Week 2: You and Me and Everyone We Curate

I’ve been doing a lot of reading  over the past week about personal digital archiving to inform my project and craft my message about why anyone should care about this at all. Then I made this map of post-its-


Look closely, friends. The answer to improving PDA is here!

My notes are heavily biased towards what I need to create this lab and outreach program, so what I took from the literature splits pretty neatly into either observations on user behavior or suggestions on best practices. One trend that surfaced was that of sharing behavior as an impetus for personal digital archiving.

Facebook, no matter how much we may not want to admit it, is the most common way to archive our lives. There are preservational and ethical problems with this: the site doesn’t guarantee long term preservation, strips our metadata, compresses our photos to crap quality, exploits our archives to make money and apparently now owns our faces. But I’m seeing clear correlations between some of the biggest PDA problems we face and the opportunities that Facebook and other social media sites provide for users to commune over memories.

Problem #1: Digital objects are not sacred. 

Picture of discarded computer hardware in Tahit. photography.nationalgeographic.com

Picture of discarded computer hardware in Tahiti. photography.nationalgeographic.com

Bill LeFurgy admitted in The Signal that he found it “hard to form an emotional connection with clouds of bits,” and lots of others do, too. This study by Jennifer Bushey shows that while subjects associated analog photos with the idea of permanence, digital photographs were associated with sharing, performance, and consumption. The traditional strategy to combat this in PDA workshops is to tell the public that they’ll be left with nothing but a dark age of digital, but I haven’t seen evidence that this is working. As Catherine Marshall’s research shows, people rely on a cycle of loss and “benign neglect” to combat an increasing back-log of items. Couple this dependency on loss with the inability to see digital things as valuable and that’s a big problem.

Sharing Solution: Facebook knows that nostalgia is a social experience, and it’s using this to give digital objects value. A shared photo that others can see and add contextualization to may have more value than the original lossless TIFF that we archivists want them to save.

Problem #2: Digital objects are hard to keep track of.



Distribution across a variety of hardware and web-based environments, lack of organization, and inconsistent file naming practices all help make “losing” one of the biggest threats to PDA. In a later post, I’ll talk about how a digital life map is an easy first step to taking intellectual control of your archive, but for now, let’s just recognize that this is another big problem.

Sharing Solution: In “Public Library: A Place for the Digital Community Archive,” Andrea Copeland found that a sharing environment such as email actually helps people recover their material from serious loss:

“I found that the participants’ most important personal digital information had been shared with others. Those participants who suffered a total system failure could recover their most valuable digital information because, through sharing information with others, they had copies stored in their email, complete with descriptive metadata and transaction stamps. ”

Pluralization and the 3-2-1 technique are established PDA best practices, but the focus has always been on geographical distribution of copies. Copeland’s study supports the idea that human distribution is being used as a method of digital stewardship.


Of course, there’s complications with all this as well. The more we help each other curate, the harder it is to distinguish the boundaries of our own personal archives and what we have the rights to pass on or reuse. I mean, can you look at your photos and know which ones you took and which ones you grabbed?

Even when web-based archival solutions such as My Life Map couple tools for sharing personal archives with long term preservation strategies, how can they effectively compete with the exposure that a “Facebook” brings and its 1.44 billion friends?


I already envision some ways that this user behavior could influence my work. Some ideas include:

– Encouraging family, friends, and couples to use the digitization lab together (it’s date night! let’s go digitize our mix tapes together, babe <3)

– Teaching Facebook-specific archiving classes that analyze terms and conditions of use, disadvantages, methods of capture

– Promoting methods of sharing digital memories that give the subject more control and adhere to PDA best practices, such as My Life Map that I mentioned before, Google Photos, digital albums, etc.

Does anyone else have some recommended tools I could promote that take advantage of this human desire to share?

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