On the Keepers of Tradition blog, Massachusetts state folklorist Maggie Holtzberg has distilled some of the techniques she learned at a recent meeting of folklorists on how best to preserve digital multimedia. Archiving work (as well as preserving and providing access to those archives) is the bread and butter of folklorists, but since so many artists are now either working in digital media or documenting their work that way, any artist might be interested to hear some of the best practices Maggie took away from the meeting. Here are a few tips on preserving your digital media:
Multiple copies of files in varying formats keeps material safe. For example, store a recent field recording or photo shoot in several places: on a server, on two external hard drives, and on a CD.
Don’t write on a CD! The top surface of the CD is susceptible to damage, not just the bottom. If you must, write with a water-based, permanent pen on the inner plastic circle of the CD. Avoid “sharpies” as they might interfere with the top (lacquer) layer of the CD.
Store CDs in regular sized jewel cases, not fiberglass or paper sleeves. Store them vertically, not horizontally. Buy CDs in jewel cases, not in spindles.
Migrate, migrate, migrate. Dale Hecker of Harvard University Libraries reminds us that “Digital materials are surprisingly fragile. They depend for their continued viability upon technologies that undergo rapid and continual change.” This is true for analog as well as digital materials. Afterall, who can use a floppy disc anymore, let alone play a wax cylinder or a 78 recording? If your archive is full of DAT (digital audio tape) recordings, as ours is, make sure you copy them onto the latest technology and back them up on a server. Scan slides and create TIF files as your preservation master files. Then create “use” files for editing, printing, and emailing.
Metadata matters. It is important to include information about the information that has been collected. Describe the context, content, format, and authorship of the material. Who conducted the interview, where, and when? Is this interview part of a project or collection? What kind of camera, microphone, or sound recorder was used? What software? Is the material restricted in any way?