Artist’s Legacy Toolkit: Digital Files

Born Digital

Born-digital materials are created on a computer, digital camera, or other digital device, and include emails, documents, e-books, websites, forums, communities, wikis, social media sites, digital photographs, videos, and sound recordings. People often assume that digital materials will last forever. They won’t! Backing up your digital files, separating archival copies from access copies, and having good systems for naming and organizing your files will ensure things don’t get lost, deleted, or changed.

The Library of Congress has developed Personal Digital Archiving, a set of tools to help individuals preserve their digital materials. Click on the links below to learn more about how to identify your materials, select what to save, and organize and store your materials.

A series of articles by Mike Ashenfelder on Personal Digital Archiving offer tips on:

Adding descriptions to digital photographs

Adding labels and descriptions to audio files

Basics of scanning

The Digital Stewardship Curriculum is a publicly available, self-guided series of educational resources covering all aspects of the Digital Stewardship Lifecycle – bringing materials in, managing and organizing materials, preserving materials, and providing access to materials – all the way from physical materials to digital files. Each part of the curriculum encourages participants to tailor policies, procedures, tools, and other resources based on cultural and community needs. As part of the Sustainable Heritage Network, managed by the Center for Digital Scholarship and Curation at Washington State University, the Digital Stewardship Curriculum is intended for cultural heritage professionals working in or with Indigenous communities starting digitization and other digital projects. Many of the topics are also replicable for small, non-Indigenous institutions.

Archiving Social Media

You probably use social media to share and store photos, videos, and information about your work. Don’t assume materials are archived because they are on a social media platform!  Learn about collecting and preserving social media content, and take steps to ensure you won’t lose any posts that you create. North Carolina State University offers a Social Media Archives Toolkit, which includes tools for harvesting social media content.

Archive-It and ArchiveSocial are two popular sites that offer institutions a fee-based subscription service to archive and maintain their web content, including social media.

→ See Legacy Tool #13: Social Media Archiving

Digital Storage Media and Backups

Be aware if you store your digital files on external hardware like CDs, hard drives, or flash drives. These materials don’t last forever, as explained in How Long Will Your Digital Storage Media Last? It’s important to backup these items to an outside source, but how many backup copies should you have? At a minimum, you need 2 copies, in 2 places, in 2 different media types. A safer plan is to keep 3 copies in 2 places and media types. At least one copy should never be touched, and another should be designated for access. Make sure to keep an inventory of the location of all the copies. Your organization’s needs and resources will determine how much backup you have. For more information, visit the National Digital Stewardship Alliance’s Levels of Preservation.

There are free, open source tools that can help manage and preserve your digital assets. While these tools require some tech-savvy to use, they can be an affordable way to improve the security and sustainability of your digital files. The following tool directs you to these resources, provides a glossary of some of the common terms about digital files and preservation which you may encounter, and links to other glossaries in case you come across a term not covered in this tool.

→ See Legacy Tool #14: Digital Media and Files: Free Tools and Glossary

Archiving Your Website

As internet platforms change, older websites can lose functionality or become entirely inaccessible. There are ways to archive your website to ensure it will not be lost.

Conifer & Webrecorder are free tools to create high-fidelity, interactive recordings of any web site you browse, as well as a platform for making those recordings accessible. 

Webrecorder provides a suite of high-fidelity web archiving tools to capture dynamic websites. Browsertrix is open source and accessible to deploy locally, ReplayWebpage allows users to upload and watch archived crawls, and Browser extension (best if used on Chrome) supports manual crawls. Browertrix Cloud is a subscription based cloud service that allows users to crawl websites, archive, replay, and curate public facing collections all within the same platform.

In 2014, the Library of Congress’ Music Division announced a new initiative to collect and preserve websites about the performing arts. As more institutions see the need to archive websites, you may be able to find a repository to help save your website. Use the resources below to learn how you can archive your own website.

Special thanks to Nicholas Taylor, Web Archiving Service Manager at Stanford University, for sharing these helpful resources! 

Digital Reformatting

Digital Reformatting is the process of digitizing non-digital materials. This can be useful for easier access as well as to create backup copies in case the originals are lost or destroyed. This can be as simple as scanning old newspaper articles or photos, or can mean transferring VHS tapes to digital files. Be aware that DVD’s, while they are great for access, are not a preservation medium!

Understand the difference between digitizing and preserving. To digitally preserve non-digital items, the material must be captured in uncompressed or losslessly compressed files during digitization. (Lossless compression creates files that take up less storage space, and the compression can be reversed using an algorithm.) The creation of these lossless files ensures the quality will not decrease as the preservation file is reformatted and migrated to prevent obsolescence as technology changes. Protect your preservation files. Create compressed access copies for use. Uncompressed files are large. For example, 1 hour of lossless video is about 100 GB of data. Form partnerships to help maintain safe storage for your large digital files. Preservation files are too big to store in the “Cloud.” Uploading them at regular browser speeds would take several days!

Planning to digitize your AV materials? View our guides for AV Digitization Best Practices and AV Metadata Template.

→ See Legacy Tool #15: AV Digitization Best Practices
→ See Legacy Tool #16 AV Metadata Templates

Digitization Resources By Region

Do you need to quickly and safely transfer some video or audio tapes, or scan photos or documents? Many libraries and nonprofit organizations offer low-cost solutions, ranging from DIY stations where you can digitize your own materials to full-service professional transfer services.

New York.

XFER Collective: XFER Collective is a non-profit organization that partners with artists, activists, individuals, and groups to lower the barriers to preserving at-risk audiovisual media – especially unseen, unheard, or marginalized works – by providing low-cost digitization services and fostering a community of support for archiving and access through education, research, and cultural engagement.

San Francisco Bay Area

BAVC (Bay Area Video Coalition): Offers video and audio transfer services for 1″ Type C Open Reel Video, 1/2″ Open Reel Video (AV and CV), U-Matic, U-MaticSP, Betamax II/III, VHS/SVHS/VHS-C, Hi8mm/Video8mm, Betacam, BetacamSP, MiniDV, DVCam, Digibeta, 1/4″ Open Reel Audio, Audiocassette, DAT.
Reduced rates offered through the annual Preservation Access Program.

Washington, DC

DC Public Library Memory Lab: The lab provides equipment for digitizing home movies and scanning photographs and slides. It’s a do-it-yourself (DIY)  model, meaning we provide step-by-step instructions, but you control the process from start to finish.
The lab can be reserved for three-hour sessions. FREE.


Cleveland Digital Public Library: Offers equipment for high-resolution scanning of photos and documents. Also offers preservation workshops. FREE.


The Texas Archive of the Moving Image offers digitization services at competitive rates, and also periodically offers FREE digitization of Texas-related film and video, in exchange for contributing digital copies to the archive, through the Texas Film Round-up

Seattle/Pacific Northwest

MIPoPS (Moving Image Preservation of Puget Sound): Offers video transfer services, including appraisal; digitized videos are stored and publicly shared by the Internet Archive.


MARMIA (Mid-Atlantic Regional Moving Image Archive): Offers motion picture film inspection, repair, and/or rehousing for 16mm, 8mm, Super 8 ; Video or audio transfers (access copies only at this time) ; Introductory to intermediate-level media preservation training ; Grant writing ; Media preservation assessments ; Media asset management planning, implementation, training, and/or troubleshooting ; Audiovisual analog-to-digital workstation planning, implementation, training, and/or troubleshooting.

Additional resources for digital preservation:

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