Personal Digital Archiving: An Overview

I give a 3-hour hands-on workshop on the topic of Personal Digital Archiving, and I’ve recently had some requests from people who haven’t been able to make the events, so I thought I’d share some of the materials here on iLibrarian for those of you who are interested. There’s a lot of content so I’ll be presenting it as a series of posts. To start off, here’s the workshop description:

“Today more and more of our lives are becoming digital. Everything from family photographs, music files, video footage, and correspondence to medical records, bookmarks, documents, and even ideas are now available in electronic form. This makes access quick & convenient, but how do we save all of these digital assets for the long term? Most of us have experienced personal data loss at one time or another due to hard drive failure, file corruption, technology obsolescence, or accidental file deletion. What should we be doing right now to safeguard our digital creations? This hands-on session will explain the process of creating and executing an action plan for archiving personal digital assets, deciding what to store, consolidating multiple file versions, and cataloguing resources. This workshop will explore both local storage media and cloud services as well as institutional & disciplinary repositories. Learn to plan & execute the archiving of your own personal digital assets as well as how to teach your patrons to do this for themselves.”


People today are creating massive digital collections which are becoming increasingly difficult to manage and maintain. While many have begun to think about how to protect and keep their digital assets available for the long term, few have taken steps to assure that their valuable items are secure and accessible. While most find digital curation a difficult process, this series of posts will present a simple step-by-step plan to creating a robust Personal Digital Archive (PDA) which is customized for each individual.

Types of Digital Assets which we will discuss preserving:

  • Photos & Image files
  • Music & Audio files
  • Video footage
  • Email correspondence
  • Documents
  • Presentations
  • Websites & Blogs
  • Software applications

Challenges & Obstacles

These are just some of the major challenges and obstacles that we face when we start thinking about setting up a personal digital archive.

    Technology Obsolescence/Failure

  • Some of our files may be stored on obsolescent media, e.g. floppy disks, on old platforms that no longer work or are incompatible with ones we now own, or may be on a local hard drive that has failed.



  • Some of us (myself included) may have gotten into the habit of moving our files wholesale to a new computer without concern for cleaning out unwanted/out of date files, e.g. transferring the entire “My Documents” folder to a new machine. Others may archive their old files by emailing themselves everything.


  • We may have saved multiple near-replicas of each file, this is often due to distribution and stockpiling. While we’re starting to think of setting up a Personal Digital Archive, we’ll want to consider that all files are NOT created equal…e.g. a low-resolution copy of an image on Facebook is not the same as a hi-res archival master.


  • How many of us have files spread across multiple devices, e.g. flash drives, netbooks, mobile phones, saved to storage media, e.g. CDs, DVDs, hosted on various social networks, hosted with cloud storage services such as Dropbox and, etc. We’ll want to have a plan and policy in place for where to store what and how to keep track of where everything is going forward.


Backups vs. Archives

I used to think, as many people do, that backups and archives were synonymous and that once backups had been made, that no further maintenance of files was required. But, the fact is that copying the contents of an entire hard drive wholesale is not the same thing as creating an archive. There is no value judgment involved in files collected in this way, they are often difficult to find when needed, they are rarely curated beyond the point of the initial backup, and there is little chance for rediscovery through browsing due to sheer accumulation. In the next steps, we’ll take a look at how to go about making value judgments as to what to save, where to save it, and how to maintain it.