ALA Preservation Week

Hello, friends,

As some of you might know, last week was ALA’s Preservation Week, which is an event that raises awareness about preservation activities in libraries. Across the countries, libraries hosted events and activities that taught the public about preservation, covering everything from collections care in libraries to how individuals can preserve their own books and photographs.


A few months ago, I decided I wanted to do some outreach as part of my “20% time,” and so, through talking with some of the preservation staff here at Harvard, I learned about preservation week. There was a committee that was planning events for the week here at Harvard. They also partnered with MIT to plan a big kick-off day on Monday. I got involved with the committee and was also able to plan my own digital preservation-related event as part of the festivities. The committee decided to have different “pop-up” tables at different libraries throughout the week – tables where visitors could stop by for a few minutes and learn something about preservation.

After thinking about what would be most interesting to students, staff and faculty here at Harvard, I decided to plan a “pop-up” on personal digital archiving. I thought this would be most interesting to this audience because it’s something a lot of people struggle with – how do they save all their stuff? How to they prevent loss? Or, sometimes, it’s something people don’t realize they should be thinking about – they don’t realize that all of their digital photos could disappear if they’re not careful! Yikes!

I called my event “How to Save Your Digital Life,” which I thought might catch people’s attention more than calling it, for example, “personal digital archiving.” It’s always good to add a little drama! Additionally, to catch people’s eyes, I borrowed some legacy media formats from staff here at Harvard, pictured below.  I thought people might get a kick out of seeing all these old formats (floppy disks! Tapes! Practically ancient relics!), and I thought it could also be a good teaching tool. It was a way to visually demonstrate to visitors how quickly technology can change, and how once-popular storage formats can become obsolete.



I set-up my “pop-up” table twice during preservation week – once during our big opening day, in Lamont Library, and once in the Loeb Design Library at the Graduate School of Design. The event in Lamont was very well-attended, and I got some visitors at Loeb, too, although it was a little quieter – the students were getting their work reviewed that day. For my table, I gave a little 2ish minute spiel about personal digital archiving – I talked about inventorying and prioritizing what you have, adding meaningful file names (like “Photos Spring 2016” instead of “stuff” or random numbers) and metadata to files, saving multiple copies, and staying aware of changes in technology. I also showed visitors how they could request their archive from social media sites, which I thought might be of interest to students. I also passed out little half-page tip sheets, the text of which I’ll include below. I got a lot of ideas for what to talk about from this handout I found online from MIT – thanks, MIT!

Overall, visitors seemed pretty interested in personal digital archiving (it also helped that I had snacks.) I got a lot of interesting questions – people seemed to be especially concerned about cloud storage and whether it’s a good idea. (My advice – it’s okay for a second or third storage option but you don’t want to rely on it entirely) . People were also curious about what file format to save their photos in, and how high resolution their photos should be (my advice- it depends on what you want to use them for. The answer is always it depends!).

Below is the text of my tip sheet. It’s a bit simplified – partially because I wanted to make it fit on half a page, and partially because I didn’t want to overwhelm people. But I thought it would be good to get people started – hopefully it got the students thinking about how they can keep their digital stuff safe!

Thanks for reading!


At my pop-up table. Photo by Priscilla Anderson.


Tip Sheet:

Save Your Digital Life

  1. Find It
    1. Where is your media? On your iPhone? Your computer? Google Drive? A CD?
  2. Prioritize
    1. What do you want to save? What’s important? Anything at risk for disappearing?
  3. Organize
    1. Use file names that are meaningful to you, organize files into folders. Add information like “song name” to songs or “dates” on photos.
  4. Save It
    1. It’s best to save at least two copies of your media. For example, one on your computer, one on an external hard drive.
    2. Even better, consider saving two or three copies in multiple physical locations. For example, one on your computer, on an external hard drive in your house, and one on an external hard drive elsewhere.
  5. Keep an eye on it
    1. Remember that technology changes. Stay ahead of these changes! Ex: If you had something saved on a floppy disk in 1999, you should’ve gotten your files off that disk before they stopped making computers with floppy disk drives.

Social Media – Many popular social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter offer archiving services where you can download things you’ve shared on the site. Search online for more information about these services.  If you think you might want something you posted online later, make sure it saved somewhere OTHER than that site.


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