The following is a guest post by Tess Webre, intern with NDIIPP at the Library of Congress
Note: there will be photographs of puppies throughout this post.
TS Eliot wasn’t wrong. The upcoming April is the cruelest month. The days are grey and cold, the nights are rainy and windy, the temperature fluctuates wildly, and it’s mid-term season. But none of these complaints compare to the only certainty in life other than death: taxes. I have decided to use the tax season as an excuse to get my digital files in order. That’s right, I’m auditing my data.
This is in part due to the response from a recent quiz I posted on the blog, and in part due to my terrifying realization that my financial records are laughably vulnerable – a fact that has kept me up on more than one occasion. You all can work through this with me for your own preservation audit. Just keep following the puppies!
There is a significant amount of digital financial data needed to complete taxes (digital forms, efilings, digital receipts from charities, e-bank statements, etc.) and there are quite a few demands made of that data. It also has to demonstrate authenticity to potentially serve as evidence in a court of law, have the ability to be accessed in the foreseeable future, and protected from being accessed by the wrong people. In other words, it requires good ol’ digital preservation planning. So, making the jump to a larger digital preservation plan is not that huge.
Let’s get started!
To start out I created a list of questions I had to ask myself for the audit. There are standards for this in trustworthy digital repositories, and I tried to create a list of questions that would comply with these standards. (It should be noted that I like hypothetical situations and exaggerate a lot.)
Here are the questions I asked:
- What type of files do I want/need to be preserved? Why?
- If one of these files could prove my innocence in court, could I find it in a timely manner and prove its authenticity?
- What specific software/hardware is required for accessing these files?
- Do I have any standardization for file formats/file names/descriptions? How many of my file’s formats are proprietary versus open access?
- What percentage of my files have sufficient metadata annotations/any metadata?
- Are there multiple copies of the files on different storage media in different locations? How easily could I access the storage media in different locations?
- How easy would it be for someone to hack my files? Are any files affected by viruses or corrupted? If so, how do I respond?
- How recently have I updated my storage media? Is any of it becoming obsolete/at risk of becoming obsolete shortly? How well have I been taking care of it? Is the storage media compatible with any new purchases (phones, computers, cameras, etc.)?
- Is there a plan in action in case of a disaster (natural disasters, alien invasions, puppy attacks!)? How much does the plan correspond with reality?
- If I were to be hit by a car and die, how easily can my digital legacy be accessed/controlled after I have gone?
- How far in the future can I conceivably continue to access my files if I continue doing what I have been doing?
At this point, I began to take a critical look at my files. This took awhile. The end result was that my personal digital files really did need the audit. I might not owe any back taxes, but I owed my files a new backup.
I then did the following:
- Created a spreadsheet for naming conventions for different data types (photographs, documents, music, video, etc.).
- Created a spreadsheet for format conventions for different data types, based on this. Converted files to these formats (when possible). If it was impossible to do this, converted them into a similar open-source format.
- Created a listing of descriptive elements I knew I wanted to have for data.
- Evaluated the material I had exclusively on cloud storage, created offline storage backups.
- Wrote up a digital legacy plan (great post about it here)
- Tried to locate backed up copies of corrupted files.
- Took a serious look at my storage media, and decided to purchase more up to date versions to prevent obsolescence.
- Wrote up a realistic digital disaster plan. Try going here.
- Made a plan to take a look at my files again next tax season.
Ultimately, taxes underscore the need for serious digital preservation for our financial files. Why not take this a step further and use this season as an excuse to take the same time for your other personal files? Could you say no to a puppy? I didn’t think so.
Lessons learned from conducting audit:
- Do some research before starting to find out best practices, new developments and other advice.
- Be tough, but fair. It does no good to be anything less that brutally honest. Just remember that there is a difference between being brutally honest and just brutal.
- Spreadsheets are your friends.
- If there is an encounter with damaged files, remain calm.
- Use this opportunity to get a little nostalgic. Look through some of the old photos, videos or correspondence and remember how important they are/ how upsetting it would be if they disappeared forever.
- It will take longer than you expect. It will be somewhat tedious, but it will be better if you think about puppies.
- Try to make this as pleasant as possible. Take your time, take a break to have a fantastic snack and go for a walk outside, and listen to music that makes you unequivocally happy.
Until next time, I wish you all safe data.