Digital Preservation

Quick tips for preserving Digial Data

Computer Files

According to a recent survey cited in USA Today, only 57 percent of people back up their data.  Are your personal records, memories, music, photos and documents at risk of being lost forever?

Tip: Back Up Your Data
Establish a backup system so your computer files are copied on a regular basis to another form of media. You can transfer files to a flash drive or CD, but those media may be obsolescent and useless in a few years. An external hard drive is the best and most convenient choice. Make more than one copy of your digital files and store copies in different physical locations.

Finding Digital Material

How will you remember where to find the digital photograph your sister sent last Christmas? If there is no system of organization or search mechanism available for your digital files, you may not be able to.

Tip: Tagging
Descriptive keywords will help you retrieve and organize digital materials - be they digital photographs, videos or music. The popular term for adding keywords to digital content is tagging. Tag or label your digital files so your family can find them later.

Digital Photos

Family memories and special events that future generations would value are increasingly documented in digital photographs. But 10 years from now current memory sticks and software will most likely be obsolete, trapping images in unusable or unsupported storage media.

Tip: Migrate and Save
Because digital photographs require specific hardware and software to view, it is important to migrate files to the latest storage media using freely available formats. Make several copies of digital photographs and keep them in different places. Saving copies of your photographs on websites and printing copies with archival-quality ink and high-quality paper are also options for preservation.

Important Email

The everyday activities, work, major current events and personal observations documented in email are a direct record of our lives. If email is not preserved, a part of our history will be lost.

Tip: Save as Text Files
Email should be saved and managed just like any other important digital file. Save important personal email on a hard drive or storage disk as simple text files, making sure to have the header information. Ask if your employer has a policy about saving work-related email. You may also print out important emails.

Storage Disks

The backup disks you make today may become damaged or obsolete in the future.

Tip: Preservation-Quality Disks
Never use rewritable discs for long-term storage. Do not use stickers to label discs, and always store them covered in a dark dry place. Also, convert old disks to new formats as they become available.

Further Resources

Digital Audio

Preserving Sound Recordings:Tips for preserving sound recordings from the National Library of New Zealand.

Digital Photographs

If your digital photos are hard for you to find, how will future generations be able to access them? Learn how to preserve them.

Digital Video

Digital Video Guidance (PDF, 291 Kb)

How to Transfer Video from Tape, DVD or Camera to Your Computer (PDF, 242 KB)

Digital Video Preservation: Identifying Containers and Codecs:A blog post from the Smithsonian Institution Archives discussing some digital video formats used for preservation.


Electronic Mail (PDF, 534 Kb)

How to Archive Email (PDF, 84 KB)

MUSE: Muse (short for Memories Using Email) is a program that helps users revive memories, using their long-term email archives.

You've Still Got Mail: A blog post from the Smithsonian Institution Archives discussing some email organization strategies.

Personal Digital Records

Personal Digital Records (PDF, 246 Kb)

Data Liberation Front: Information for users about how to move their personal data in and out of Google products.

Social Media/Websites

Websites (PDF, 291 Kb)

Preserving Personal Web Content (Watch video)

HTTrack Website Copier: HTTrack is a free (GPL, libre/free software) and easy-to-use offline browser utility. It allows you to download a World Wide Web site from the Internet to a local directory, building recursively all directories, getting HTML, images, and other files from the server to your computer.

Save as…: E How walks you through the process of saving a web page to your hard drive. If you are using a Mac, Apple’s Safari browser has a “Save as…webpage” feature.

Formats General

Scanning: DIY or Outsource: Tips for scanning personal documents from "The Signal," digital preservation blog at the Library of Congress.

How to Scan Your Personal Collections (PDF, 78 KB)

How Long Will Digital Storage Media Last? (PDF, 83 KB)

Care and Handling of CDs and DVDs: A Guide for Librarians and Archivists (823KB): From the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), this 49-page document is intended for use by librarians and archivists, but the "Quick Reference Guide for Care and Handling"on page VI is a great resource for everyone.

Information on this page is mostly provided by the Library of Congress. Visit their Personal Digital Archiving page for more information.

The document was developed by the Library of Congress and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. It may be reproduced without limitation.

Digital Materials

Care and Handling of CDs and DVDs: A Guide for Librarians and Archivists

Council on Library and Information Resources
A 49-page document intended for use by librarians and archivists that discusses best practices for maintaining optical disc collections. It includes information on disc structure, disc storage, conditions that influence deterioration, and cleaning.

Preserving Your Digital Memories

Library of Congress
A brief article aimed at the general public highlighting “at risk” digital files and providing tips to help preserve them.

Digital Preservation Management: Implementing Short-term Strategies for Long-term Problems

Cornell University Library and ICPSR
This online tutorial developed for librarians and archivists by Cornell University Library in partnership with ICPSR discusses the establishment of a digital preservation program. It can also be found as a 107-page PDF document through the “Using This Tutorial” link.