Preserving your Digital Life

Totally saving this

When I sat down to write about personal digital preservation I wasn’t sure where to start. I looked for a statistic telling how much data the average person produces each day, but I couldn’t find the exact answer to that question. I found an infographic from 2012 showing how much data is generated in one minute. It’s a crazy amount!

For example, every minute in 2012:

  • We were uploading 48 hours of YouTube videos.
  • We sent 100,00 tweets.
  • We shared over 680,000 pieces of content on Facebook.

See the infographic for the other numbers. If you like that kind of thing, you should visit the Internet Live Stats site.

The bottom line is that we are producing a lot of digital artifacts. I think of an artifact as something a human being produces that expresses some aspect of their humanity. If you think your digital creations are important, you’ll want to be able to see or hear them in the years to come.

On its Personal Digital Archiving page, the Library of Congress shares these four tips for the would-be archivist:

  • Identify the items you want to preserve
  • Select the most important items
  • Organize your items
  • Save copies in multiple locations

Let’s take a look at these suggestions.

Identification and Selection

I have a lot of digital files that live on my computers, mobile devices, and in the cloud. I have a feeling that only a small percentage of these items are important enough to preserve. How can I decide? I guess the best thing to do is start with a specific type of file stored in one location. I have some 7,000 images on my iPhone and iCloud going back as far as 2006. I could go through each year and select my favorites. There are probably a lot of duplicates and not-so-good ones that I could delete. I’d love to keep all 7,000, but if I ever want to get them named and organized, I have to let a lot of them go. That, or hire an assistant to help me.


Things would be easier if my photos were already categorized and tagged with descriptive metadata. Metadata is information about data. We use it to find digital files when we don’t know where they are or what they’re called. Digital cameras automatically attach some metadata to your images like dimensions, focal length,  and ISO speed. If your mobile device’s location service is turned on, pictures taken with it will include location metadata. Tags and keywords are meaningful descriptors that you assign to your digital files using photo management software like Adobe Bridge or Lightroom. These applications are part of Adobe CC and available at no cost to IU students, faculty, and staff.  If you upload your images to a service like Flickr or Photobucket you can organize your photos in albums and assign keywords and tags.

Another important part of photo organization is a good naming system. Your camera gives names like img_001.jpg  to your photos, but you’ll want to give your images names that help you identify their content. For example, a photo of your friend Judy taken at the lake might be called judy-at-lake_2016. Make your naming scheme consistent so a list of file names is easy to scan. A picture of Jim at the lake would be named jim-at-lake_2016, and so on.  If you’re the type of person who enjoys a good organizational system, you’ll love this part of digital preservation.

Keeping Multiple Backups

It’s important to make sure you can easily access your digital archive, so keeping your files on a computer that you use regularly is a good idea. Now you need to copy those files to other locations. External hard drives are inexpensive and can store Terabytes worth of data, but they can fail, so if you use one as a backup I suggest having a second location as well. A good choice is backing your files up to a cloud storage service like Box. When you sign up for one of these services, check to see how often they will back up your files and how long they keep old versions of files.

Keeping at It

Being a personal digital archivist isn’t easy. It takes some thought and a lot of time, and once you get your archive set up you’ll have to keep adding new items to it. Remember to give new items you create meaningful names and don’t forget to add keywords and tags. Check out The Library of Congress Personal Digital Archiving Day Kit to find resources to help you preserve all of your digital stuff. And go to the IT Training website to find workshops and webinars about cloud storage at IU.

IT Training:

Laura Reed

Social Media Coordinator

Laura has worked for UITS for over 14 years.She is currently IU IT Training's social media coordinator. She is a grad student in Library Science and has a penchant for reference and content curation. She dances, acts, sings, and does visual art in her spare time.

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