Workbook on Digital Private Papers > Digital preservation strategies > Preservation strategies for personal digital archives

Preservation strategies for personal digital archives

The digital archive material acquired from working politicians and used as Paradigm's primary testbed is comparatively small in quantity, yet contains a very wide range of file formats. During the first 10 months of the project alone, the material accessioned included 20 different formats, and this is only material which was created during the last five years. Forms encountered include email, word-processed documents, spreadsheets, digital images, presentations, personal web pages and blogs. Paradigm also worked with the digital component of the archive of Barbara Castle, which represented three generations of computing technology - hardware, software and formats.

This is likely to be typical of personal digital archives generally. Institutions that collect personal archives can have little control over the formats, software and hardware used by record creators. Curators of personal digital archives have recognised the need to work more closely over long periods with their donors and depositors, and to offer guidance on managing digital material - like the guidelines (see Appendix B: Guidelines for creators of personal archives) created by Paradigm; however, it is likely that collecting institutions will always have to deal with a wide variety of digital material, at least some of which may be obsolete. This means that some level of digital archaeology will be necessary for many years to come.

In such a diverse environment, it is necessary to select very broadly applicable preservation strategies, or to consider implementing a combination of different approaches:

Whatever combination of approaches is selected, the result must be affordable. The strategy developed must embody the best that can be accomplished with the available resources. Collaboration and knowledge-sharing will be vital to establishing a successful long-term preservation strategy for personal digital archives; evolving strategies in-line with the digital preservation community will allow repositories to leverage tools and techniques developed by others. The first wave of digital archivists might also wish to exercise some caution by adopting multiple parallel strategies while the field is still at an early stage of development and tools are quite limited. Information technology continues to evolve, as does the digital preservation community: new projects and testbeds are being created on a regular basis, and shared registries and tools are constantly developing and growing. This environment offers the digital archivist many challenges but also a huge information resource on which to draw.