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Librarians Helping Their Communities with Personal Digital Archiving

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During Preservation Week 2012, April 22-28, librarians nationwide held events on saving personal digital possessions. These events are evidence of how librarians are stepping up and taking on the responsibility of helping their communities understand digital preservation. Julie Mosbo, chair of the Preservation Week Working Group and preservation librarian at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, said, “Libraries and librarians, as places and keepers of knowledge and information, have a great opportunity to promote digital archiving to the public. I think (librarians) are the perfect group to teach it but I’m not sure the public is aware that librarians/libraries can help them with that kind of service. I think to many folks we are still seen as ‘book’ people. Our desire to help and educate are natural opportunities to provide information on preserving digital items.”

Some of the Preservation Week presentations included:

Michigan – the Kalamazoo Public Library presented “Digital Photos 101” and the Ann Arbor District Library presented “Preserving Your Digital Photos with Archivist Lance Stuchell.”
Indiana – the Westchester Public Library presented “Managing Your Digital Photos.”
Maryland – the National Library of Medicine presented “Digital Memories: Preserving Your Personal Digital Photos, Documents and Videos.
Virginia – the Big Island Library presented, “Computer Skills: Digital Photos 101.”
Colorado – staff from the Denver Public Library helped people digitize their personal items as part of the “Creating Your Community” oral history project.

Note the dominant theme of preserving digital photos. Though all digital files need to be properly preserved, cell phone cameras have helped raise the digital-preservation stakes by generating tens of millions of photos daily, photos that many people may not know how to preserve. Digital photos are everyone’s top personal archiving concern.

Staff at the University of California San Diego held an afternoon event titled, “Personal Digital Archiving Day Event to Provide Tips on Preserving Your Stuff.” Like the Denver Public Library’s event, UCSD digitized things for people as part of their “how to” demonstrations, expert consultations and information presentations.

The UCSD event was ambitious partly because it included a lot of hardware for the demonstrations, which involved schlepping it all around, setting it all up, making sure it worked properly during the demonstration and moving everything back to the labs afterward. But demonstrations convey a lot of information (“Show me how to do it”) and make an educational impact. The UCSD demonstration hardware included scanners and workstations for digitizing 16mm film, slides and audio (for LP records).

The Geisel Library at the University of California, San Diego

Roger Smith, head of the UCSD Preservation and Digital Library, said the staff had plenty of in-house digital-preservation expertise among them and didn’t need outside resources, though they would consider showcasing commercial vendors in future events. “We have folks that work regularly in those areas so it really wasn’t hard to come up with information,” said Smith. “Within a couple of planning meetings, everyone had good ideas and it all flowed organically. And we knew the audience we were preparing for, so we understood not to get too technical. We knew it would be more effective to stay at an overview level.”

The audience was demographically mixed, old and young, UCSD people and members of the community. Smith expressed pleasure that the event sparked an enthusiastic dialog among UCSD staff in the audience, who shared experience and ideas on the various approaches to reformatting and digital preservation.

In New York, the New York Public Library presented “Archiving and Storage of Personal Media and Digital Files,” which offered advice on how to preserve what the presenters called “machine-readable memories.”

New York Public Library on Flickr by melanzane1013

One of the presenters, Nick Szydlowski, IMLS preservation administration fellow at NYPL, said that the combination of material and digital presentations worked well and made an impact on the audience. He said the audience was diverse, both in demographic makeup (“Though it skewed older,” Szydlowski said.) and in technological understanding. There were also some people from smaller institutions in the area who were interested in the topic and were considering creating their own archives. They were coming at it from a more professional and technologically savvy perspective.

Like Smith at UCSD, Szydlowski was careful to not be too technical. “One of the big challenges of talking about this to the general public is figuring out how technical to be,” Szydlowski said. “How much to give technical information and how much to just give recommendations without much background.” He said he would definitely do it again and maybe next time include more information about the threats to digital files.

Cameraman on Fotopedia by Peter van den Hamer

Activist Archivists, of which New York University professor Howard Besser is a founding member, held an event at NYU’s Michelson Theatre. Activist Archivists are encouraging members of the Occupy movement to record and archive their activities. As part of their efforts, Activist Archivists distribute digital preservation information to Occupy participants, such as “7 Tips to Ensure Your Video Is Usable in the Long Term” and “Best Practices for Video Activists.”

The Library of Congress hosted several presentations during Preservation Week, both on campus and at the Arlington County Public Library and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial D.C. Public Library. A month earlier, I gave a presentation at the library in Fredericksburg, VA, and in February I gave a keynote speech titled, “Communicating Personal Digital Archiving to the General Public” at Personal Digital Archiving 2012.

During Preservation Week, the Library of Congress presentation with the greatest national reach was Bill Lefurgy‘s webinar titled “Preserving Your Personal Digital Photographs,” which was viewed by over 570 people. Most of the nationwide events listed on the Preservation Week event finder include public viewings of Lefurgy’s presentation.

During the year, staff from the Library give presentations at events such as South by Southwest, Save Our African American Treasures and the National Book Festival. This is an opportunity for us to not only share information but also to listen to people’s questions and get a better understanding of their information needs.

Audience questions often raise issues that we had not considered before and we respond by publishing information such as “How to Transfer Video from Tape, DVD or Camera to Your Computer” and ”How to Transfer Photos from Your Camera to Your Computer.” More and more we try to not make assumptions about the level of technological expertise and comfort of our audience.

Please let us know if you have any experience with personal digital archiving presentations that you’d like to share or have any suggestions for these presentations. If you are considering putting on a personal digital archiving event, please peruse the Library of Congress personal digital archiving resources. If you are considering an all-day even, please look over the ALA resources and our own Personal Archiving Day Kit.

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