A Day in Review: Personal Digital Archiving Conference Recap

by Valencia Johnson

The Personal Digital Archiving conference, which took place April 23-25, 2018, was hosted by the University of Houston. The conference was a mixture of archival professionals, librarians, entrepreneurs, and self-taught memory workers.  The recurrent theme this year, from the perspective of a newcomer at least, was personal digitization. Each demographic offered battle-tested advice for digitization and digital preservation. From these personal testimonies several questions occurred to me and other conference attendees. How is the digital world transforming memory and identity? How can the archival community improve the accessibility of tools and knowledge necessary to create and manage digital cultural heritage? What does it look like when we work with people instead of working for people? If these questions trigger a post-modernism bell in your mind, then you are on the right path.

Each presentation touched upon the need within communities to preserve their history for one reason or another. The residents of Houston are in some ways still recovering from Hurricane Harvey; institutions and homes were flooded, and pictures and home videos were lost to the gulf. Yet, through this disaster the Houston community is finding ways to rebuild and recapture a small piece of what was lost. Lisa Spiro opened the first day of the conference with her presentation “Creating a Community-Driven Digital Archive: The Harvey Memories Project.” This archive aims to document the experience of the survivors of Harvey and offer an additional personal narrative to the official record of the disaster. Expected to launch in August 2018, the first anniversary of  Hurricane Harvey, the project is built by community members and something to keep an eye out for.

The following session was comprised of multiple presenters diving into community archives. Presentations covered how researchers Ana Roeschley’s and Jeonghun (Annie) Kim’s project about a memory roadshow in Massachusetts is uncovering the complex nature of human memory and attachment; Sandra Wang’s quest to preserve her family history by travelling to China and interviewing her grandfather about topics like shame and self-doubt; and Lisa Cruces’s work with Houston Archives Collective, an organization that educates and supports efforts of the community to preserve their history for themselves. Finally, all the way from Alaska, Siri Tuttle and Susan Paskuan discussed the Eliza Jones’ Collection, a true collaboration between an institution and a community to preserve and use material vital to interior Alaskan native communities.

This is a slide from Scott Carlson’s presentation “Megaton Goes Boom: Archiving and Preserving My Father’s First Comic Book,” 25 April 2018.

Later that day were lightning talks about tools useful in the digital age. For example, did you know you can save voicemails? I did not, but thanks to Lucy Rosenbloom’s presentation, I know iPhone users are able to save the voicemails by clicking the square box with the up arrow and emailing the message as a .mp4. Here is a link to a useful article about saving voicemail. Rosenbloom converts her .mp4s into .mp3s and she also uses an auto transcription tool to create transcripts of her messages. The day winded down with personal tales of archiving family history solo and on a budget from Leslie Wagner and Scott Carlson respectively. For more information about the tools and projects discussed at the conference, please visit the program.


Valencia L. Johnson is the Project Archivist for Student Life for the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library at Princeton University. She is a certified archivist with an MA in Museum Studies from Baylor University.

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Developing a Citizen Archive

By Anssi Jääskeläinen, Miia Kosonen, and Liisa Uosukainen

This post is the first post in our series on international perspectives on digital preservation.

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At Digitalia—the Research and Development Center on Digital Information Management at the South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences—we believe that there is a strong need for a digital preservation service that would give ordinary citizens the right to decide what to do with their personal information. Currently, Finnish citizens must rely upon unsatisfactory solutions to preserve their valuable information for future generations, such as cloud storage (with dubious terms and conditions), or unreliable portable USB drives or optical media. Cloud storage services especially have surged in popularity in recent years, but these services are not OAIS-compliant, have no support for metadata schema such as METS and PREMIS, and make no guarantee that the data or user-generated metadata uploaded will remain safe or searchable. We are developing the Citizen Archive in response to these concerns.

Individuals are increasingly interested in documenting their personal lives and its most valuable artifacts. A personal archive is not only for information storage and retrieval. It represents other important values, such as legacy building, protecting against loss of important personal data, and constructing personal identity (Kaye et al., 2006). It may also turn into a valuable source of information for researchers and businesses.

At the same time, the amount of digital information produced by the average citizen has increased exponentially. Formats traditionally found in personal archives range from print documents and letters to photographs and analog videos. In contrast, digital media allows everyone to share the aspects of their life story easily, and these may consist of born-digital photos, digital videos, and conversations captured in email or on social media.

In an earlier project, South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences developed Open Source Archive (OSA, http://osa.mamk.fi), a service-oriented web-based archive platform. OSA has since been applied by civil sector organizations and non-profit associations, and is now being modified to accommodate personal archives.

For example, one important aspect of modern family heritage is digital interaction between family members. So far, Digitalia has focused mainly on email. We have developed a workflow to convert Outlook data structure files (.pst or .ost) into validated PDF/A-3b files with embedded original attachments and metadata. While .pst or .ost files are not easily transferrable or accessible long-term, PDF/A files are device-independent, and an accepted format for permanent preservation.

The complete processing time is about eight minutes for a one gigabyte .pst file. In the future, this functionality will be extended to cover email retrieved from Gmail, Hotmail, AOL Mail and other commonly used email providers.

Overcoming Social, Technical, and Legal Challenges

The long-term storage and maintenance of personal digital information brings social, technical, and legal challenges. Digitalia is collaborating with leading Finnish specialists in information law and information security. The project is in its early phases. We are developing this platform together with our users, aiming at continuous improvement and a better user experience. We are currently operating through EU research funding. Later, the funding and cost model for the Citizen Archive will be developed together with project partners.

Digitalia is trying to help create a future where people are able to manage their personal information with easy-to-use and low-cost tools. We believe a digital preservation service for ordinary citizens represents a sure step in this direction.

More info about Digitalia: http://www.xamk.fi/en/research-and-development/digitalia-research-center-digital-information-management/

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anssiAnssi Jääskeläinen has an IT MSc. (2005) from Lappeenranta University of Technology and a PhD (2011) from the same university. He has an extensive knowledge of user experience and usability. His current interests are in format migration and open-source development.

miiaMiia Kosonen holds a PhD (Econ. & Bus.Adm.) from Lappeenranta University of Technology (2008), specializing in Knowledge Management. She is an experienced researcher and trainer in knowledge and innovation management, online communities, collaboration technologies, and social media. Her current interests are in the field of digital communication and preserving digital data.

liisa

Liisa Uosukainen has a M.Sc. (Tech.) from Lappeenranta University of Technology (1994). She has years of experience in software development. Her current interests are in digital data and digital archiving.