Workbook on Digital Private Papers > Appendics > Guidelines for creators of personal archives

Guidelines for creators of personal archives

Why should I bother managing my digital materials?

Because their survival is far from assured...

Not so long ago, personal records documenting the early years of an individual's life might be preserved in suitcases on the tops of wardrobes or in shoe boxes in the attic. The personal archives of eminent people often include christening photographs and school work. The digital equivalents of such valuable records for individuals born at the start of the twenty-first century will not survive this benign neglect. Even if copied to a CD and placed in a shoebox their survival is unlikely - while CDs may take decades to degrade, the hardware required to read them and the software required to render the file formats may have long since become obsolete. Many of us are all too familiar with the loss of such irreplaceable digital artefacts - sometimes only a comparatively short time after their creation. The time is near when the family photograph album, now lovingly handed down from generation to generation, is likely to exist only in digital format. Without active intervention it is unlikely to become an heirloom, or even survive the next software crash. The same is true of audio and video recordings, correspondence and personal websites.

Because your digital materials are important to you and your family...

Managing your digital materials will ensure that weeks spent slaving away at a piece of work isn't wasted because of a hardware failure perilously close to a deadline; it will safeguard the personal memories captured in photographs and email correspondence that will intrigue future generations of your family. Some digital materials fulfill practical, often professional or administrative, needs; others provide mementos of people, places and times which are more personal. All are important parts of your personal archive; ensure that they are available to you when you need them, whether 'when' means now, in a few months, in a few years, or even in a few decades.

Because your digital materials are important to society...

You may not have thought of your digital files as part of a personal archive, or as having long term historical interest, yet what seems ordinary and mundane to you now may well interest future researchers. In an archival repository, your archive will reveal a personal perspective on your life, work and environment for posterity; it will combine with the mementos of your contemporaries, forbears and successors to provide personal and historical insights into past times.