Preserving Your Work: How to Manage Personal Archival Loss in the Digital Age?

Minimise Risk of Data Loss - Really Simple Systems

Each of us might be too familiar with the pain of losing a well-polished paragraph, not to mention an entire manuscript, syllabus or, God forbid, an entire hard drive to the witches and glitches of technology. The grief of coping with such loss might be the best motivator to put some safeguards in place. However, procrastination and a lack of technical expertise might keep us away from reaching our good resolution. By any means, if you read this message and need help, our able HelpDesk staff members would be more than happy to assist you with any technical needs you might have. Please, reach out to them with confidence! Truth be told, there are no 100% bulletproof solutions. All we can hope for is to anticipate loss and digital bit rot by coming up with a proactive preservation plan. A one plan fits all will not be possible due to the complex nature of Wissenschaft, but there are some proactive best practices that every educator can adopt and adapt to ensure long-term physical and digital preservation. Speaking of presentation, the Society of American Archivists defines digital preservation as: “the management and protection of digital information to ensure authenticity, integrity, reliability, and long-term accessibility.” 

To keep this reflection short and simple, because after all “less is more” in the archival world, I would like to suggest implementing at least three principles of digital preservation: (1) choosing sustainable formats, (2) creating redundant products and processes, and (3) ensuring secure access. One of the big lessons learned from archivists is that preservation starts in the infancy of work creation. Choosing sustainable materials and digital formats is the best single decision one can make. For instance, choosing an acid-free paper versus regular acid paper can prolong the life of an artifact from 20 to 200 years. Likewise, for born-digital files choosing an open-access file format (.txt, .odt) versus a proprietary file format (.doc, .docx) could make the difference between being able to read a document 10 years down the road to not being able to even open a file the next decade. A proprietary file format is owned and therefore controlled by a private company (i.e. Microsoft for .doc) whereas open code formats are always transparent and access-free, being part of the public domain. 

The Digital Preservation Coalition put together a list of endangered species of file formats that are worth knowing. Thus, choosing two or even three types of file formats, one open access, one popular, and maybe one proprietary, might be the way to go. When it comes to storage, redundancy is key. Ensuring at least two storage supports is the bare minimum one can do. Cloud-based storage in tandem with a physical disk, such as an SSD or an HDD is highly recommended for up to 20 years. Backing up and encrypting personal data on a regular basis (at least once a month, if not weekly!) is another sine qua non to safeguard preservation. Needless to say, the more complex a password phrase is, the harder it is for hackers to break in. For further documentation and resources on digital preservation formats and best practices, please, consult the National Archives.

And keep up the good work, safe and secure, in perpetuity!

Romulus Stefanut, Director of the School of Theology Library and Assistant Professor of Theological Bibliography.

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