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Public Service Libraries and Personal Digital Archiving

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Personal Digital Archiving display
Personal Digital Archiving display

The Texas Library Association Annual Conference started earlier this week, and I’ll be heading out there on Friday April 11 to participate in an interactive session with the TLA’s Digital Libraries Roundtable on the National Digital Stewardship Alliance and some of NDIIPP’s initiatives related to Personal Digital Archiving.

Our parents and grandparents saved hand-written diaries, photo albums and other physical artifacts to secure future access to the memories of the past. We continue to create similar items but they are now almost exclusively in digital form. Digital information presents preservation challenges that our ancestors never had to deal with, such as rapidly changing technology infrastructures and digital storage media obsolescence.

Still, as described in the book Personal Archiving, practitioners of PDA go beyond family historians to encompass academic researchers studying digital scholarship; libraries, archives and museums of all sizes that hold a public service mission; historians, authors and academics collecting biographical materials on prominent people; and public officials and local historical societies compiling the record of their localities.

NDIIPP works to address digital preservation issues in a variety of ways. One area of activity has been to frame digital preservation issues around the challenges individuals face when dealing with their own digital photos, videos and other items. The framing of digital preservation as an individual challenge helps personalize the issue and build broad, popular support for digital stewardship actions.

Under that approach NDIIPP has created some high-level PDA resources such as one-page handouts, an E-publication on “Perspectives on Personal Digital Archiving” (pdf) and a Digital Preservation Video Series that touches on PDA issues. We’ve also participated in Preservation Week activities and created a Personal Digital Archiving Day kit to help organizations hold their own PDA events. In the session in Texas I’ll explore some of the PDA challenges facing individuals and describe some of the tools and services developed by NDIIPP and its partners that address personal digital preservation issues

But while NDIIPP has been pretty good at drawing attention to the issues around PDA and helping a community get off the ground (don’t forget that the Personal Digital Archiving 2014 conference is also going on this week in Indianapolis), we continue to explore the depth of our focus on PDA issues moving forward. We’re especially keen to get a better picture of how PDA issues fit into the National Digital Stewardship Alliance and the interests of its members.

2011 Personal Digital Archiving Day Event at the Library of Congress. Credit: Bill LeFurgy.
2011 Personal Digital Archiving Day Event at the Library of Congress. Credit: Bill LeFurgy.

With that in mind, a significant part of the session at TLA will be a conversation on potential roles for public service libraries, archives and museums in assisting individuals with personal digital archiving guidance.

There are 3 assumptions driving the inquiry:

  • The general public (non-professionals or “prosumers”) is creating large amounts of personal digital information and has concerns about how to steward it over time so that it’s always accessible;
  • They look to libraries, archives and museums as places to get guidance on how to steward the digital information they are creating;
  • Public service organizations see themselves in the role of providing that guidance.

We’re going to explore some of these assumptions in Texas to see if we can get some data on how the community views its roles on providing PDA guidance.

And while Texas is pretty big, it’s not big enough for the amount of data we hope to collect. So we’ve set up a survey, the NDIIPP/NDSA Survey on Personal Digital Archiving in Public Service Libraries, Archives and Museums, that will run through the end of the April to help us find out even more about what the community thinks. Any public service information organization is encouraged to respond. We hope to get broad participation from different sized organizations from across the country to help us determine any future actions NDIIPP and the NDSA might take in providing PDA resources.

If you’re in Texas stop by to say hi. We’ll also be live tweeting, and you can follow the conference action at #txla14.


  1. Butch:

    Thank you so much for your wonderful and very informative TLA session on PDA; it has lit a fire under me to take real strides in preserving my own digital content, as well as getting the word out to others to do the same! Thank you for the great work you and your colleagues do to preserve important historical and contemporary digital materials for future generations.

    Amanda Place, MLS
    Academic Reference Librarian

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