Personal Digital Archiving 2015 Report

On April 24-26, Hillel, Meg, and I attended the Personal Digital Archiving Conference at NYU. The conference focused on the management, preservation, and use of digital archives created by individuals, families, and community organizations. One of the great things about PDA is the variety of speakers and topics. Just the first day covered digitizing family photographs, using BitTorrent as a digital repository, and using hashtags on social media.

Other highlights from the first day included presentations in the late afternoon discussing personal digital archiving workshops. Wendy Hagenmaier presented on “Find the Person in the Personal Digital Archive,” a workshop developed by the Society of Georgia Archivists, the Atlanta chapter of ARMA International, and the Georgia Library Association. Participants are given a fake personal digital archive on a USB stick and try to piece together some information about its owner by looking at its contents. The workshop’s goals include demystifying digital archive stewardship and teaching best practices for creating digital records. It was really adorable and all of the materials are available online for others to use. The afternoon ended with a discussion between four archivists and librarians from small liberal arts colleges who held personal digital archiving workshops for students and faculty. It was interesting to hear their reflections on what strategies worked best with students and what strategies worked best with faculties, and the challenges for each group.

Highlights from the second day included a discussion of assessing WITNESS’s Activists’ Guide to Archiving Video and a panel on digital family archives. Additionally, Lauren Algee, the digital projects librarian at DC Public Library Special Collections, talked about the DC Punk Archive. Since this project is hosted at a public library, it was very different from similar community archive projects based in university libraries. In addition to collecting materials, a key part of this project is programming and community engagement, which makes sense, since it’s the mission of public libraries to get people in the door. This was facilitated by the fact that a large part of many public librarians’ jobs is programming. So they were able to engage the community they were engaging with by putting on awesome events like a punk show in the library’s basement. Algee also discussed challenges that have arisen, including the large amount of digital materials that have been donated, putting (recent) orphan works online, and accepting A/V that had been reformatted by the donor (without input from the library).

The conversations at the conference gave me new tools and ways to engage with the personal digital archives that I work with at the RAC. I also felt some guilt about how poorly organized my own personal digital archive is, but that also seemed to be the case for many folks who attended or presented. Overall, it was a great conference.

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