Reading Archives

With this blog, I am planning to offer, as regularly as possible, critical observations on the scholarly and popular literature analyzing the nature of archives or contributing to our understanding of archives in society. I hope this blog will be of assistance to anyone, especially faculty and graduate students, interested in understanding archives and their importance to society.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Organizing Personal Digital Stuff

Aimee Baldridge, Organize Your Digital Life: How to Store Your Photographs, Music, Videos, & Personal Documents in a Digital World (Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2009).

Organize Your Digital Life is an example of a user-friendly publication intended to assist individuals maintain their personal archives. Baldridge states that the book gives you “what you need to organize your digital life [and that these actions] are the same things you need to organize everything else: to know what the organizational tools available are, to be realistic about which ones you will use consistently, and to put them to work” (p. 7). Baldridge does not mince words with the options: “If the prospect of getting organized isn’t enough of a carrot for you, consider the stick: Your hard drive will crash. Discs will become unreadable. It’s all just a matter of time” (p. 7). She also mentions that all the non-digital stuff will deteriorate as well.

The book provides very practical advice, guiding readers through how to inventory materials, making decisions about what to digitize, presenting self-study questions to reflect on, checklists about technical issues and costs (and other matters such as key personal documents needing to be maintained), preparing for disasters, recovering lost digital media, evaluating various kinds of equipment and what and when to use such devices, referencing to preservation and technical standards, and other advice. While I recommend that those working in the nitty-gritty levels of digital records and information might want to examine with a fine-tooth comb the value of the advice offered by this author, there are indicators that Baldridge is sensitive to archival matters. For example, she provides a brief section on “archiving on discs,” mentioning the standard for optical discs. “Without reference to a standard, terms such as ‘archival’ can mean whatever a manufacturer decides is appropriate.” Acknowledging that the ones labeled archival are probably better, she provides some cautionary advice: “For archiving purposes, never use generic discs or those sold under office supply store brands” (p. 32).

A lot of what is found in this volume is just good, old-fashioned commonsense. However, such commonsense is still needed.