Like 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?).
Taking 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.