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.