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.
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.