Keeping your digital works alive!

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How much of today’s important information is going to be accessible in 10 years or so?

Before the world went digital, we could count on publishers capturing the information of value for research, teaching, and cultural history documentation. But that is no longer the case! “Publishing” has moved upstream, and valuable information appears on blogs, tweets, and web pages every day, only to disappear without a trace before long. Students, researchers and faculty are creating valuable documents daily, often utilizing proprietary software such as Microsoft Word. Just how likely is it that you’ll be able to open a Word document that you created 10 years ago?

Not very likely. Software and hardware change constantly. How many times have you upgraded your operating system in the past 10 years? Windows 95 to Windows 97 to Windows 2000 to Windows XP to Windows 7 to… You get the picture. The software you use on one system hardly ever works on the next one. And software updates constantly APART from operating system changes. Any idea how many versions of Adobe PDF you’ve used? How about Microsoft Word? When’s the last time you tried to open one of these files that you created in a long-ago version of the software?

Content creators, as a rule, have almost no awareness of just how fragile their content is. And how many of us have captured digital images, and saved them in various places on our desktop, laptop, iphone, or elsewhere? Out of all of those images — some very precious to us, that no doubt we’d like to be able to share with our grandchildren! — how many have even had backup copies made? And backups are not enough to ensure continued access. Backups are only the beginning.

One of the critical duties, from my perspective, that librarians (and others!) should be addressing, is the need to educate content creators on how to prepare and manage digital content for long-term access, from the time of creation. The student or researcher capturing and analyzing information that will be of use in the future, needs to be aware of the file formats and software he’s using, the information he should be capturing and storing at the point of creation, the methods of organizing his content for later retrieval and use — backup systems, media storage considerations, and more.

To try to begin this conversation at the University of Alabama, I’ve pulled together a wiki page with Recommendations for Authors and Creators and plan to present a discussion at a Digital Humanities brown bag December 13th (the presentation is here). If *you* are a librarian, please consider doing something similar at your institution. If you are a content creator — aren’t we all? — please take a look at some of these resources and educate yourself on how to ensure access to *your* precious digital content for years to come.

If you have other resources to recommend, please let me know!

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