We had a great time talking with hundreds of people at the National Book Festival about some simple steps to preserve digital memories. This is the third year in a row we have been at the festival, and we continue to hear stories about the challenges people face in managing their personal and family collections.
“I’ve got 10 years worth of personal email. There are only a few message that really mean anything to me. Do I have to print all my messages out?” (No!).
“My husband said all we have to do is digitize all our old slides they would be safe forever. Is that true?” (Not exactly).
“Is ‘the cloud’ a good place to store my digital photographs?” (Yes–but).
We answered lots of such questions and also gave away handouts with tips on everything from getting pictures off your camera, to the projected life of various storage media, to scanning personal collections.
New this year is a “save the bits” sticker to help raise awareness. It drew immediate attention from younger visitors. Several teachers came by and requested small batches for their classes (“I’ll give them out a special rewards,” said one). We were happy to oblige, as the earlier kids are urged consider the “save the bits” message, the better.
As in previous years, people were drawn to our table by our exhibit of older computer hardware and storage media. A stack of computer punch cards was much commented upon. People of a certain age exclaimed “Hey–I remember these” while younger types were baffled by the concept of programming a computer with paper cards. The demographics shifted a bit when attention fell to our display of 8″ and 5.25″ floppy disks, although nobody under the age of about 30 claimed actual experience with them.
I was initially surprised how unfamiliar many people were with the old 8mm film projector we displayed. Kids were fascinated by the take-up reels, and it was clear they had never seen anything like them before. And, of course, how could they? Video cassette recorders and displaced home film projectors decades ago.
But those old 8mm home movies are still out there. One visitor was interested in digitizing “thousands of feet” of film to pass on to her children.
It’s fair to say the vast majority of people need help figuring out how to manage their personal digital collections. We do our best to provide some basic advice on the personal archiving section of our website, and we work with other institutions to assist them in developing outreach programs.
On the other hand, there is nothing so gratifying as talking to people directly.