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Digital Preservation

It’s time to clean up your digital files (and 8 file naming tips to help you get started)

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National Preservation Week →

Photograph of a very messy office with computer at center

If your computer looked the same on the outside as it does on the inside, would it look like this?

Tucked away within the digital confines of your home computer and cloud storage accounts may be the signs of a digital hoarder: a desktop screen strewn with dozens of files and folders, shortcuts to folders you can’t remember creating, and a multitude of cryptic file names like “untitled2.jpg”, “delete_tomorrow.doc”, “FINAL.docx”, and “” (who’s Susan?).

If you’re like most people, it’s tempting to skip the drudgery of organizing your files and go straight for the search box instead. “I’ll organize this stuff later,” you might tell yourself, “I’m just creating big data. Isn’t that what we do now?”

If that sounds familiar, then consider this the next time you go to save a file:

  • It is unlikely that you will ever return to re-organize this file, give it a better name, or move it to a different spot than where you are putting it right now.
  • The work you do in figuring out where to put the file is well worth the effort. If you do this regularly, your brain will hold a clearer picture–or “mental model”–of all your digital content.
  • The more you have an active role in organizing your files, the more control you have over them. You’ll be less likely to lose track of important stuff–your senior thesis, your 2012 tax returns, or a favorite picture of Grandma from her last trip to the beach.
  • Preserving your data isn’t just about backing it up. It’s about managing it throughout its entire life — cradle to grave. That means that one of the most important digital preservation acts you can do is to get really good at consistently using good file names.

In an effort to help you manage your data better, here are 5 easy-to-implement steps to getting your files in order.


Preservation Week 2014: Librarians talk about PDA

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This week is Preservation Week, a seven-day stretch where libraries, archives, and museums around the world try to catch your ear to talk about how they preserve their collections and how you can preserve yours. This year, we’re going to focus on PDA. Not to be confused with the hand-holding sort, PDA in library-lingo means “personal digital archiving.” It’s a term used to describe the technology and techniques that real people use to manage all sorts of personal digital content:

  • family photos & videos
  • social media data
  • emails
  • school work
  • digital book collections
  • old CDs, DVDs, and floppies

Look for posts this week on how tips for preserving your digital files, what to do when disaster strikes, and special advise for military families caring for digital files. You can also check out our daily Tweets from @digpres411 and explore the list of general resources below!

Digital Preservation Best Practices and Guidelines (NC Dept. of Cultural Resources)

Preservation Week @yourlibrary (American Library Association)

Preserving Your Memories (Association for Library Collections & Technical Services)

Personal Archiving: Preserving Your Digital Memories (Library of Congress)

Scanning Your Personal Collections (Library of Congress)

This poster created by the Library of Congress gives some of the basics of how to preserve your digital memories.

This poster created by the Library of Congress gives some of the basics of how to preserve your digital memories.


A Beginners Guide to “The Cloud”

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In the past few years, have you noticed more and more people talking about “the cloud”?

When you hear about “the cloud,” are you mystified about what it means, or excited about its possibilities? Have you been considering adopting cloud services in your office or at home, but don’t know much about the basics? In our latest tutorial, learn about different types of cloud computing, how they are commonly used, and some things to keep in mind if considering a move to the cloud.  There are many advantages, as well as risks and challenges to consider before you decide.

This tutorial is the latest in our Information University (“Inform U”) series about digital information management. It was produced in part with funding from a Library Services and Technology Act grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Digital Retro: IBM & the “statistical pianos” of 1890

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Photograph of Hollerith tabulation machine from Smithsonian

Photograph of Hollerith tabulation machine from the Smithsonian Institution. Gift of International Business Machines Corporation.

Heads up genealogists! Here’s a story about technology, for you and anyone who’s ever poured over old census schedules and felt transported back back in time.

It’s a story that brings together two unlikely partners in history: the American decennial census and one of the world’s largest tech companies (and RTP heavyweight), the International Business Machines Corporation–better known as IBM.

The setting was Washington, DC, the year 1890. It was the 100th anniversary of the national decennial census. For all ten prior censuses, hand-written schedules were sent in from across the country to be methodically hand-tabulated by massive crews of temporary census workers. By 1880, the project had grown so large that it took over seven years to calculate and report the census returns. It was an endeavour of monumental proportions, taxing the resources and organizational capacity of the federal government. (more…)

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.