The following is a guest post by Tess Webre, an intern with NDIIPP at the Library of Congress
Even though I’m relatively new to the professional library world, I’ve long known that digital preservation on a personal level is a daunting task laced with threats of doom. It requires great amounts of time, energy and consideration with very few visible benefits from day to day.
Like organizing a closet, or rearranging a kitchen cabinet, personal digital archiving is easy to put off, easy to forget and easy to make excuses for avoiding. It is tempting to look at disorganized files and pantries and shrug them off by saying “I’ll work on this tomorrow.” How quickly we realize the error of our ways.
As soon as a disaster occurs and we find ourselves surrounded in disarray and must pick up the pieces. Just as kitchen cabinets need to be organized after a bag of rice spills on the floor, we start thinking about digital archiving after we can’t find a file, or access a piece of software.
Who among us has not lost a piece of valuable digital information? Our data can go out with a bang of a laptop being dropped or the whimper of scratch on a CD. We can lose our data with the excitement of graduation or the mourning of a funeral. Personal files can be lost with the closing of a company or the changing of a leader.
For reasons as diverse as natural disasters to software obsolescence, accessing our data can be impossible. We can discover the inaccessibility of the data immediately, months or even years after it occurs and feel the same paralyzing inability to do anything about it. Is there anything more frustrating than this?
It seems to me that there are two paths following the loss of data. Option one: consider this to be a fluke, and continue on with day to day life without making any of the necessary changes to preserve data. By ignoring the greater implications, the data loss will be repeated. It is just a matter of time before more and more data becomes lost. It will start as a trickle, and become a flood. Until responsibility is taken, this will become a cycle.
Option two: learn the implications of this data loss: if one piece of digital data can easily become inaccessible then any piece of data can become inaccessible. This puts every photograph, every email, every home video, every e-filing and every other bit of memory in your digital history on the proverbial chopping block. That is a terrifying possibility, but not an inevitability as long as steps are taken to actively preserve digital data.
However, taking the next step can be difficult. With the relative newness of digital preservation and the plethora of different storage facilities and types, one can easy get lost in a technical jargon, and ambiguity. It can lead to more questions than answers.
What exactly is metadata and how do I make sure I have enough? Is it better to preserve material in the cloud or a physical storage media? As the questions mount, so does the frustration. It becomes easy to just give up on trying to preserve personal data for the future, to continue to put off the necessary steps until the next disaster occurs, thus starting the whole process over again.
One of the things I’ve learned during my internship is just how useful the NDIIPP personal digital archiving information is for helping people do the right thing with personal files. Written in a clear and relaxed tone (and, really, I’m not trying to curry favor!) I’ve found the website, as well as blog posts by Mike Ashenfelder and others to answer all kinds of questions.
I wish I could testify that the NDIIPP information has totally dispelled my fear of impending digital doom. It hasn’t. But it has inspired me with ideas and insights I can apply to push my personal digital threat level back to a safer place.
In the meantime, I wish you all safe data.