We find ourselves in the digital age. Many books, art works, scrolls, and many other important artifacts from our history have been lost along the way. Will our digital work be more permanent in the ages to come? Charlotte Robinson, working as an archivist in London, has an interesting blog focusing on just this subject. It's called Archive Robin and it explores what she calls "digital treasure." I thought this was such a fascinating concept, that I've asked Charlotte some questions about her blog and what inspired her to start it.
Q: What does the term "digital treasure" mean to you?
Charlotte: "Digital treasure" is any digital thing that is precious. It can be anything – a piece of writing, an artwork, a video, a meaningful conversation that you had on social media. If you care about it, then it is your digital treasure.
For me, my digital treasure is my collection of photos. They mean so much to me because they document my life from the age of 12 when I got my first digital camera. I am no great photographer, but I love those pictures.
By using the word “treasure”, I want to convey the idea that your digital things are valuable. Just like physical treasures, digital treasures are worth cherishing.
Q: As you interact with people on your blog, how does the impact of "digital treasure" differ from one individual to the next?
Charlotte: The idea of "digital treasure" speaks about the things people love. So it means something different to each person.
It could be something you'd be sad to lose it. It could be something you'd like others to have after you. Or you may have put tons of work into something, and be super proud of it.
But "treasuring" is also something people do to the things they care about. They do what they can to stop it getting damaged or stolen. They repair it if it gets broken, and keep it in a safe place.
I have found the way people treasure their digital possessions doesn't vary as much as I expected.
Most people run basic back-ups. But people don't tend to make a habit of checking to see if old files have corrupted. Neither do they migrate their work to a newer format, to make sure it is always possible to open the file.
It sounds boring. But so is polishing silver, or brushing your teeth. Little routines like that are what treasure needs, if it is going to last a long time.
Q: What events in your life have led you to want to start the blog?
Charlotte: Well, I'm currently training to qualify as a professional archivist. So I am studying part-time and working part-time in an archive.
Along the way, I'm learning tons about how to make digital things last in the long term. Digital media have been around for so long, but we are still only slowly working out how to keep stuff safe.
I am convinced that digital preservation skills are useful for everyone - not only archivists. SoI started the Archive Robin blog to share what I'm learning. I'm aiming to write in a non-techy way, and give clear step-by-step instructions that are easy to follow.
I want everyone to be able to save their digital treasure, and then get on with creating new things!
Q: What do you hope to accomplish through your work on this?
Charlotte: Digital treasure faces a lot of risks that physical treasure doesn't. With physical treasure, you can lock it up in a safe and even if you forget about it, it will still be there. If your great-great-grandchildren find it one day, the treasure will still be valuable.
None of these things is true for digital treasure. Software and hardware is either updated or discontinued. Files gradually corrupt over time. People create things on proprietary software, and cannot extract their work.
So, what I hope to accomplish is... a world in which you all know that:
1. Your digital creations are worth treasuring.
2. If you want your stuff to be safe in the long-term, you need to take some steps to make sure that happens.
It is not a lot of work. It is not hard. And your stuff is definitely worth it!
Thanks to Charlotte for this invaluable info! No one that I know is addressing this issue, and it’s a really big deal. All of the illustrations included in this post are my own work, created digitally. They mark the things that I care about, so I would be devastated to lose them. I’m certainly going to be looking into how I can preserve my work, photos, and documents going forward with ongoing instruction via her blog.
Since I have created quite a bit of digital art, she has also asked me to speak about my thoughts on the subject from an artist’s perspective. You can catch that conversation on Archive Robin.
What does digital treasure mean to you and how might you want to preserve it? I would love your thoughts in the comments below.