As those who know me well will tell you, I am an arctophile. I have been collecting teddy bears for more than 30 years and, some time ago, realised that I needed to catalogue my collection if I was to remember key details about individual bears. In 2001, I acquired a Palm Personal Digital Assistant to record provenance information relating to my growing collection. I noted the names of the bears, manufacturer or artist, place of acquisition, price and personal notes, such as memories associated with their acquisition. I used this PDA for a few years and then had a lull in collecting, so did not access it for a while. A few years ago, I tried to add some information, but the PDA would not turn on. I did some research and discovered that it was known to have a problem with its battery and backing up data. I also found out that even if I could have turned it on, the data was held in a proprietary Palm software format and it would have been far beyond my skills to extract the data and save in a different format. Fortunately, although I could not access the digital record I had kept some information on paper, but several of the original names of my bears were lost forever!
We are all now using digital means to connect, record and share data, both personal and professional. However, the risks of losing data are considerable unless steps are taken to ensure access in the present and the future. Things I wish I had done when I created the records for the bears include naming the files consistently, checking that I could open the PDA and read the information every year or so, or that I had used a system which did not rely on a proprietary software, so that I could copy the data to several places for security. With digital content, such as emails, photographs, videos, there is often no paper alternative and access to the personal digital archive of the future is dependent on preservation planning in the present. The Library has published guidelines to assist with preservation planning and please feel to contact the digital archives team, if you want any additional information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sally McInnes, Head of Unique and Contemporary Collection