by Amy Rudersdorf
Director, Digital Information Management Program
Government & Heritage Library, State Library of North Carolina
Born in June 2007, my daughter is classified as a member of the “Always Online” generation. This is particularly apt for her, who I’ve been blogging about since April 2007 — six weeks before she was born. Weekly (if not daily) updates for family and friends who live far and wide were at first lengthy, containing paragraphs of description, funny firsts, and photographs. Today, a post is comprised of a quick, single snapshot taken from my iPhone of a moment in time I want to capture and share.
According to a 2011 report, 60% of bloggers are hobbyists like me, blogging “for fun.” The great majority of us personal bloggers (by some reports roughly 340,000,000) have no corporate or organizational system to depend upon to back up or archive our blog. We are reliant on the stability of “dot com” companies like Blogger (owned by Google), Tumblr, Posterous, and WordPress to ensure that our blogs – and our stories and photographs – don’t disappear.
This is no different for other forms of social media – until recently there was no way to easily archive our Facebook lives – and we remain dependent on Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and others to save our networked lives. If the likes of Friendster and Geocities, now dead and gone, are any indication, it is only a matter of time and the fickle taste of social media users before the current crop of social networks expire as well. We can hope that the good people behind these social networking sites provide us with means for extracting our conversations, photographs, and stories before they disappear, but, we’ve all seen where depending on the kindness of others got Blanche Dubois.
So, what’s your point, you say? Good question. Well, many of us working in the digital preservation, digital curation, and digital archiving world are constantly thinking about how to preserve all this stuff you – and I — are creating online. We know there are far too many creators of digital content for us to reach on our own –recent reports put Facebook users at over 900 million and by my own estimates there can’t be more than 2,000 librarians and archivists working in the field of digital preservation and archiving worldwide. So, what’s a digital preservation librarian to do?
Go grassroots! Get the word out at the local level! Ask the reference and instruction librarians, those who support the research and educational needs of vast numbers of users, to spread the personal digital preservation gospel. If the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions is correct, there are upwards of 500,000 librarians worldwide (and that isn’t counting all of the archivists) who could take on this task.
I decided to look at the readiness of librarians, archivists, and other cultural workers in North Carolina to see what it might take to, like Tupperware before us, create a person-to-person information distribution network. My survey elicited over 100 responses from members of the Society of North Carolina Archivists and North Carolina Library Association listservs, and followers of the NC-ECHO listserv. And, based on what they said, I think it wouldn’t take too much to get most folks up to speed on the basics of personal digital preservation!
Sometimes we learn best from those who’ve had first-hand experience with the topic. If so, North Carolina is in great shape to talk about the need for personal digital preservation…
And, we wouldn’t be starting from scratch. More than half of the cultural workers who answered the survey are already familiar with the phrases like “personal digital preservation” and “personal digital archiving”!
The other heartening news is that about half of the respondents are using reasonable methods for backing up their own files. Many of those that answered “other” are using institutional networked drives to back up their digital content.
Almost 77% of respondents indicated that they use social media sites regularly.
Finally, of the almost 77% of respondents who use social media regularly, a full third of them have considered how they might back up their networked lives. Another glimmer of hope is that six said that the images they post to social media sites are backed up elsewhere, while two had already backed up their Facebook lives using the network’s new archiving feature.
To many, this might sound like a small number of digital preservationists at the ready. But, with some support, a script, and maybe a Tupperware-like display, it sounds to me as if a cadre of “home-party planners” is ready to sell digital preservation in a living room (or library) just about anywhere in North Carolina. And although my daughter and the rest of Gen AO will probably never experience a true Tupperware party first hand, she — like generations before her — will benefit from a network of knowledgeable and engaged librarians and archivists working to save her (digital) history by saving all history.