Curation of born-digital materials begins at home

 

BD mediaLike most people, I have an “archive” of personal born-digital materials on various media.  Like most people’s personal archives, mine has CDs and DVDs and 3 1/2″ disks.  Mine may be a bit unusual in that it includes things created in obsolete software (WordStar, SuperCalc, Dbase2) running on the CP/M operating system and stored on 5 1/4″ diskettes and there are also some things on Iomega Zip disks and on hard drives in three different form factors.  I no longer even have a computer with a 3 1/2″ drive, but none of these things are so antiquated that they couldn’t be rescued.  eBay is an amazing source for hardware and we all have access to helpful guidance and helpful people via the internet.

As is the case with most archivists dealing with born-digital stuff, the challenge is that you can’t just look at the stuff to assess its value.  Just to look at the file directory, you basically have to rescue it first and then decide if it was worth it.

So a very early step in managing born digital materials is, frankly, guessing about return on investment (If I get all the gear and spend all the time needed to rescue these materials, what is the likelihood that they will be used? Will the value of that use warrant the cost of curation?).  Then one should do a risk assessment (What are the hazards of not acting?  What are the potential future consequences of not acting today?).

TakiBD wasteng all this into consideration [and poring over the unhelpful names (“current files” “photos”) or cryptic names (“lbk.db” “wp ref”) written on the physical media], I did the only logical thing and threw it away.  I’m confident this was the right choice for me.  It may often be the right choice for archives — or at least worth considering.

Ricky Erway, Senior Program Officer at OCLC Research, worked with staff from the OCLC Research Library Partnership on projects ranging from managing born digital archives to research data curation. Ricky left OCLC in 2015.

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2 Comments

  1. Got to say I cringed at your description of throwing away media marked “photos” without a second thought. That is exactly the kind of decision many people may come to later regret. If you’re confident you know what the photos were, fine. But if there is the least doubt, and, say, someone close, who may have been in one of the photos, dies, you’ll be forever plagued by regrets and doubts.

  2. I’m with you. I have some 3 1/2″ “floppies” still around that I never look at. Meanwhile, I have files on my present computer that I haven’t opened since at least 1992. Some might be older, but their date has oddly been changed to the beginning of the Unix epoch, January 1, 1970. So you could say that a “preservation intervention” is needed to get me to give up on files that are clearly not needed. Step one: admit you have a problem.

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