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Personal Digital Archiving 2013: “Everyone Should Have an Archive”

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You should have an archive for your personal digital materials. We all should. Archives preserve memories of “me” as well as “us.” Our personal archives also offer exciting new ways to remember and reconstruct our lives.

The author with George "The Fat Man" Sanger at PDA2013
The author with George “The Fat Man” Sanger at PDA2013, by wlef70, on Flickr

Attendees of the Personal Digital Archiving 2013 conference considered these ideas over two days of presentations and discussion last week. NDIIPP co-sponsored the event with The Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities at the University of Maryland in conjunction with the University of Maryland Libraries. This was the first time the conference has taken place on the East coast; it originated in 2010 at the Internet Archive in San Francisco, which also hosted meetings in 2011 and 2012.

A major focus of the meeting was on creators of personal digital materials. The opening keynote was from Sally Bedell Smith, best-selling author of Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch and other biographies. Smith discussed her evolving use of word processing from embracing one of the early programs in the 1980s through the present day.

Over the course of her career, she has built a very large hybrid personal collection of paper research and digital drafts. She noted a recent adoption of Facebook in association with her most recent book, and speculated on the future usefulness of information received through social media. But, from an evidentiary perspective, Smith lamented the decline in hand-written correspondence, saying that email had an unfortunate uniformity that “resulted in the loss of vital artifactual information, such as the pressure of the pen on the paper.”

"Inside the PC" display at UMD MITH
“Inside the PC” display at UMD MITH, by wlef70, on Flickr

George “The Fat Man” Sanger also spoke from the creative perspective during the day two keynote. Sanger has composed music for over 200 video games, and was the first video game music producer  accepted into the National Recording Academy. He has donated an extensive digital collection documenting his life and career to the UT Videogame Archive at the Briscoe Center, University of Texas at Austin.

Sanger talked about his creative process, which has depended on an evolving digital infrastructure. He also discussed working with archivists to curate his material. The experience of having his collection preserved and organized for use deeply impressed him. “Everyone should have an archive,” he declared. He urged archivists and librarians to make the process as easy as possible while acknowledging that creators also needed to lower their own barriers that get in the way of preservation and stewardship.

The meeting emphasized use of personal digital collections to explore memories and analyze the past. Sudheendra Hangal, in “Engaging users with personal archives through gamification,” discussed using free software to process personal email, including creation of crossword puzzles to jog memory and also to work with Alzheimers patients. Smiljana Antonijevic and Ellysa Stern Cahoy presented “Scholarly workflow and personal digital archiving,” which detailed their work to interview faculty about their digital creation and management processes. Similarly, Jenny Shaw talked about interviewing creators in “Hardware and soft skills: surveying scientific personal papers in the digital age.” She spoke of her work in the context of documenting the Human Genome Archive Project at the Wellcome Trust in the UK.

Mat Kelly of the Old Dominion University Web Science and Digital Libraries Research Group has prepared detailed notes (and videos) for many of the conference presentations. Please check them out for more information.

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