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What to Look Forward to at Personal Digital Archiving 2013

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My Closet on Flickr by General Wesc

Next week the University of Maryland will host Personal Digital Archiving 2013  (Erin Engle wrote about it on Tuesday). This is the fourth PDA conference since its inception in 2010 at the Internet Archive and its significance — for both cultural institutions and the general public — increases every year.  It is the one major conference whose purposes is to educate all people and raise awareness about the risks and issues surrounding personal digital archives.

At the first PDA conference, Jeff Ubois, one of the founders, established a lineup of topics to address that was so comprehensive, most of them remain relevant and vital today.

Topics at PDA 2010 included:

  • what average people actually do with their stuff, as opposed to what digital preservation experts insist they should do.
  • round-the-clock data capture of lifelogging.
  • uses and possible mis-uses of personal health and medical data.
  • social science research on personal-archive data.
  • tools for managing and sifting through email.
  • the uses of personal digital archives for enriching family histories.

And, of course, there was — and will probably always be — a smattering of academic navel gazing to round out the program.

The PDA 2013 conference continues to attract tool designers, whether the tools are for consumers – such as digital scrapbooks with timelines and multimedia capability – or researchers or for data-preservation institutions to manage the unstructured digital archives they might acquire from the general public.

Social science research and analysis continues to be a mainstay topic. The growth of personal digital archives means there will be more data for social scientists to mine. This area of interest will grow as information technologists join disparate databases and simplify the powerful Big Data research methods.

Digital estate planning — what happens to your digital possessions after you die — continues to be an important part of the personal digital archiving conversation. This topic ranges far beyond backing up data or sharing passwords with loved ones.  Laws are still evolving and PDA 2013 is an opportunity to hear the latest news around legal issues for digital estates and digital inheritance.

The term “personal” itself is not just a broad category applied to the general public. It also gets applied to specific people and professions. Since the PDA conferences were always strongly supported by academia, archiving works of professors  and scholars has been a constant topic. Over the past few PDA conferences there has been an added focus on how particular artists archive their personal stuff; PDA 2013 features a presentation on how a sampling of artists deal with their digital archives.

Each passing year brings new digital consumer goodies — such as apps, games and social media — that consumers will adopt and — in turn — add to their stash of digital possessions. Some present new preservation challenges. One presentation at PDA 2013 will focus for the first time on archiving digital zines.

One of the most important issues to emerge from the most recent PDA conferences is the role of cultural institutions in helping the general public. Should cultural intuitions help? Are they morally obligated to? Should they archive personal digital content? If so, how does a small institution create a stable digital archive? And where does the funding come from?

In particular, public libraries are emerging as protectors of community digital assets. How will that come about? Who trains the public librarians and where will they get the resources? This will be covered at PDA 2013 as well.

Awareness of the need for personal digital archiving is slowly spreading into the mainstream of consumer consciousness, with articles increasing appearing in major newspapers and magazines. The defeatist scare of “the digital dark ages” is giving way to a positive “take charge” attitude, and that’s a good thing.

The Personal Digital Archiving conference has become a unique and important annual forum. We hope that the information shared at the PDA conference will reach the general public and inspire further innovation.

We invite you to come out and join the conversation.




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