Personal Archives

Saving Our Present for the Future: Personal Archiving 2010

From family photographs and personal papers to health and financial information, vital personal records are becoming digital. At the same time, creation and capture of new digital information has become a part of the daily routine for hundreds of millions of people. But what are the long term prospects for this data?

The combination of new capture devices (more than 1 billion camera phones will be sold in 2010) with the move from older forms of media is reshaping both our personal and collective memories. The size and complexity of personal collections growing, these collections are spread across different media (including film and paper!), and the lines between personal and professional, published and unpublished are being redrawn.

Whether these issues are described as personal archiving, lifestreams, personal digital heritage, preserving digital lives, scrapbooking, or managing intellectual estates, they present major challenges for both individuals and institutions: data loss is a nearly universal experience, whether it is due to hardware failure, obsolescence, user error, lack of institutional support, or any one of many other reasons. Some of these losses may not matter; but the early work of the Nobel prize winners of the 2030s is likely to be digital today, and therefore at risk in ways that previous scientific and literary creations were not. And it isn’t just Nobel winners that matter: the lives of all of us will be preserved in ways not previously possible.

On Tuesday, February 16, the Internet Archive will host a small conference for practitioners in personal digital archiving. The morning sessions will be devoted to examples of current practice; the afternoon discussion will focus on developing recommendations for institutions and individuals, and on developing a research agenda. Among the questions we would like to discuss:

  • What new social norms around preservation, access, and disclosure are emerging?
  • How can we cope with the shift from simple (e.g. text) to rich media (e.g. moving images) in personal collections?
  • What is the gap between current possibilities for preserving personal collections, and what is actually needed by both individuals and institutions?
  • What tools and services are needed to better enable self-archiving?
  • What new economic models to support personal archives may be evolve?
  • What are the long term rights management issues? Are there unrecognized stakeholders we should begin to account for now?
  • Can we better anticipate (and measure) losses of personal material?
  • Do libraries, museums, and archives have a new responsibility to collect personal materials?
  • What has already failed? Can we generalize about approaches that are likely to fail over time?
  • What are the options for cultural heritage institutions — libraries, museums, and archives — that want to preserve the personal collections of citizens and scholars, creators and actors?
  • What might be the risks of building archiving systems that are “too good” or overly applied?
  • What are the projects we can commit to in the coming year?

For individuals, institutions, investors, entrepreneurs, and funding agencies thinking about how best to address these issues, this meeting will include a variety of examples that may be replicated, and will sharpen the questions (technical, social, economic) around personal archiving.

For further information, or if you are interested in attending, please contact me, Jeff Ubois (j e f f @ a r c h i v e . o r g , j e f f @ u b o i s . c o m ).

Speakers include:

Snowden Becker, Center for Home Movies
Gordon Bell, Microsoft Research
Heather Champ, FlickR
Elizabeth Churchill, Yahoo! Research
Benjamin Gross, UIUC
James Jacobs, Stanford University Libraries
Bill Janssen, PARC
Brewster Kahle, Internet Archive
John Kunze, California Digital Library
Cal Lee, UNC
Clifford Lynch, CNI
Cathy Marshall, Microsoft Research
Dave Marvit, Fujitsu Labs
David Rice, AV Presevervation Solutions
Eric Saund, PARC
Marc Smith, Connected Action Consulting Group
Will Snow, SALT
Francesco Spagnolo, PhD, Director of Research and Collections, The Magnes
Will Snow, SALT
Susan Thomas, Digital Archivist/Project Manager, Bodleian Library
Jeff Ubois, The Bassetti Foundation
Nancy Van House, iSchool, UC Berkeley
Gary Wright, FamilySearch

Program committee:

Elizabeth Churchill, Yahoo! Research
Brewster Kahle, Internet Archive
Clifford Lynch, CNI
Cathy Marshall, Microsoft Research
Jeff Ubois, The Bassetti Foundation

Draft Agenda

8.50 am Welcome remarks  (Brewster/Jeff)

9  Opening Discussion: what is to be done /  Cliff Lynch, Cathy Marshall

9.20 Examples & Models
- Gary Wright, FamilySearch
- Susan Thomas, Paradigm Project/Oxford University

10.00 Papers and prints:  out of the file cabinet, scrapbooking, scanning
- Eric Saund (PARC)
- Bill Janssen (PARC)

10.30 Personal Photographs
- Nancy Van House, UCB
- Heather Champ, FlickR

11 Break

11.15 Movies & Narratives
- Snowden Becker, Center for Home Movies
- Joe Lambert, Center for Digital Storytelling

11.45 What We Give vs What We Give Off: Else We Might Collect: Email, Financial Social Network Data, & Identity
- Marc Smith, Connected Action Consulting Group
- Ben Gross, University of Illinois

12.15 Lunch

Tour of onsite book & microfilm scanning led by Brewster Kahle

1.30 Institutional Responsibilities, Selection, and Overdoing It

- Cal Lee, UNC
- Magnes Museum, Francesco Spagnolo
- Dave Marvit, Fujitsu Labs of America

2.15 Tools
- Dave Rice, AV Preservation Solutions (on metadata for moving images)
- John Kunze, California Digital Library (on PairTree and other tools)
- James Jacobs, Stanford University Libraries (on LOCKSS)

3.00 Break

3.15 Projects and Proposals

- PDAWG (Cal Lee)
- SALT (Will Snow)
- Letters to the future (Tom Munnecke)
- Speaker for the Dead (Bruce & Sue Wilcox)
- Post-conference community (Judith Zissman)
- Scraps (Jeff Ubois)

4.30 Colloquium:  Gordon Bell, Brewster Kahle, Elizabeth Churchill, Cathy Marshall

5.00 Wrap up: Cliff Lynch

6 Dinner at Mandalay