So much of our personal histories are now being recorded digitally, a point I make quite often in this blog. In particular, smartphone sand social media have made it so that chances are good that the past several years of your life, and the foreseeable future, will be documented in some way by you, in the form of photos, videos, text messages, and even live streaming social media posts. With that being the case, the ability to document them the right way, and make those memories last, is becoming a necessary life skill. And so, Personal Digital Archiving is now the emerging buzzphrase among the digital preservation community.
Preservationists like myself are certainly recognizing this need, and we’re starting to lend some of our expertise to the public. As part of this effort, myself and Krista White, Digital Humanities Librarian at Rutgers Libraries, gave a seminar both in-person and on the web that describes some of the terminology and technical issues that people need to be aware of when recording something for posterity. The session, titled “Preserving Your Digital Life” was sponsored by the Association for Library Collections & Technical Services.
The video of the webinar is available on YouTube, and can be seen below. I hope it helps people who have personal media and need to know what the first steps are to keeping it around for years to come.
Never do this: smartphones can be deadly to magnetically stored data in some circumstances.
In my dealings with preserving older, born-digital documents and data, I’ve run into this situation quite often: Someone comes into the DCRC with a 3.5″ floppy disk or other magnetic media and asks if we can help them migrate the data to more modern storage, such as a USB flash drive. We do maintain a couple of floppy drives for this purpose, so normally we can help. However, we sometimes cringe and express a bit of concern at how they’re holding the floppy disk(s) being brought in, or rather, what people commonly hold those old disks against.
What’s the problem? Smartphones, and sometimes tablets or even modern laptops. With mobile devices being nearly ubiquitous in the US and particularly among college students and faculty, it’s a normal occurrence to see them being carried around in one’s hand. It’s also not uncommon to stack a smartphone against some other object a person might be carrying… like a book, or a laptop, or, unfortunately, that floppy disk you might want to recover data from.
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Civil Right marches, then and now. Left: March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Joachim Prinz pictured, 1963. Right: Protestors demonstrating down West Florissant Ave in Ferguson MO on August 14, 2014.
The recent Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, in juxtaposition with multiple civil rights-related incidents of the past year, have set the stage for people to discuss the civil rights landscape in the US, and debate our progress (or perhaps, lack thereof). We are once again living in a time of unrest, where racial divides are back in the spotlight. Further tempering the debate is the increasingly thorny issue of civil rights in the digital age. The unanswered question: Where does a person’s right to keep their data private end, and the government’s right to pry in the name of safety begin?
In the past, I have written about ways to “keep you stuff safe.” At the time, the context was simple, and most users and data experts (myself included) remained relatively naïve about what that truly meant. The discussion of data safety often revolved around making sure you didn’t lose your data; that it was safely backed up.
Now, “keeping your stuff safe” also refers to security: keeping the data safely away from hackers who might want to profit from your loss. And perhaps more controversially: protecting individual privacy from unwarranted state intrusion.
These issues – civil rights, privacy, race, and personal data – have collided pretty spectacularly of late. Protests relating to various ill-fated run-ins with law enforcement are being talked about in parallel with the civil rights marches of old. But, there is one major component that differentiates now from then: the prevalence of smartphones, mobile internet, and digital recording.
For a very long time now, preservationists have been looking for someone to take a leadership role in defining a set of standards for the types of file formats we should be using to keep our collections safe. In the absence of such an authority, many organizations have resorted to developing their own standards (Rutgers, for instances, has its own guidelines for digital preservation outlined on this very site), or deferring to specifications already developed by other institutions or partnerships. As a result, while there is some general consensus about what we should be doing, there are occasionally differences and disagreements here and there.
The Library of Congress, too, has been working on this issue as well, and today they’ve taken some steps by releasing a set of recommended format specifications for a variety of object types. These guidelines are useful in that they provide a baseline to go by, for those who are trying to preserve their content, both in the analog and digital realm.
A blog post discussing the recommendations has also been posted, including an acknowledgement by Ted Westervelt, the head of acquisitions and cataloging for U.S. Serials – Arts, Humanities & Sciences, that the LoC need to ramp up its digital preservation initiatives.
There is no point pretending that the Library is collecting digital content on the scale and scope with which it is collecting analog content. We would like to and the specifications are one step to help get us there, but we are not there yet and it will take some time and effort. However, the specifications are meant to engage with the world outside the Library. And, inside the Library and outside it, no one is under any illusion that digital content and analog content are two separate and unrelated spheres and never the twain shall meet.
Three generations of Windows operating system versions. Upper left: Windows 8.1, the current release from Microsoft. Upper right: Windows 7, its predecessor and likely upgrade candidate for most Windows XP users. Lower left: Windows XP, whose support from Microsoft ends today. Lower right: the Virtualbox control panel, where each of these virtual instances are controlled off the host computer, a Mac.
Tomorrow marks an important milestone in the lifecycle of computer software, and should be a day of concern for perhaps hundreds of millions of computer users worldwide. April 8, 2014 is the final day that Microsoft will provide extended support for its aging Windows XP operating system. Although Microsoft has not been providing any new features or functionality to this operating system since 2009, tomorrow’s deadline means that the company will also cease to provide important security updates to Windows XP going forward. This potentially means that users still running the OS could be vulnerable to security risks such as viruses and malware. Although a great deal of new software titles already require a version of Windows that’s a bit more recent, it is expected that support will further decrease dramatically after tomorrow.
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