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Personal Digital Archiving

Information about how to create and care for digital files so that they can remain accessible in the long term.

Digital Preservation Basics

This list is compiled and adapted from information by Phil Michel, Digital Conversion Coordinator from the Prints & Photographs Division of the Library of Congress and Vassar Digital Library.

Identify where you have digital media

  • Identify all your digital files on cameras, computers, and removable media such as memory cards or external hard drives.
  • Include any files on the web or in the cloud.
  • Review social media platforms.
  • Locate significant correspondence in email.

Decide which files are most important

  • Pick the files you feel are especially important.
  • You can pick a few or many.
  • If there are multiple versions of important files, save the ones with highest quality, final versions, or drafts that document process in a notable way.

Organize the selected files

  • Give individual files descriptive file names.
  • Tag photos with names of people and descriptive subjects.
  • Create a directory/folder structure on your computer to organize the files you have selected.
  • Write a brief description of the directory structure and the files.

Make copies and store them in different places

  • Make at least two copies of your selected files—more copies are better.
  • Back up copies on different media.
    • One copy can stay on your computer.
    • Another can be saved to DVDs, CDs, portable hard drives, or thumb drives.
    • Back up another copy in the cloud (Dropbox, Google drive, Amazon Web Services), or using an external RAID drive.
  • Store copies in different locations that are as physically far apart as practical. If disaster strikes one location, your files in the other place should be safe. The cloud counts.
  • Put a copy of the file inventory with your important papers in a secure location.
  • Check your files at least once a year to make sure you can read them.
  • Create new media copies every five years or when necessary to avoid data loss.
  • The 3-2-1 rule

    • Make three copies
    • Have at least two of the copies on two different types of media
    • Keep one copy in a different location from where you live / work

It’s good to manage things yourself. Storage in the cloud or a third party company has no guarantees. Make them one of the options for backups, not the only option. Stay organized, save multiple copies in multiple places, and refresh your media.

Some more tips:

Download important Google docs periodically and then follow the preservation basics.

Clean up files and delete old copies if not using.

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Why Digital Preservation is Important for You

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