Everyday Digital Archives Q&A: Christine Wiseman

Welcome to the second Q&A blog post for our Everyday Digital Archives campaign, featuring the perspective of Christine Wiseman, Head, Digital Services Unit, Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library.

What digital archives-related resources do you read–blogs, social media, articles, journals, listservs, etc.?
I subscribe to ALA’s digital preservation list serv [Digpres] and the Preservation Administrators Discussion Group [Padg], which often features digital preservation related discussions. I religiously read the excellent resources from the Library of Congress including Digital Preservation Newsletter and the blog called The Signal. LC has an entire section of their website devoted to personal digital archiving; all of these resources can be found on their digital preservation home page, http://www.digitalpreservation.gov. 

In addition, I closely follow the work of the Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative (FADGI). Chris Prom’s blog, Practical E-Records, is extremely useful because as the title implies, he offers practical solutions that are fairly easy to implement. Prom possesses the unique ability to break down complex problems into understandable chunks. Another useful blog is Engineering the Future of the Past by Kari Smith which chronicles the excellent work at MIT in the area of digital archives.


What advice would you give to an archivist who is nervous to start tackling digital archives?
It’s quite easy to be intimidated and overwhelmed by digital preservation and managing digital archival collections. However, benign neglect is never a good practice when it comes to digital formats. If you don’t jump in and do something, before long you will be inundated by content. Use the same processes and procedures in place for analog materials, and apply those to digital content. Work incrementally; first begin by following best practices for file organization, naming, and conversion. Make sure you have a robust back-up plan. Talk to colleagues about best practices and attend training such as the SAA Certification workshops or Nancy McGovern’s week-long digital preservation management workshop. In “You‘ve Got to Walk Before You Can Run: First Steps for Managing Born Digital Content Received on Physical Media,” Ricky Erway provides a set of initial steps for managing born digital content. Another good resource is the recently released National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NSDA) levels of digital preservation, which are intended to be easy to use and implemented in a tiered fashion.

Do you actively curate or archive your own personal digital materials? If so, how?
Why is curating or archiving your own personal digital materials important?
Do your personal digital archives exist outside of the virtual/online environment? In what form?
My family digital photographs and videos are probably my most precious digital records followed secondly by my professional files of writings, teaching materials, presentations, and images collected over the past 15 years working in libraries and archives. I was a fairly late adopter of digital photography but after getting my first digital camera in 2007 I never looked back. Now, like most people, I have thousands of digital photographs. For the first few years I tried to have prints made of my favorite photos for preservation purposes, but the volume of photos that digital photography produces soon made that too onerous a task. I try to keep them organized in a logical file system, but I don’t use consistent file names for the individual images. I try to maintain three copies of everything digital–one my computer hard drive, one an external hard drive and a third copy distributed on the internet using cloud storage such as DropBox and Google Drive and Flickr. A major challenge to this distributed model is keeping track of everything. One of my goals is to create an inventory of what is stored where, because as digital content accumulates it’s very easy to lose track.

“Won’t personal digital archiving solve itself as the digital generation comes of age?” Your thoughts?
**To give credit where credit is due, this question is taken from Catherine Marshall’s “Rethinking Personal Digital Archiving, Part 1” (http://www.dlib.org/dlib/march08/marshall/03marshall-pt1.html)

No, I don’t think so. I don’t think the digital generation–who tend to want immediate access to information–thinks about future access. They just assume it’s going to be available rather than understanding what is required to make that happen. I think it’s up to us old folks who remember life before the internet to serve as reminders.

Due to the distributed nature of personal digital archives, (i.e. content of an individual all over the web in different arenas: Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.) how should archivists approach the challenge of acquiring these dispersed digital materials? Are there tools to help?
Tools are emerging.  For example, Google now has a tool where you can download a copy of your data from all of their various products. An interesting area that is emerging is planning for your digital afterlife. Google now has options for what to do with your digital assets when you pass away or no longer use your account. You can have your account made inactive after a period of time or designate someone as your beneficiary. These features could have implications for archives and their work with donors.

What can we do as archivists to change the culture of “benign neglect” that people so often have in regards to their personal digital records?
Continue with efforts related to outreach and education. The tricky part is reaching members of the general public when we are more accustomed to talking to others in the library and archives profession.

How do you see people accessing personal digital records/archives in the future? 10 years? 20 years?
I think searching will become much more robust, especially of audio and video, and it will become less dependent on metadata and file names.

Thanks to Christine for sharing her insights! Want to volunteer to be interviewed for our Q&A blog posts? Know a digital records steward we should interview? Let us know: outreach [at] soga [dot] org.

–Cathy Miller, SGA Assistant Outreach Manager

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