Everyday Digital Archives Q&A: Anne Graham

In support of our Everyday Digital Archives campaign, the SGA Outreach Managers are happy to bring you the third installment of our Q&A blog posts! Today’s post is brought to you by Anne Graham, Digital Collections Archivist at Kennesaw State University’s Department of Museums, Archives, and Rare Books.

What digital archives-related resources do you read–blogs, social media, articles, journals, listservs, etc.?
I like to read a variety of blogs. I also follow some organizations on Facebook.
For digital preservation, I like:

For technology, I like:

I also like to keep up on intellectual property (IP) developments:

What advice would you give to an archivist who is nervous to start tackling digital archives?
With digital materials, doing nothing isn’t an option. You have to worry about technological obsolescence, file corruption, and generally not being able to find anything. It can seem overwhelming, but start small and build on your successes.

Do you actively curate or archive your own personal digital materials? If so, how?
Yes! Start to manage your digital files by appraising, describing, and weeding. We all know how to do that. It’s something we do everyday. I actively review the files I’m working on and delete those that I no longer need or that are of poor quality. As an example, I take lots of photographs with my digital camera. Because I’m a terrible photographer – they’re blurred, the subject is out of frame, or I’ve taken another photograph of my feet — maybe 1 out of 20 is usable. When I download those files to my laptop, I do a quick appraisal and delete all the bad ones. It only takes a couple of minutes and it lowers the amount of work I have to do later. I also take that time to add minimal metadata to the files I’m keeping. Using the file properties, I input a creator, brief description, and copyright holder or licensing information. I also add 2 to 3 keywords by which I can search to retrieve the file. Finally, I create a meaningful filename – IMG_0506 doesn’t tell you much – and I save it to a subfolder within a larger bucket. As an example, I keep all my digital photographs in an “Images” folder and separate them by larger subjects into subfolders. I use abbreviations to name my files, such as th-bankru-20110703, for an image of the beach at Ban Krut in Thailand taken on July 3, 2011. All the images of Thailand sort together because they’re all prefaced with “th.”

I periodically review my files and delete those that I’m no longer working on. I also resist the urge to save temporary files such as that invitation I made for a party or the yard sale sign I created. I back up important files to an external drive and keep copies of files in cloud storage.

Why is curating or archiving your own personal digital materials important?
We all create digital files each day. Preserving them takes action. Since about 2000, all my photographs of friends, family, and important events are digital. If I want to go through them the way I flip through my photo albums, I have to take steps now. Otherwise, they’ll be inaccessible.

Do your personal digital archives exist outside of the virtual/online environment? In what form?
I’m not really a big fan of creating analog surrogates for digital objects. I like using the full functionality of digital formats, including search and retrieval, manipulation, and creating mash-ups.

“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)

Eventually, the sheer volume of digital material will dictate that most preservation activities are automated. But we’re not there yet. This means that the material created during the interim needs to be preserved manually or as a combination of manual and automated processes. The role of the digital archivist is going to evolve with technology.

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?
As social media sites become more sophisticated, harvesting them becomes more problematic. As an example, I used to be able to save a Twitter stream as an XML file, but Twitter dropped support for XML in 2013.

If you use the Mozilla Firefox browser, the ArchiveFacebook add-on (https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/archivefacebook/) allows users to download their Facebook account. Alternatively, you can directly download a copy of their data through the General Account settings.

Users can also request an archive of their tweets from Twitter through their account settings.

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?
I think we can try to educate people about the dangers of passive preservation, but it only seems to take hold when someone tries to access an old file and finds that they can’t. Failure appears to be the best path to enlightenment. It’s unfortunate, but I think anyone who’s had experience with disaster planning and recovery recognizes that feeling of apathy. One of the most convincing demonstrations I’ve seen about file corruption involved using the program shotgun (https://github.com/mcarden/shotgun), which simulates bit rot by randomly changing individual bytes.

How do you see people accessing personal digital records/archives in the future? 10 years? 20 years?
So many applications are utilizing cloud storage that I see that as a real contender for personal files. It’s cheap, convenient, (theoretically) backed up, and you can’t lose it like a USB drive. I am an avid user of Dropbox and Google Drive. However, I would never store anything of a private or sensitive nature in the cloud. And, that’s not where I would store important files to which I need on-demand access. Additionally, content providers who also make cloud storage available have the ability to remove content without the permission of the owner or licensor. I’m thinking specifically of Amazon’s recall of George Orwell’s “1984” from its Kindle because of a copyright dispute. So, while I believe distributed storage is where we’re headed, we still have a long way to go.

Thanks to Anne 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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