Column Editor: Debbie Vaughn (Adjunct Instructor, College of Charleston)
Column Editor’s Note: I imagine I am not the only ATG reader who struggles with personal digital content: documents relating to institutional memory, emails that provide a chronology of how and why departmental decisions were made, digital photos, and even scanned family recipes. Thankfully, Marjorie M.K. Hlava offers us her thoughts on Information Today’s relatively-new title, Personal Archiving: Preserving Our Digital Heritage, edited by Donald T. Hawkins. Marjorie’s history and experience with creating, organizing, and disseminating information is remarkable, and her work with the Controlled Vocabulary and Dublin Core teams has profoundly influenced our profession. Many thanks to Marjorie for her contribution to this month’s ATG. Happy reading, everyone! — DV
Hawkins, Donald T., ed. Personal Archiving: Preserving Our Digital Heritage. Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc., 2013.
978-1-57387-480-9. 320 pages. $49.50.
Reviewed by Marjorie M.K. Hlava (President and Chairman, Access Innovations / Data Harmony)
Having been deeply involved in digital information management since 1971, Donald Hawkins is well suited to be the editor of this book. He has assembled a well-chosen assortment of experts to provide their insight on various aspects of personal digital archiving.
In the Introduction, Hawkins identifies some technological developments that have led to the relatively new interest in personal archiving, including the widespread use of digital cameras; the extensive use of email; and the recent emergence of cloud storage services. “In response to these trends, commercial software packages for the preservation of family and individual histories have begun to appear, and the general public’s awareness of and interest in personal archiving is rapidly increasing.”
In Chapter 1 – “Personal Digital Archives: What They Are, What They Could Be, and Why They Matter” – Jeff Ubois of the MacArthur Foundation discusses the importance of personal digital archives from a social and cultural perspective. He observes, “Clearly, the concept of the personal digital archive is on the minds of many, from authors and artists to historians and genealogists, and from entrepreneurs and engineers to funders and managers of memory institutions. Over the last few years, a common language, shared awareness, and a new field of study centered on personal archives have begun to take shape through the work of a new community of digital archivists. But it has yet to be fully defined or realized.” He discusses five issues: 1) funding and costs; 2) the relation between the commercial and noncommercial sectors; 3) the relation between individuals and institutions, 40 technology and design; and 5) culture and expectations.
In Chapter 2 – “Personal Archiving for Individuals and Families” – Danielle Conklin, of Cotton Gloves Research discusses the challenges of personal archiving. These challenges include dealing with the large amounts of unorganized files that many people have, and the problems that changing technologies and formats present for long-term storage and access. Several case studies show “how people are archiving,” each with a different set of approaches.
In Chapter 3 – “The Library of Congress and Personal Digital Archiving” – Mike Ashenfelder of the Library of Congress reveals what the LOC tells people about preserving personal digital material. The chapter includes a section on digital photos, with technical nitty-gritty as well as basic principles. He explains the LOC’s interest in disseminating personal archiving know-how:
“We are firm in our conviction that people should have a basic knowledge of how to take care of their digital stuff.”
In Chapter 4 – “Software and Services for Personal Archiving” – Hawkins describes available software and services for the following activities: archiving photos and documents; collecting notes; email archiving; email backup with manual archiving; and archiving home movies and videos.
What happens to a person’s digital materials after that person dies? In Chapter 5 – “Digital Inheritance: Tackling the Legal and Practical Issues” – Evan Carroll of the Digital Beyond discusses the legal complexities of access to a digital legacy, along with rights, ownership, and estate planning. Practical issues such as awareness of digital materials are also covered, along with solid advice on how to deal with the complexities.
In Chapter 6 – “Social Media, Personal Data, and Reusing Our Digital Legacy” – Catherine C. Marshall of Microsoft Research, Silicon Valley, continues the theme of complexity regarding digital belongings in cyberspace. The author asks, “Should we think of our stuff in the cloud and on social media as an extension of our local stuff, and does this mean we should have a plan for keeping it safe, too? … Is that online stuff still under our control? What do we own and what can we use? Does it have value to other people?” The author describes what surprised her about each of three studies that she conducted on how “the locus of personal information and people’s associated management practices have shifted dramatically over the past decade.”
Chapter 7 – “Reading Ben Shneiderman’s Email: Identifying Narrative Elements in Email Archives” – is by Jason Zalinger, University of South Florida; Nathan G. Freier, Microsoft Corporation; and Ben Shneiderman, University of Maryland. This chapter opens with the intriguing question, “When you don’t know what you are looking for, how do you find it?” The authors describe their testing of a narrative approach to searching the large email archive of a professor (at his invitation), with the aim of developing an interesting account of that person’s life and career. This chapter describes the sometimes surprising and creative “narrative search” techniques (such as searching on “ninja”) that they used. “The goal is not to find complete narratives (although many do exist) but to search for critical narrative clues, like the right jigsaw puzzle piece, that will lead users to find rich, rewarding information about someone else’s life in email.”
In Chapter 8 – “Faculty Members as Archivists: Personal Archiving Practices in the Academic Environment” – Ellysa Stern Cahoy, The Pennsylvania State University Libraries, examines personal archiving issues specific to academicians. She also discusses “principles for helping scholars effectively manage, maximize, curate, and archive their scholarly materials throughout their academic career.” The emphasis is on author-managed preservation of scholarly digital materials.
In Chapter 9 – “Landscape of Personal Digital Archiving Activities and Research” – Sarah Kim, University of Texas at Austin, examines the emerging field of personal digital archiving by drawing connections among research activities recently or still being conducted in that field. She notes major trends in the research, and observes that “researchers from diverse backgrounds are uncovering interesting empirical data and engaging in new conceptual discussions as well as offering visionary suggestions related to personal digital archiving.”
In Chapter 10 – “Active Personal Archiving and the Internet Archive” – Aaron Ximm of the Internet Archive describes the activities and roles of the Internet Archive, a repository of digital cultural materials. The organization’s work with personal archives is discussed. The focus of the discussion is active personal archiving, which the author describes as “the automated collection by an archive of its own contents on behalf of a specific individual human or institution by simple software agents.”
In Chapter 11 – “Our Technology Heritage” – Richard Banks, Microsoft Research, Cambridge, U.K., uses examples from the various generations of his own family to examine “the gradual shift of our lives from physical to digital and the increasing role of technology as part of legacy.” The most interesting parts of this chapter are those that delve, in colorful detail, into the interplay between physical object and digital legacy.
In Chapter 12 – “New Horizons in Personal Archiving: 1 Second Everyday, myKive, and MUSE” – Hawkins, along with Christopher J. Prom, University of Illinois, and Peter Chan, Stanford University, describe three modern archiving projects. This chapter effectively illustrates the advances being made in the field of personal digital archiving.
In the final chapter – “The Future of Personal Digital Archiving: Defining the Research Agendas” – Clifford Lynch of the Coalition for Networked Information brings the perspective of three decades of “trying to understand the ways in which information technology and ubiquitous computer communications networks are reshaping the scholarly and cultural record of our civilization.” He explores a dizzying assortment of possibilities for the future of personal digital archiving.
Leah was appointed Executive Director of the Charleston Conference in 2017, and has served in various roles with the Charleston Information Group, LLC, since 2004. Prior to working for the conference, she was Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions for the College of Charleston for four years. She lives in a small town near Columbia, SC, with her husband and two kids where they raise a menagerie of farm animals.