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Helping others care for their digital treasures | How librarians and archivists can help

Complete Guide to Personal Digital Archiving: Book Review

This is a review of the book The Complete Guide to Personal Digital Archiving, edited by Brianna H. Marshall, published December 2017.

This review is kinda backwards! The book made so many points that I found interesting, surprising or important. So I'm going to jump right in and share some of my key takeaways with you. Then I'll go back and tell you a bit more about the book itself.

Key Takeaways for Everyone

1. The Rule of One

Have a single place for the master versions of your stuff. This helps you keep tabs on the material that matters to you.

2. The 3-2-1 Rule

Have at least three copies of your stuff. Two of the copies should be in two different places. And at least one of those places should be in a different physical location (e.g. on the cloud, or on a hard-drive at a friend's house).

3. Select & Prioritise

The larger the collection, the greater the risk of file corruption when migrating. So be mindful about what you decide to keep, and delete the clutter.

4. Storage media has a shelf-life

Physical data carriers degrade over time. This includes hard-drives, SD cards, CDs... everything. Try and migrate your files to new storage devices every 3-5 years to avoid losing your stuff.

5. Small actions can have a big impact

Even something as small as including the name of an event in a folder name can make things easier to find. Start with something easy and small, that you can do today.

6. Doing things as you go along makes everything easier

Think about the future, even before you create something! For example, take a photo at the highest quality you can, to give it the best chance of lasting long-term.

As you save your stuff, add information about what it is (e.g. tags, dates, names, places) as you are going along. This stops a backlog building up that you never get round to facing.

Key Takeaways for Information Professionals...

...and anyone else who wants to help others care for their digital stuff.

1. It's always good to start out by taking a moment to find out exactly where a person is starting from, and what their main concerns are.

2. You don't need to be a technical expert, it is enough to be an "enthusiastic facilitator".

3. Give tips on how to evaluate tools, rather than making specific recommendations. This empowers people to make judgement calls, and stops your advice going out of date too quickly.

About the book

The Complete Guide to Personal Digital Archiving was published in December 2017 by Facet Publishing. The book is written by and for Information Professionals. In other words, anyone involved in helping preserve, manage and make information accessible. Particularly, librarians and archivists working in public-facing institutions.

The full table of contents is here but to give you a brief overview, it is made up of 4 parts:

Part 1 - these chapters give sensible and clear how-to style guides on how to manage digital material. There is an emphasis on how to make things understandable for a different users. So they give concise plain-English explanations for common concepts and terms.

Part 2 - this part consisted of three US case studies. These were projects to help specific communities care for their digital treasure by facilitating, enabling or otherwise collaborating.

Part 3 - was also a set of case studies. This time the focus was on supporting academics and artists in caring for their personal and/or research data.

Part 4 - was a rather sobering note to end on. These chapters introduced some of the ethical elements of personal archiving, including ownership, privacy, estate management and grieving.

Do I recommend it?

Yes - if you are an information professional. It is readable and realistic. The contributors recommend specific tools, and describe the practicalities of setting up digitisation labs. They are generous with sharing their own lesson plans and outlines for workshops. Each chapter includes an impressive range of "Further Resources", from podcasts to dissertations to LibGuides.

If you are a more general reader, you may still find Part 1 valuable. (The Chapter on archiving AV materials is particularly thorough!) And Part 4 is deeply interesting to anyone with any kind of online life. However, since The Complete Guide is aimed particularly at librarians, you will find that it is written in an "if-someone-asks-you-about-X, then-you-can-tell-them-about-Y" kind of way.

Thank You!

Thank you to Brianna H. Marshall and the 23 contributors. They have put an incredible amount of work into - not only this book - but also the varied and worthwhile projects they write about.

And thank you to the excellent people at Facet Publishing for sending me a copy of this book to review.

And thank *you* for taking the time to read this article! Are you going to give this book a read? If not, give me a shout on twitter to let me know which of the Key Takeaways you found the most helpful!

If you feel inspired to make a start on caring for your own digital treasures, then I have some resources for you! Start with this article and this workbook. And join my community of subscribers to get a monthly email so you'll won't miss my future content.

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