drive archiving behavior.16 Boardman and Sasse17, as well as Copeland, also look at user behavior. Copeland's study is aimed specifically at public library users and encourages public libraries to take the lead in helping their users manage their personal digital information.18
Scholars have also taken looks at archiving methods for specific digital materials. Whittaker and Sidner19, as well as Lukesh20, both discuss strategies for archiving email, while Marshall looks strictly at Internet-based information.21 These are just a few examples of course the overviews discussed earlier also look at methods for specific digital items. Along with Copeland's aforementioned study of public library users' digital preservation practices, which also urges the need for public libraries to assist users in their personal digital archiving endeavors, Copeland and Barreau also offer an examination of what role public libraries should play in assisting patrons with their personal digital information, and how they can best approach that assistance.22
One can see that much has been written in this field. My hope is to contribute to the existing scholarship by offering some tips on developing a personal digital archiving workshop. I have developed a workshop geared towards an academic audience, particularly faculty, but the principles are the same and can be modified to fit other audiences as well.
Developing a Personal Digital Archiving Workshop
When developing a personal digital archiving workshop, the first thing to do is to determine the audience. Who will the workshop be intended for? Will it be an academic audience? People at a public library? This will influence how the workshop is designed, although most of the basic principles are the same regardless the delivery and different materials in need of archiving will likely change depending on the audience. Along with determining an audience, it might also help to think about a few questions with the audience in mind. The first question: what kinds of digital materials do people have? Try and determine what they might be archiving and where they might need help. A few examples of materials for an academic audience could be documents and presentations, data sets, lecture notes, emails and other digital correspondence with colleagues, and video and audio recordings. Certainly a general audience will have some of these materials as well, and other items you might consider including in a workshop for a public library would be photographs, websites, social media, text messages, financial records, gaming information, music and video, and e-books. The list could go on and on. Second, how do people store their digital belongings now? Third, what motivates them to maintain personal digital information? This is the why question. Think about the reasons your audience would want to safely archive and maintain digital information.23 Lastly, what are some challenges impeding personal digital archiving?24 These challenges can vary, but perhaps the two most common are time and money. Archiving digital materials is time-consuming, and it can be expensive to purchase storage devices. These are just a few questions to consider; certainly there are others, but thinking about these questions and developing an understanding of your audience and its needs will go a long way in developing a successful workshop.
Identifying resources is a logical next step. As we've seen, much has been written on the subject of personal digital archiving and there are a variety of resources to assist in developing a workshop. Perhaps the best place to start is the Library of Congress. The LOC has a webpage devoted strictly to personal digital archiving. This page contains archiving tips, as well as downloadable materials that could be used as handouts at a workshop. A very useful resource on this page is the NDIIPP publication "Perspectives on Personal Digital Archiving." This publication, a compilation of blog posts from the LOC blog The Signal, brings together writings of some of the major players in the personal digital archiving field.25 The site offers scanning basics, as well as tips on the archiving of certain digital materials, including photographs, audio, and video, to name a few. There is also a link provided to a "Personal Digital Archiving Day Kit," which provides more great resources for organizing an event. Apart from the Library of Congress website, there are many other resources available, some of which have been previously discussed. There are numerous books, articles, conference proceedings and more to assist in developing a workshop.
How you make use of your resources, and the approach you decide to take in developing your workshop is up to you. However, it might be good to begin by discussing four steps to getting started. The first step is to identify. Determine what you have, and where it is located. There are many types of digital materials, and you will likely have items spread across multiple platforms. The second step is to decide. What do you want to keep? What can you get rid of? It is possible with today's storage possibilities to keep everything, but at least take the time to examine your materials to see if everything needs to be kept. The third step is to organize. Come up with a good filing system that makes sense to you and will allow items to be easily retrievable. Include descriptions as well, particularly for photographs, so they can be identified.26 The fourth and final step is to save. Save copies on multiple media formats and in multiple locations, if possible. Make sure to manage these devices as well, as they can become obsolete as the years pass.27 These four steps, as explained by Butch Lazorchak, are designed for preserving digital photographs, but the principles can apply to any digital material.
Getting back to the first step listed in the preceding paragraph, some more discussion regarding identification of materials may prove beneficial. Again, determine where you might have any digital files computers (desktop, laptop, tablet); removable hard drives; flash drives; Internet (personal websites, bookmarks, photo sharing sites, social media, email accounts, online gaming information, etc.); phones; cameras; CDs; floppy disks; and any other platforms, including ones that may be obsolete. Items found on older formats may be retrievable, but it may require expert help, which can be expensive. Once you determine what you have, and where you have it, this makes it easier to decide what you want to keep and what you might be able to part with. After determining this, and developing a file naming system that makes sense, it's time to save your materials. Files should be backed up in separate locations (if possible) on at least two different types of storage devices. If you can, keep a storage device at home, and one in another location such as your workplace, a friend or relative's house, a safety deposit box, or other secure location. Of course, this may not be possible for everyone, and that's understandable. One option that those unable to keep devices in two locations can look at is that of cloud-based services. However, research into what might be the best service is recommended, as the cloud has its positives and negatives. Security is always a concern with using a cloud service, as is reliability. Will that service still be around in the coming years? Other storage options include computers, removable hard drives, flash drives, CDs, photo hosting sites, etc. Be diverse in your storage no device is 100% reliable. Flash drives are easy to lose. CDs degrade over time. Photo hosting sites much like cloud storage can prove unreliable, and can be expensive. Keep these things in mind when deciding how best to store your digital materials. A good rule of thumb to remember is the "3-2-1 rule" used by professional photographers. Make three copies of your items, save your materials onto at least two different types of storage media, and save one of those storage media devices in a different location from where you live.28
Along with saving and storing your digital materials, you also want to ensure that you are managing them so that they will remain easy to retrieve and use as the years pass. Check your devices often to ensure files are still usable. Remember that devices become obsolete; it is recommended that files be moved to a new storage device every 5-7 years. In some cases it may need to be sooner if it is obvious a device is becoming obsolete. A common practice for many people is to buy a new removable hard drive every time a new computer is purchased typically this is done in that 5-7 year timeframe. Terry Kuny does a wonderful job of summing up our attempts to archive our digital lives, expressing that it can be done, but external influences, such as time and money, can hinder those efforts:
In an abstract sense, the preservation of digital materials is not complex. As long as the relationship between hardware, software, and humanware (organizations and people) is maintained, a kind of 'preservation nexus' exists and a digital object can be preserved forever. The problem is the centrifugal forces such as time and money that pull each of these elements away from each other; software and hardware becomes outdated, migrating information may require expensive recoding, and organizations lack resources to address the problems. This creates an environment where the object is basically left in a digital limbo; trapped in an obsolete format or captured on an unreadable medium or lacking the administrative capacity, resources, or willingness to refresh the data.29
If we exercise caution, and make the effort to preserve our digital materials, they can theoretically last decades or longer. There is always the possibility of losing digital files, no matter how well we take care of them, but they can also be preserved long-term if the proper steps are taken.
There are a few other items you might want to consider including when developing a personal digital archiving workshop. Some people may be interested in converting physical items, such as photographs, letters, etc. to a digital format. It may be beneficial to include information on scanning basics, providing guidance on scanners, scanner setting, and file formats. There are many places to go for information on scanning basics, but again, the Library of Congress is a good place to start. Mike Ashenfelder of the LOC offers scanning guidance in a blog post for The Signal, while the Library offers an excellent website, "Sustainability of Digital Formats Planning for Library of Congress Collections."30 The Sustainability of Digital Formats website has very technical information, and may be more than what a general audience needs, but valuable tips and guidance can be taken from it and used in a workshop.
Something else you might want to consider including in a personal digital archiving workshop is a discussion of digital estate planning. Much like a physical estate, when somebody passes away, family members or others left behind may have to deal with digital assets. Again, the first step is to identify what is there, particularly important financial, business, or legal records. Create a list of devices that contain materials to be preserved, and identify what should be kept, what should be deleted, and to whom items go. It is also important to document URLs, usernames, passwords, etc. and keep them in a safe place that can be accessed by a designated "digital executor" which should be identified in a legal will. Jefferson Bailey and Mike Ashenfelder provide solid guidance in their articles published in Perspectives on Personal Digital Archiving: National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program.31 It may seem strange to talk about digital estates, but the reality is this will likely become more important as the years pass by and people acquire more digital assets.
This is a basic overview of what can be included in any personal digital archiving workshop. Take the time to research what you want to address and tailor your workshop to your audience. Keep in mind, when addressing digital materials, that it's also a good idea to make physical copies of important items documents, photographs, etc. Certainly most people will not want or need to make physical copies of everything, but for those items most important to them, this is a good practice. The hope is that libraries can reach out and assist our communities with managing the growing influx of digital materials. Hosting workshops and informing them of the best ways to do that is a great way to achieve this goal. Good luck and have fun!
1 Andrea J. Copeland, "Analysis of Public Library Users' Digital Preservation Practices," Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 62, no.7 (2011): 1288.
2 For more information on our reasons for wanting to keep digital materials, see Copeland, "Analysis of Public Library Users' Digital Preservation Practices," 1295.
3 Adrian Cunningham, "Waiting for the Ghost Train: Strategies for Managing Electronic Personal Records Before it is Too Late," Archival Issues 24, no. 1 (1999): 56.
4 Ellysa Stern Cahoy, "The Challenge of Teaching Personal Archiving," in Perspectives on Personal Digital Archiving: National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program. Library of Congress, 2013: 76.
5 Copeland, 1298.
6 Jeff Rothenberg, "Ensuring the Longevity of Digital Documents," Scientific American 272 no. 1 (January 1995): 42. The article was later published again in 1999 in an expanded version entitled "Ensuring the Longevity of Digital Information."
7 Terry Kuny, "A Digital Dark Ages? Challenges in the Preservation of Electronic Information," International Preservation News no. 17 (May 1998).
8 Cunningham, 1999.
9 Neal Beagrie, "Plenty of Room at the Bottom? Personal Digital Libraries and Collections," D-Lib Magazine 11, no. 6 (June 2005). http://doi.org/10.1045/june2005-beagrie
10 Catherine C. Marshall, "Rethinking Personal Digital Archiving, Part 1," and "Rethinking Personal Digital Archiving, Part 2," D-Lib Magazine 14 no. 3/4 (March/April 2008). http://doi.org/10.1045/march2008-marshall-pt1; http://doi.org/10.1045/march2008-marshall-pt2
11 Catherine C. Marshall, "How People Manage Information over a Lifetime," in Personal Information Management, edited by William P. Jones and Jaime Teevan. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2007.
12 Catherine C. Marshall, "Challenges and Opportunities for Personal Digital Archiving," in I, Digital: Personal Collections in the Digital Era, edited by Christopher A. Lee. Chicago, Society of American Archivists, 2011.
13 Peter Williams, Jeremy Leighton John, and Ian Rowland, "The Personal Curation of Digital Objects: A Lifecycle Approach," Aslib Proceedings: New Information Perspectives 61 no. 4 (2009): 340-363.
14 William P. Jones, Keeping Found Things Found: The Study and Practice of Personal Information Management. Burlington, MA: Elsevier, 2008.
15 Catherine C. Marshall, Sara Bly, and Francoise Brun-Cottan, "The Long Term Fate or Our Digital Belongings: Toward a Service Model for Personal Archives," Proceedings of IS&T Archiving 2006. Springfield, VA: Society for Imaging Science and Technology, 2006: 25-30.
16 Joseph 'Jofish' Kaye, Janet Vertesi, Shari Avery, Allan Dafoe, Shay David, Lisa Onaga, Ivan Rosero, and Trevor Pinch, "To Have and to Hold: Exploring the Personal Archive," CHI 2006 Proceedings, Montreal: 275-284.
17 Richard Boardman and M. Angela Sasse, "Stuff Goes Into the Computer and Doesn't Come Out': A Cross-tool Study of Personal Information Management," CHI 2004 Proceedings, Vienna: 583-590.
18 Andrea J. Copeland, "Analysis of Public Library Users' Digital Preservation Practices," 1288-1300.
19 Steve Whittaker and Candace Sidner, "Email Overload: Exploring Personal Information Management of Email," CHI 1996 Proceedings, Vancouver: 276-282.
20 Susan S. Lukesh, "E-Mail and Potential Loss to Future Archives and Scholarship or The Dog that Didn't Bark," First Monday 4 no. 9 (September 6, 1999).
21 Catherine C. Marshall, "Evaluating Personal Archiving Strategies for Internet-Based Information," Proceedings of IS&T Archiving 2007. Springfield, VA: Society for Imaging Science and Technology, 2007: 151-156.
22 Andrea J. Copeland and Deborah Barreau, "Helping People to Manage and Share Their Digital Information: A Role for Public Libraries," Library Trends 59 no. 4 (Spring 2011): 637-649.
23 Copeland discusses some of these reasons in "Analysis of Public Library Users' Digital Preservation Practices".
24 Questions from Marshall, Bly, and Brun-Cottan, "The Long Term Fate of Our Digital Belongings: Toward a Service Model for Personal Archives," 1, and Copeland, "Analysis of Public Library Users' Digital Preservation Practices," 1291.
25 The PDF of "Perspectives on Personal Digital Archiving" can be found here. The Signal is another great resource.
26 For more information regarding file organization, see the Paradigm website. The entire site has good information relating to digital preservation and personal digital archiving.
27 Butch Lazorchak, "Four Easy Tips for Preserving Your Digital Photographs," in Perspectives on Personal Digital Archiving: National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 2013: 6-7.
28 Mike Ashenfelder, "The Library of Congress and Personal Digital Archiving," in Personal Archiving: Preserving Our Digital Heritage, edited by Donald T. Hawkins. Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc., 2013: 35.
29 Kuny, 5.
30 Mike Ashenfelder, "Personal Digital Archiving: The Basics of Scanning and also Sustainability of Digital Formats: Planning for Library of Congress Collections.
31 Jefferson Bailey, "The Big Digital Sleep," pp. 26-28, and Mike Ashenfelder, "When I Go Away: Getting Your Digital Affairs in Order," pp. 29-30 in Perspectives on Personal Digital Archiving: National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 2013.
 Ashenfelder, Mike. "When I Go Away: Getting Your Digital Affairs in Order." In Perspectives on Personal Digital Archiving: National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, 29-30. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 2013.
 ________. "The Library of Congress and Personal Digital Archiving." In Personal Archiving: Preserving Our Digital Heritage, edited by Donald T. Hawkins, 35. Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc., 2013.
 ________. "Personal Digital Archiving: The Basics of Scanning." March 27, 2014.
 Bailey, Jefferson. "The Big Digital Sleep." In Perspectives on Personal Digital Archiving: National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, 26-28. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 2013.
 Beagrie, Neal. "Plenty of Room at the Bottom? Personal Digital Libraries and Collections." D-Lib Magazine 11, no. 6 (June 2005). http://doi.org/10.1045/june2005-beagrie.
 Boardman, Richard and M. Angela Sasse. "Stuff Goes Into the Computer and Doesn't Come Out": A Cross-tool Study of Personal Information Management." CHI 2004 Proceedings, Vienna: 583-590. http://doi.org/10.1145/985692.985766
 Cahoy, Ellysa Stern. "The Challenge of Teaching Personal Archiving." In Perspectives on Personal Digital Archiving: National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, 76. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 2013.
 Copeland, Andrea J. "Analysis of Public Library Users' Digital Preservation Practices." Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 62, no. 7 (2011): 1288-1300. http://doi.org/10.1002/asi.21553.
 Copeland, Andrea J. and Deborah Barreau. "Helping People to Manage and Share Their Digital Information: A Role for Public Libraries." Library Trends 59, no. 4 (Spring 2011): 637-649. http://doi.org/10.1353/lib.2011.0016
 Cunningham, Adrian. "Waiting for the Ghost Train: Strategies for Managing Electronic Personal Records Before it is Too Late." Archival Issues 24, no. 1 (1999): 55-64.
 Jones, William P. Keeping Found Things Found: The Study and Practice of Personal Information Management. Burlington, MA: Elsevier, 2008.
 Kaye, Joseph, Janet Vertesi, Shari Avery, Allan Dafoe, Shay David, Lisa Onaga, Ivan Rosero, and Trevor Pinch. "To Have and To Hold: Exploring the Personal Archive." CHI 2006 Proceedings, Montreal: 275-284. http://doi.org/10.1145/1124772.1124814
 Kuny, Terry. "A Digital Dark Ages? Challenges in the Preservation of Electronic Information." International Preservation News no. 17 (May 1998).
 Lazorchak, Butch. "Four Easy Tips for Preserving Your Digital Photographs." In Perspectives on Personal Digital Archiving: National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, 6-7. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 2013.
 Lukesh, Susan S. "E-Mail and Potential Loss to Future Archives and Scholarship or The Dog that Didn't Bark." First Monday 4, no. 9 (September 6, 1999). http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/692/602.
 Marshall, Catherine C. "Evaluating Personal Archiving Strategies for Internet-Based Information." Proceedings of IS&T Archiving 2007. Springfield, VA: Society for Imaging Science and Technology, 2007: 151-156.
 ________. "How People Manage Information Over a Lifetime." In Personal Information Management, edited by William P. Jones and Jaime Teevan, 57-75. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2007.
 ________. "Rethinking Personal Digital Archiving, Part 1." D-Lib Magazine 14, no. 3/4 (March/April 2008). http://doi.org/10.1045/march2008-marshall-pt1
 ________. "Rethinking Personal Digital Archiving, Part 2." D-Lib Magazine 14, no. 3/4 (March/April 2008). http://doi.org/10.1045/march2008-marshall-pt2
 ________. "Challenges and Opportunities for Personal Digital Archiving." In I, Digital: Personal Collections in the Digital Era, edited by Christopher A. Lee, 90-114. Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2011.
 Marshall, Catherine C., Sara Bly, and Francoise Brun-Cottan. "The Long Term Fate of Our Digital Belongings: Toward a Service Model for Personal Archives." Proceedings of IS&T Archiving 2006. Springfield, VA: Society for Imaging Science and Technology, 2006: 25-30.
 Rothenberg, Jeff. "Ensuring the Longevity of Digital Documents." Scientific American 272, no. 1 (January 1995): 42-47.
 Whittaker, Steve and Candace Sidner. "Email Overload: Exploring Personal Information Management of Email." CHI 1996 Proceedings, Vancouver: 276-282.
Williams, Peter, Jeremy Leighton John, and Ian Rowland. "The Personal Curation of Digital Objects: A Lifecycle Approach." Aslib Proceedings: New Information Perspectives 61, no. 4 (2009): 340-363. http://doi.org/10.1108/00012530910973767
About the Author
Nathan Brown is the Digital Projects Librarian at New Mexico State University. He holds a M.A. in Public History from New Mexico State University and an M.L.I.S. from the University of Oklahoma.