Lighting Talk: Personal Digital Preservation

On April 5 my program at the University of Washington had the pleasure to host ALA president, Molly Raphael, for the day. As part of the festivities our campus ALA chapter hosted a lighting talk session with the theme of “passions into practice”. Students in both the online and residential program shared a bit of what he or she was passionate about and how that would guide his or her in professional practice.

I chose to highlight personal digital preservation, and how LAM professionals (libraries, archives, and museum) could reach out and encourage more users to participate in preserving their own digital past. Below are my slides (For those of my readers that are familiar with the Ignite format you may wonder why there are only 18 slides. I actually repeated 2 slides to get 30 seconds instead of 15 for that topic.). I have also included my notes for each which is roughly what I said during the presentation.

Today I will be speaking about personal digital preservation and how to actually get people to practice it in their homes.

We are now living our lives digitally from social media and staying in touch with family and friends to job searing with LinkedIn to our news consumption through RSS feeds. Even my schooling is done through digital means and many of my classmates both online and residential have turned to digital note taking.

Many people both inside and out of our profession whisper of a digital “dark ages” when in the future large segments of our history and culture are missing. It all disappearing into the ether.

However, I’m not willing to believe that our world will just hand over our diverse cultural bounty to a new incarnation of medieval monks and just hope and pray something survives.

Who would we trust with such a responsibility? Government agencies like the Library of Congress, a consortium of librarians (academic or public)? Or would the IT world faithfully transfer our data from hard drive to hard drive like monks transcribing manuscripts so long ago?

No, that isn’t the answer. The answer is education. We as Information Professionals need to reach out to the public and get everyone involved in preserving our new digital past.

This should be easy — in theory. Everyone wants to leave their legacy. We all think fondly of our grandma’s shoebox of photos or the lovely photo albums or scrap books that preserve family events so well. We want to be remembered.

However, as Cathy Marshall so aptly observed at the Personal Digital Archiving Conference in San Francisco this year. The person who wants to preserve digital documents for prosperity is usually not the person with the know-how.

How do we combat this problem? Two ways — we reach out to those family archivists and teach them the tech skills they need AND we reach out to the “IT” person and educate them on why they need to care about preservation.

There are already many organizations in place that reach out to the archivist in the family. The National Digital Information Infrastructure, and Preservation Program (NDIIPP) with the Library of Congress, preservation week workshops in libraries, and other public library programs all cater to this archivists demographic. There are also programs like MOHAI’s Nearby History that teaches interested citizens how to conduct academic historic research that could be adapted to focus on historic digital preservation.

Information Professionals can also reach the IT person by going to where they interact such as the recent SxSW Interactive Conference.NDIIP’s blog, The Signal, recently discussed the “hipster halo” effect that archivists encountered during the conference. Discussing digital preservation at events like SxSW reaches out to those who create digital content (photos, music,movies, etc) and gets the message out that we need to think of how we are all going keep our creative content safe.

What this all comes down to is creating a habit — making personal digital preservation as second nature as say brushing your teeth or keeping secure passwords.

Here I’m going to take another page out of the health industry’s playbook. We need to campaign nationally and not just in libraries and library circles. We need to cast a large net.

Once segment of the population we need to reach out to is lawyers especially estate lawyers. If our lawyers remind us to bay up and create metadata for our digital documents and then place them in the hands of a digital assets executor.

This is especially important when in it comes to immortal digital selves — our blogs, facebook profile, twitter account, flickr etc. Who is the custodian of our personal website? Or do we ask to take it all down? Our will can answer these questions.

Next — picture sharing websites — if these majorly popular websites start to help educate and remind users to caption, tag, and rename their picture files (and to also backup their photos locally) this can go a long way to creating a new digital “shoebox”.

Finally the tech and gadget websites. If we can get the tech community talking not just about the next new thing, but also how to save and care for our old stuff (gadget and tech guys get really nostalgic for their old gadgets too) then we can get the whole world talking about personal digital preservation.

The bottom line is we need to act NOW not when the perfect app, program, or other solution materializes. We need to create good preservation habits today.

Who else could librarians, archivists, and museum professionals partner with in a national campaign to spread awareness about preserving our digital history? Do you agree that each person should be in some way responsible or should we hand over our digital culture to a new age of “monks” to preserve?

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2 Comments

Filed under Digital Perservation, Library School

2 responses to “Lighting Talk: Personal Digital Preservation

  1. Mom

    So hard to do! I just want to find a scanner for all of my frail old books that wont break the bank (or the book!)

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