Workbook on Digital Private Papers > Collection development > Transfer via retired media

Transfer via retired media

In this approach, the archivist maintains a relationship with the creator, as in the 'post-custodial' and 'snapshot' approaches, but only accessions records when the creator is finished with them or the media or hardware on which they reside. This means that the archive should receive a series of retired computers and old media during the life of the creator. In the case of hard disk drives, the accession will include operating system(s), applications and software libraries, etc., as well as the records of the creator. The archivist will need to decide whether the media and hardware deposited ought to be retained, and for how long. If the media and hardware are not to be retained, the archivist will also need to consider whether software files relating to the deposits ought to be retained.


  • Records are transferred in their original containers, which ensures that their original order survives intact.
  • Records are transferred sooner than in the 'traditional approach', increasing the likelihood of bit level preservation and preservation of access.
  • This approach should reduce duplicates as the archivist is accepting the record on the creator's own storage devices rather than taking copies from these devices, as in the 'snapshot' approach. It does not guarantee that the copy of the record is the sole copy, however.
  • Transfer of records on hard disk drives increases the likelihood that the archivist possesses at least one device with software that can read the creator's archives in their original formats.
  • The archivist should have regular contact with the creator, which allows advice to be given and for the archivist to learn about the context of the records.
  • The records may have undergone some appraisal by the records creator, reducing the bulk of the collection.


  • The archivist must make decisions about the software, media and hardware associated with an archive. Ought it to be preserved or disposed of?
  • It is possible that the creator may turn to the archivist for salvage of older digital records. Sometimes it is not clear whether data on the storage device is of historical value, or whether it is recoverable at all, prior to commissioning expensive recovery.
  • When computers are retired, it is often because they are failing or have failed. This means that recovering the data could be precarious and loss may have already occurred. This approach requires the archivist to have access to hardware, software and expertise which can recover authentic records from older media, or an adequate budget (and the creator's agreement) to outsource this activity. Even if the latter approach was adopted the archivist would require a considerable amount of technical expertise to be able to accurately identify the issues and put the project out to tender.
  • For the archivist to use, copy or retain any proprietary software on the hardware it is likely that the owner of the end user licence must transfer this licence to the archive. Not all software licences give users the option of transferring their licence to another person or organisation, and some that do include restrictions. Many licences will also require that the licencee delete software from old hardware after moving it to new hardware and do not specify an end-date when some/all of the licence's restrictions cease.
  • The archive could be overwhelmed by older physical media which have new storage requirements and will occupy a great deal of physical space.
  • The approach relies partly on the creator's right to transfer hardware and software to the library. In some cases personal records will be stored on equipment owned by the employer.
  • There are potential health and safety issues associated with the retention of degrading hardware which include heavy metals and other potential contaminants.