Digital File Backup, Records Management and Archival Preservation

“I’m digitizing, preserving and archiving my professional, exhibition files, associated data for repositories… ” I said, watching his eyes glaze over as he nodded his agreement to the rhythm of my words. “And backing up files of my works-in-progress in case of… blah, blah, blah. ” I gave up. Ever feel like you are talking to a bobblehead?

“No, repositories are places where things go to live, ” I said. “You are mistaking repositories for graveyards. Repositories collect and preserve streaming tv online : movies institutional and individual intellectual production for posterity and research. I am also creating an alternative location for my working files in case of… blah, blah, blah… ”

I know by his glazed look that i am losing him again. How little does this poor soul know about our technological future, I though. In fact, preserving the world as we know it seems to be the furthest thing from most people’s minds. Everyone seems to accept the myth that once data is on the internet or a storage device, it lives forever. If you are a writer, you produce an enormous amount of copy that will live forever only if you take responsibility for preventing its disappearance. Files saved in various formats, including paper, get old and die, which means they are no longer machine accessible or human readable.

If you believe all those files on large floppy discs, compact diskettes, CD-ROMs, Cds, zip drives, flash drives, memory cards, expansion chips, cassettes, reels, computer hard drives, external hard drives, tablets, cell phones, clouds and more will be accessible or even viewable in the future, you may be sadly incorrect. The average life of a website is 2-5 years. Other static media may last 5-7 years if handled carefully and stored properly. That is the reason government and businesses stress and train staff in records management. Agencies and companies establish entire records management departments to satisfy the legal requirements for record creation, maintenance and use, and disposal.

A record is evidence of procedures, decisions, policies, correspondence, drafts and other activities captured electronically or saved in any physical state or on any digital media.
As a professional writer, you have created thousands of records over the course of your career. Your book and article manuscripts are records, and so are their drafts. Your records include query letters to editors and publishers, publishing contracts, associated emails, book reviews by you and about your book, newspaper article contributions by you and coverage of you, fan mail, project reports, grant and competition applications, awards, rejection letters, letters of references, photographs, speech transcripts, video, audio and so on, all of which are records within some form of files that require your management. The most important aspect of records management is file names. Vague unrelated file names are essentially useless. Give files meaningful titles that will make sense so they remain accessible over time.

Temporary – Records that can be deleted as agency policy warrants expiration of usefulness or your records that are no longer needed.

Permanent – Records that need protection for all eternity such as records at the National Archives or records you are saving for repository archives.

On an individual professional level, records management may come down to a legal matter of challenging someone’s infringement of your copyright. If you are trying to prove your ownership and establish a timeline in the ownership of a certain literary work, against another party’s claim, it may help if you have maintained and preserved the lifecycle of your document files to support your claim to ownership.

Remember the desk drawer filled with old diskettes? Let’s hope you haven’t delayed your file transfers too long. Are all those diskettes the same format or even the same size? And what machine do you own today that will open those antiquated files? Oh, and do not forget about the obsolete software you used to create the files–old word processing and scripting-writing software you have not used in decades. In fact, the software could be so old by now it’s not usable in your current computer. You will need a machine with a disc drive to read those diskettes. Hopefully you still have such a machine to retrieve those potential National Book Award novels and Oscar-caliber film scripts you promised yourself and your family you would finish and get published and produced.

Did you use a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive to install the old software you used to create those files you now want to preserve? Can you locate the box that contains the software? What box, you may ask. We download most software now directly from the internet. Did we call software, software back then, in the days before Apps?

At first, to help me hold on to old files longer, I tried to retain a working technology museum, a fancy name for a stockpile of old computers and equipment that still worked, somewhat, so i could access old data formats for later migration, a fancy term for copying files to new formats and devices. When old file formats disappeared, I believed my antiquated data files were safe as long as I protected them from insects, dust, light, friction and wicked witches. I was literally burying myself under mountains of bulky equipment, which i had long forgotten how to use. Why was I making myself miserable living among all that clutter? Because I thought I could postpone file migration a bit longer.

Well, there is such a thing today as beta data, but through semantic changes in computer technology and language, new beta data are not the same as recordings on your obsolete broken-down Betamax video recorder, for which there is no efficient or affordable means to access dusty beta tapes in cardboard boxes from four generations ago. Although, I still have a hard time throwing them out. Maybe an ancient soul trained in Betamax technology repair will show up needing work one day. Crinkled VHS tapes have also been relegated to the analog tape cemetery along with Betamax and early digital zip drives! I have no Betamax or zip drives left over from the stone ages, but I confess, I am hording a couple of VHS machines to transfer and convert my VHS recordings to Mp4 video format. I also keep an audio cassette player for transcribing oral history interviews I have conducted and speeches I have given. However, do not show up at my door with your boxes of VHS and audio cassette tapes hoping to for a conversion.

If your old equipment is able to power up, do not get too excited. Your ancient files probably will not open. File formats spoil with age like unrefrigerated perishable food stored in a cardboard box under the kitchen sink. Did I say cardboard box? Storing archives of any type in regular cardboard boxes is like feeding your cat unrefrigerated perishable food stored in a cardboard box under the kitchen sink. Both the archive and the cat will die–the cat from food poisoning; and the archive from cardboard acid poisoning.

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