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October 6th, 2011:

Day of Digital Archives 2011

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Quick – conjure up a mental image of an archive. What comes to mind? Probably something like this:

National Archives of Finland

or maybe this:

Woman browsing archive shelf

What many folks don’t realize is that an archive now means much more than that, since the stuff being saved has gone beyond paper. Digital archives are all around us and today, the first annual Day of Digital Archives, we’re helping to “raise awareness of digital archives among both users and managers.”

Digital archives increasingly store born-digital materials. Born-digital means anything that was originally created on an electronic device. Think about photos you take with your digital camera or phone, documents you type up in Microsoft Word, email you send from your Web mail account, and even your Facebook posts or Twitter tweets. Here at the State Library, we talk a lot about digitized materials (which started out in print but were reformatted to digital), but we also do a lot of work with born-digital materials that you may not know about.

Many state agencies are decreasing or eliminating the paper versions of their publications – a common topic on the GHL blog. (See this post, this one, or here, or here.) But that doesn’t mean our mandate to collect these publications goes away. With help from our ASGII programs, we bring together legacy, digitized state publications with their more recent born-digital counterparts. Here’s an example of a title that started out in print, but which we now collect in digital form. We work on collecting those titles through outreach and also by downloading them from agencies’ websites. We also have a robust website archiving program, in partnership with the State Archives, that retrieves and saves state government websites. Because of this work, we are unifying access to state publications regardless of format, making sure our state’s history and information resources remain freely available.

Once we have born-digital content, we responsibly manage those publications using the principles of digital preservation. Duplicates of those publications are stored in multiple geographic locations and using multiple services. We keep track of metadata (information about the files like size, date, creator, and checksum) to help ensure we always know where those files came from and that they haven’t been changed. We also try to collect the original files and make sure they don’t get touched. If we end up needing a file, we always use a copy and never the original. This is what managing a digital archives means, and it’s a practice that more and more people will be using as less and less of our documentary history exists in print.

And this means you! Your house may not look like the picture earlier in this post, but I’ll bet you’ve got born-digital files that make up your very own digital archive. To celebrate the Day of Digital Archives, take 20-30 minutes to improve how you manage those files. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Take an honest look at what you’d miss if your computer or cell phone stopped working right this minute. Make plans to safeguard that content.
  2. Back up your most important files to location(s) other than the device or website they’re currently on
  3. Clean out your My Documents folder, improving your file names by making sure they’re descriptive
  4. Have some floppies or CDs hanging around, and want to make sure that content stays with you? If you still can, take time to transfer those files to an external hard drive or storage service online.

Now that you know what to look for, keep an eye out for digital archives – I bet they’re more common than you think. If you have any questions about managing your own digital archives, leave a comment on this post and we’re happy to help.

This blog is a service of the State Library of North Carolina, part of the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. Blog comments and posts may be subject to Public Records Law and may be disclosed to third parties.