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Caring for your digital collections: Email

Tips and ideas from the Library of Congress to help you organise your digital material

Keeping Personal Email

Like paper letters, your email messages document important events, transactions and relationships.

Saving an email involves keeping it separate from your email program. This is because email programs are not meant to keep information for a long time: they can change or stop providing support at any time.

Archiving Tips

Identify all your email sources

  • Identify your personal email accounts.
  • Within each account, find all folders or other separate groupings of messages; include any "archived" messages.

Decide which messages have long-term value

  • Pick the messages you feel are especially important.
  • You can pick a few messages or many.
  • Save attachments that are part of the selected messages.

Export the selected messages

  • If saving a few messages, you can use the "save as" command in your email browser or software program to export them as individual files.
  • If saving many emails, investigate automatically exporting them using the email program.
  • If possible, save messages in an open format.
  • Save metadata for the messages, including the message "header" (the subject, from, to and time and date).

Organise the saved messages

  • Give individual messages and attachments descriptive file names.
  • Create a directory/folder structure on your computer to put the saved messages and attachments.
  • Write a brief summary of the directory structure and its files.

Make copies and manage them in different places

  • Make at least two copies of your selected messages and attachments—more copies are better.
  • One copy can stay on your computer or laptop; put other copies on separate media such as DVDs, CDs, portable hard drives, thumb drives or Internet storage.
  • Store copies in different locations that are as physically far apart as practical. If disaster strikes one location, copies of your emails and attachments in the other place should be safe.
  • Put a copy of the summary description with your important papers in a secure location.
  • Check your saved email and attachments at least once a year to make sure you can read them.
  • Create new media copies every five years or when necessary to avoid data loss.