Since the first public website was published over 25 years ago, there has been an explosion of digital content – from supercomputers exploring the universe to Facebook posts with friends. In a world where so much of our lives is captured online, how do we make sense of all that information and make sure it isn’t lost to future generations?
Our photo albums, letters, home movies and paper documents are a vital link to the past. The personal information we create today has the same value. The only difference is that much of it is now digital. Chances are that you want to keep some digital photos, email, websites and other files so that you—and your family—can look at them now and in the future.
Digital material has a natural life and can be explained by using the following Digital Lifecycle Model. It is a guide for you to use when you are ready to start thinking about your digital material. You can think of preserving your digital memories as a five-step process:
Digital records are much more complex than paper records. Not only do we need a computer (hardware), we also need various programs (software) that run on various operating systems in order to render a document on a computer screen. This hardware/software configuration is in constant change.
There are thousands of different types of file extensions that exist today, have existed in the past, and will exist in the future. Unfortunately, we do not always have the ability to read digital records because the file format software that was used to create the records is no longer in use.
Archivists and librarians are charged with permanently preserving and providing access to records of historic value. We are still really only at the beginning of learning all the techniques required to do this successfully. Preserving digital information is a new concept that most people have little experience with.
It is important to think of digital preservation as an ongoing program, not a one-time project. Protecting your digital collections against potential risks and threats is an important step, considering digital objects can be extremely fragile and once lost, can be lost forever.