Class: Digital Estate Planning

The Case

The user group most in need of personal digital archiving resources at the moment are retirees as they plan for end of life. Many that I’ve spoken with only include physical objects in their estate plans, and the idea that they must also think about their ‘digital estate’ is alarming.

You might think that retirees don’t have many digital assets, but according to a 2015 article in The Wall Street Journal called “How Technology Will Transform Retirement”,  those 55 and up were the highest percentage of mobile smart phone app users (although they tend to use the smallest variety of apps).


From my experience teaching digital estate programs this year, retirees are most interested in the future of the photos on their phone, their email, personal computer, and Facebook. What differs from other age groups is the greater concern for privacy and the wish to delete these assets so that they do not linger after death. As one attendee told me, the idea of a memorial Facebook profile was “creepy.”

In summary, this is an important program for public libraries to run, and to encourage librarians to do so, I’ve put together a packet that includes slides, a review of one of my programs, examples of how they’ve been marketed, and class handouts.

The Class

I taught this class 5 times in the District this year – 4 at library branches and once at a senior center.


Capital Hill Village Senior Center Ad for my class.

The majority of the resources for this class come from John Romano and Evan Carroll’s fantastic website . I can’t rep this resource enough. It aggregates resources and news related to digital estate planning under archival, cultural, technical, and legal themes. Some of my favorite resources include:

90 minute class outline:

  • Begin by making a case for digital estate planning. I discussed this from the perspective of an archivist, but you could also take a legacy or privacy angle in this intro.
  • Review the current legal landscape with the introduction of the FADAA, and emphasize that at this point in time (in DC) nothing about the future of your digital assets can be taken for granted and it really comes down to communicating with loved ones and writing explicit directions in a will.
  • Define a digital asset vs. a digital account, emphasizing that assets are yours but accounts can be trickier due to Terms of Service agreements
  • Review the digital asset management checklist
  • Discuss how to help facilitate the transfer of digital assets and accounts using three examples: Facebook, personal computer, smart phone
  • Review sample statements provided by Romano and Carroll (who are both attorneys) that could be used in a will
  • Discuss available resources
  • Have a 20 minute Q and A

Tips from teaching these classes:

  • Emphasize at the beginning and end of class that you are not a lawyer and are not giving legal advice. You are sharing resources created by attorneys.
  • Demoing how to change the legacy settings of a Facebook profile is very popular
  • Working on the inventory together is a great activity to gauge how well people are understanding what digital assets and accounts are
  • Encourage retirees and their loved ones to take the class together and discuss the check list with each other
  • Assume that tech knowledge will be varied
  • Connect with a local senior center or retirement group to come to the class or go to them

Class Materials


Interested in personal archiving programming? Check out my workshop lesson on Personal Archiving with Facebook!

Week 40: My NDSR Enrichment Session on Education and Advocacy

The following is a post I wrote for the Library of Congress’s The Signal blog.


Digital Curation and the Public: Strategies for Education and Advocacy

This is a guest post by Jaime Mears.

Photo of computers in the memory lab.

On March 4th, 2016, the Washington DC Public Library hostedDigital Curation and the Public: Strategies for Education and Advocacy at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library. It was what the National Digital Stewardship Residents program calls an “enrichment session” and the audience was composed of NDSR colleagues and mentors.

Over breakfast I gave informal tours of the Memory Lab, a public-facing digitization lab I created as a part of my residency work. It felt like the project’s capstone, debuting the space to our group and receiving comments and questions from those that have supported me throughout its development.

Yvonne Ng, senior archivist at WITNESS and a member ofXFR Collective, led a workshop exploring methods of promoting digital curation to the public. The presentation began with a powerful case study of Kianga Mwamba, a Baltimore resident arrested in March 2014 for using her phone to video record an instance of police brutality. When she was released on bail the next day her phone was returned but the video was no longer on it. Luckily for Mwamba, it had automatically backed up to her Google account. It was introduced as evidence in a civil suit with the Baltimore Police Department.

WITNESS reaches their activist audience by creating targeted promotional and educational material about digital preservation. Case studies like Mwamba’s are incredibly effective, though they can be difficult to find, especially when the absence of a digital record proves why it should have been preserved. Other methods WITNESS employs include involving local “influencers” in train-the-trainer programs as a way of disseminating information to their communities, and creating engaging educational resources in multiple languages. One of these resources, the Activist’s Guide to Archiving Video, received the Society of American Archivist’s Preservation Publication Award in 2014.

Photo of room with computers.

Ng said that sometimes no matter what you do, it’s effectiveness is a matter of timing. WITNESS tries to avoid reaching people before they’ve amassed enough material to care about preservation. And WITNESS folds preservation education into larger training sessions that address other video activists’ needs, such as video-as-evidence training and post-production work.

After the lecture, Ng asked residents and mentors to identify four or five communities we wanted to support, and to identify the challenges and strategies to working with that community. Although my NDSR project is the most obviously public-facing, the exercise revealed that all NDS residents have had to advocate and educate within their host institutions to successfully meet their goals.

From Senate staff to scientists at the National Institute of Health, digital content creators have to be appealed to. It is a necessary part of effective life-cycle management. Ng reminded us that, besides ensuring that valuable material is preserved in each of our institutions, there are other benefits to such advocacy, including raising awareness about the long-term value of content and educating creators about what archivists actually do.

After the discussion activity, I escorted the group upstairs to our Washingtoniana Room where DCPL Special Collections librarian Jerry McCoy discussed the history of the library’s community archive and the significance of ourMies Van Der Rohe building, slated for a large scale renovation project later this year.

We ended our session with a tour of our Studio and Fabrication Labs. Labs manager MaryAnn James-Daley, connecting back to WITNESS’s strategy of using “influencers,”  discussed how essential a teen volunteer has been in a recent campaign to get more teens into these spaces.

Week 23: Digitizing My Video Family Album

Now that Home Movie Day is done, I’ve returned to testing equipment for the Memory Lab. Months ago I had picked up a box of my family’s VHS-Cs as material for testing, and I’ve been slowly working my way through the 30 tapes -or as the marketers at Maxell so cleverly put it – my “video family album”. Through this process I’ve not only smoothed out the workflow for this portion of the lab but learned first-hand the complicated emotional effects that accompany archiving a personal video collection.

The Panasonic Palmcorder was purchased in 1991 and used until 2001.

The Panasonic Palmcorder AFx8 Digital Fade HQ VHSC PV21 was purchased in 1991 by my family and used until 2001.

The Facts

According to Wikipedia, the VHS-C was introduced in 1982 with the same videotape as a VHS but much smaller and with shorter run times (the JVC and Maxell ones that we had could run in SP mode for around 30 minutes). VHS-Cs can be played on a regular VCR, but require an adapter with a battery-powered auto loading mechanism. I was able to find the camcorder in our closet but not the adapter, which I purchased on Amazon because it wasn’t available through any other vetted vendor.


Tape adapter >VCR > YCbCr/RGsB format converter > Blackmagic Ultrastudio Express converter > Macbook Pro > Media Express software > Handbrake software

This is my temporary transfer station. The tape is inserted into the adapter and played on a Panasonic AG-1980 Desk Editor. I’m using Blackmagic UltraStudio Express as my converter, but had to get a mini CV/SV to YCbCr/RGsB Format Converter to break-out the video signal (that’s the tinier gray box to the right). I capture the signal using Media Express, and then decomb and compress each video into an H264/Mpeg-4 file using Handbrake and save them on an external hard drive and Vimeo. In both locations I’ve added dates, tags of people and places, a short content description, and technical information about how the video was originally recorded and what I used for transfer.

I’m not quite finished. As of now I’ve transferred roughly 34.5 GBs with 7 tapes left to go. Only one video was damaged during the process due to user error (I loaded it incorrectly into the adapter and the tape got twisted up).

 The Feelings

As with any personal archiving project, I knew that I was going to remember things I hadn’t in years, perhaps be embarrassed by my annoying childhood self, and maybe even be confronted by reminders of painful experiences. All of this happened, but it wasn’t the same as personal archiving acts I’ve done in the past such as reading old diaries or going through a bin of photographs. There are certain aspects of video that make these emotional recollections much more immediate and powerful.

At the beach in winter. 1991

At the beach in winter. 1991

#1 Transferring in real time. I did an interview earlier in the residency with Kara Alexander, the Digital Media Specialist who runs the Scholars Commons Digitization Lab at Indiana University Bloomington. We were discussing the risks of patrons using the lab to transfer copyrighted video collections, and she commented that users are discouraged by the time commitment. Why would you sit for two hours just to digitize one commercial movie that you could purchase online or on DVD? Home movies and other types of amateur film or rare films are really the only thing worth the wait to digitize. But then you’ve got to watch them.

My brother and I made a dance video to “Get Ready 4 This” by 2 Unlimited. 1996

And so I did. I watched them all, only about 1/3rd of which I’d ever remembered seeing before. Over the weeks of capturing tape after tape of experiences that are intimate and alien, I’ve undergone a re-framing of how I see myself and my history. The most challenging is coming to terms with how untrustworthy my own recollections are of people and events.

Pageant. 1992. Didn’t really nail the Q&A the way I remember.

#2 Screen essentialism. Unlike photographs, papers, and even some film formats, you can’t see what’s on the video until you play it. My mother was our family’s archivist, and was diligent about labeling- usually putting the year and a title like “Jaime’s Birthday 1991”.  Four of the tapes in our collection had no labels but were in labeled cases, and it was obvious even after the first day of transfer that family members (including myself) had hurriedly put tapes back, not matching labels to their cases and inevitably mixing them up.

Another common occurrence is tape-overs. These tape-overs can be humorous and even artful, but they can also be quite jarring.


When watching a a 1995 family Christmas, it cut to my brother taping himself playing his Nintendo64 in 1998.

After it happened the first time I developed a sort-of PTSD, bracing for when I would inevitably be ripped out of one memory and put into another one. Out of the 23 tapes I’ve done so far, 8 of them had tape-overs.

Is it worth it?

Other issues came up that made the process challenging. Some family members didn’t want to see certain videos of themselves, so I’ve decided to put them all up privately on Vimeo and invite loved ones to review them and choose which files they want to receive. I also found myself struggling to capture everything- not only because of the time commitment but also because some of it was really boring (like how many Christmas videos do I really need of myself?). It was hard even as an archivist to decide what’s valuable to me personally vs. what might be valuable for the cultural record or for a family member.

But is it worth it? Yup.

During his talk on The Future of Memory, Rick Prelinger argued that the “turn to digital re-valuates the analog,” and that has certainly proved true during my process. Where the box of tapes would have been forgotten in my mother’s closet, now they are valuable because (a) family, friends, and I are aware of them, (b) they’ve been properly labelled and stored, and (c) I was able to see that they look better playing in their native medium than as compressed MP4 files.

The digitized files also have added value as VHS-C surrogates. Not only do they protect the tapes from frequent use, but they allow the control of our family’s archive to be shared by everyone. Each of us will be able to access or create with them in whatever way we find meaningful and convenient.

One question remains. Will patrons doing this work in the Memory Lab come away with the same conclusions? Will they see the reciprocal relationship between the analog and digitized versions? Will the ability to view their memories make them want to steward them?

Class: Personal Archiving with Facebook

I taught a class called “Personal Archiving with Facebook” in partnership with Knowledge Commons DC and DC Public Libraries! This post is a cursory description of what I discovered and a summary of how the class went. To access the full lecture or to try the class out yourself, download the following:

Personal Archiving with Facebook Slides Only

Personal Archiving with Facebook Slides and Notes


For over 1 billion of us, Facebook has become a default archive for the artifacts of our personal lives, and with features like “On this Day” and memorialized profiles, the company is deliberately framing themselves as a service for saving as well as sharing. But is it a suitable method for personal digital archiving?  

To answer this question, I used the four challenges to pda identified by Catherine Marshall  as a metric. Then I used Facebook’s capabilities as an online environment and what you get in your downloaded archive to grade how well Facebook addressed each challenge.

Accumulation: C 

I’m not too sure about this one. On one hand, we make specific choices about what we upload to our profiles, and therefore inherently delete things or leave their destiny to fate (for example, you’re not going to upload all 5 attempts at the same shot to an album). On the other hand, I feel like I document things now more than ever because I can put them on Facebook, so you could look at it as an impetus to produce and accumulate more.

Distribution: A 

Although I keep my stuff on multiple devices and web sites, Facebook is where I centralize my photos, daily thoughts, and links to other work.  Since opening my account in 2005, I have had two computer crashes and a handful of forgotten web environments where my photos and diaries were stored- but Facebook’s popularity has caused me to maintain my account for a decade, which in turn makes it my default place for publishing, which in turn makes it the number one place for saving and accessing.

Digital Stewardship: B 

Marshall defines this as automatic maintenance, communal maintenance, and individual maintenance of files. Facebook does have automatic mechanisms in place for maintaining your files, updating them, and protecting them from viruses. It does a great job providing communal maintenance because it encourages sharing and downloading, and the comments provide communal description. Individual maintenance (as I’ve discussed previously) is also fairly easy to do and encouraged. BUT you have no technical or copyright control over what happens to your files after you upload them, which is crucial for stewardship. [see more about this in my slides and notes]

Long-term Access: D

In order to ensure long-term access, we have to prepare for the possibility that the site will die. This means we’ve got to have local, offline control of our files, and those files need descriptions. The ability to download the data helps us with local control, but unfortunately there are many things that are not included, such as a history of your likes and comments on other people’s stuff, their likes on your stuff, posts on your timeline, or posts by you to other timelines. We also have no way of knowing if we’re really seeing everything Facebook keeps on us. To see a list of what they disclose, go to Accessing Your Facebook Data.

Overall it’s the description that really sinks Long-term Access to a D. Let’s look at photos as an example.

Case Study: Photos


Here’s what you see in your downloaded “photos” folder. Everything has been given a unique identifier, so there’s no way of knowing what your original file name was or even what album’s what. Notice how they also give you your facial recognition data. 


Here’s a snippet of what you see inside of a folder. All JPEGs, all with unique identifiers and an html index.

When you look at the properties of a file, there’s not much embedded metadata. You’ve got the size, resolution, bit depth. That’s about it.


In this example, the photo on the left is how it appears when this album’s html index is open in a browser. It gives the date uploaded, orientation, and IP address uploaded from. The one on the left is how it appears on Facebook. See what’s missing? BASICALLY EVERYTHING.


Photos uploaded from my smart phone include EXIF data in the archived html page as well, which is useful, but still doesn’t make up for the obliteration of user added description.

Summary of Findings

During the class activity, I assigned each person one of the following types of files to examine “as an archivist.” Here’s what we found together.


The students were shocked, and some great discussion ensued.


These were my final slides with suggestions for now and going forward.



How the Class Went

I had 6 students and 1 KCDC facilitator, ranging in age from ~25 – ~50 years old with varying digital literacies and no archival expertise. When asked why they had come to the class, students reported they had previously experienced data loss on web platforms such as Live Journal, GeoCities, and WebShots, were interested in personal digital archiving, or were worried about the security of their online content.

Overall I was very pleased with the class.  The students were engaged with the material, and everyone was able to contribute insights during the group activity. 4 out of the 6 students left contact information so that I could notify them of future classes, and one even tweeted me!

If you try the lesson, make sure you have extra laptops for people, and move through the slides at a steady quip to leave plenty of time for the last two suggestion slides. Perhaps re-thinking the title of the class will make it more approachable and increase attendance (something like “How to Save Your Facebook Profile Forever”).

Give it a try! 

Please download the slides and let me know how it goes at your library!

Gettin’ Rowdy with Howard Besser

Yesterday, the NDSR cohort and mentors met for their first enrichment session with guest facilitator Howard Besser, Professor of Cinema Studies and Associate Director of New York University’s Moving Image Archiving & Preservation Program (MIAP) and all around archivist badass.


Photo from The Signal blog post on 10-10-2014

During the Occupy Movement, Howard worked with Activist Archivists to get Occupy members in NYC to archive their photographs and footage of the event. The lessons he shared with us from that experience are applicable to anyone who’s doing a community archiving project or wants to archive a contemporary event effectively.


Howard took this pic at Occupy Wall Street, Liberty Square, Oct 11, 2012

Howard’s Badass Lessons about Effective Community Archiving:

    1. Speak their language. For the umpteenth time, no one cares about metadata, and no one really thinks their things are worth archiving. The way to convince people is to understand what matters to them and how archiving can address their needs. See this Activist Archivist’s flyer as an example.
    2. Build in redundancies. Archivists know that recording an accurate time, date and location on a piece of footage is incredibly important, so they gave Occupy members instructions to set their cameras accordingly before filming. Not everyone did, so they built in a redundancy- read a script on camera before filming. Not everyone did, so they built in a third redundancy- name the file using this same information! When it comes to following directions, three time’s a charm.
    3. Weed intelligently. They wound up with a staggering 169,000 videos, so they had to figure out how they were going to reduce them to a manageable size. They grouped videos into categories, and then asked members of Occupy Wall Street Working Groups to vote on their top 5 videos in each category. They also included a random sampling of video in the final collection to avoid contemporary bias.
    4. YouTube blows. Even though the videos they eventually uploaded had Creative Commons licensing, YouTube would not allow the videos to be downloaded. Besser even showed us an example of a public domain film from 1918 that you can’t download. So- make sure you do some test ingests first – watch your back – and watch your metadata. Better options are Internet Archive or Vimeo.
    5. Find the right tool. The app ObscuraCam, developed by and the Guardian Project, uses facial recognition to hide people’s faces in video and photos, and can also remove identifying information like GPS and phone model information.

For more information on this project, read Howard’s paper.

Week 11: Converted

My equipment came in really fast, so I’ve been testing everything out this week. I made a new board in Trello to track my progress, using the colored labels to represent the different pieces of equipment.


Click the image for a bigger view!

The orange label stands for the Honestech VHS to DVD 7.0 Delux A-D converter I purchased in Week 8, and as you can see from the screen shot, it’s had a lot of problems.


I wanted to try using a consumer-level A-D converter for the lab because they’re affordable (I could buy one for every deck and there would be no need to plug or unplug wires) and the software is very user friendly. I figured that a solid professional VHS player and TBC would help mitigate loss of quality in the converter (so wrong!). So, I looked at compatibility, time on the market, and reviews, and it came down to either the Elgato or Honestech. In the end, I chose Honestech because it can also burn video to Blu-ray, and had a simpler interface than the Elgato’s Cyberlink software.

“2015 Best VHS to DVD Converters Review” Top Ten Reviews



This nascent archivist gives Honestech a thumbs down.

I’m using two different laptops for testing- an Alienware laptop running Windows 8 with a fantastic graphics card, and a regular government-issued Dell running Windows 7- and two Honestech converter kits. Although Honestech is compatible with 7 and 8, the viewing screen for capture dropped out to black after about an hour on the Alienware computer. It’s still capturing video, but a user would have no idea what they were playing. To troubleshoot, I uninstalled the software and reinstalled the second kit, but the problem persisted. Then, I read online that consumers who had similar problems just downloaded a newer driver patch from the Honestech website. I did that, upgrading from 4.0 to 4.1, but it didn’t fix anything. By day 3 of testing, frequent freezing and a disturbing clicking sound have also developed on both computers.

Another problem is the length of time it takes to encode the files. Consistently on both, the ratio is about 10 minutes for every 1 minute of video – a formidable obstacle for a workstation that has reservation time limits.

The biggest clincher is that somehow I failed to notice the highest quality video this thing can capture is MPEG-2, and it can only capture audio as a Windows Media Audio File. Building this lab is a constant negotiation of archival quality and usability for the public, and I don’t expect users will be saving hours of uncompressed video files – but the MPEG-2 is just too lossy to be worth the conversion in the first place. As an example, here’s what a VHS-C played on a Panasonic 1980P looks like when captured and encoded as MPEG-2 with Honestech.

Is this even access-worthy? Even with plenty of light, it’s difficult to make out facial details that I can see clearly when played on a television set.

A Little Help From my Friends

Feeling discouraged and facing a tight deadline to get in orders for the current fiscal year, I sought help from Walter Forsberg, Media Archivist for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture. He said I needed to get a converter that at least could encode up to an H.264 file format, and recommended I get the Blackmagic Design UltraStudio Express (and if you remember back to my site visit to the University of Maryland’s lab, Eric also recommended Blackmagic software). It’s an expensive piece of equipment and is only Mac compliant, but when I found out we could afford it and it would allow our Special Collections staff to do one-off in-house digitization, it seemed like a sound investment.

For those of you who can’t afford the price tag, the other consumer-level converter I was looking at, the Elgato, encodes in H.264 and goes for around $80. Live and learn.