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Managing your personal digital archive: Storing and maintaining your archive

This guide will provide an introduction to personal digital preservation: making sure the digital material that you care about is safe and accessible into the future.

Keeping your archive safe

Now you have selected and organised the material for your archive you need to think about how to keep it safe. This is probably the most important single step, and if you only have time to do one thing you should at least make sure you have multiple copies of your work in different places. As we have discussed in the sections on finding your stuff, you need to be able to access your material and have it on a computer you control. Then you need to think about where to keep it and how to back it up: think of this as your personal storage strategy. Finally, you will need to work out a plan for maintaining your archive into the future. 

Actions!

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Review the points below, then:

  • Decide where on your computer you will keep your archive, including whether to separate archived work from your current files.
  • Decide whether, and how, you will use cloud syncing services such as Dropbox or OneDrive.
  • Make multiple copies of your archive, held on different devices and platforms, that you update regularly.
  • Maintain your archive into the future: plan for archiving from the beginning of projects, be prepared to move to new storage media, and schedule spot checks.

Separating your archive from current work

The first thing to consider is how far you will separate out your archive material from your working documents. Depending on what works for you, you might decide to have a separate place for older finished work or to keep everything together. Have a look at the points below to help you decide:

Advantages of a separate archive folder

  • If you have a separate archive folder, there is less of a risk that you will accidentally delete or overwrite archived material.
  • If you have a simple workflow, it should be relatively easy to just move finished work into the archive when it's done.
  • If you don't separate out your archive, you will need to apply your storage strategy (see below) to all of your work, and this could use up a lot of space. 

Disadvantages of a separate archive folder

  • If your workflow is more complicated it might be difficult to tell what should go in the archive and what should stay with your current work.
  • Separating out your work in this way could lead to duplication which can make things hard to keep track of and use up more storage space.
  • Maintaining a separate folder is extra work, the less work you have to do the more likely you are to maintain your archive.
  • If you use a separate archive folder, you still need to make sure your current work is backed up.

Storage: external drives and cloud services

When you come to design your preservation strategy, you need to think about storage. An important thing to keep in mind is that all storage media will fail at some point: eventually your computer or external hard drive will break. There is no perfectly reliable form of storage. So you should come up with a strategy that involves different types of storage: probably a mixture of external hard drives and cloud services. If you can't afford an external hard drive, then use multiple cloud services. 

External hard drives

External hard drives are useful because they are physically separate from your computer but you are still able to control them without relying on another company. Hard drives often last for several years but research has shown that up to 5-15% of hard drives actually fail within one year. Also if your external hard drive is located in the same place as your computer, it might be lost if, for example, there was a fire or burglary. 

Cloud storage

Note

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When you are using a cloud service, you should keep in mind that you are uploading your data to a computer owned by another company. This guide is aimed at individuals working with their own material. If you are a researcher you must follow the University's guidance on research data. If you are a University employee, you must follow the University's records management policy.

Cloud storage is useful because your files aren't located in the same place as your computer, so it reduces the risk that you would lose everything if your computer was lost or stolen. However, as we have seen, cloud services can make mistakes, be subject to disasters or simply go out of business. You also need to think about whether to use the syncing services that come with a lot of cloud storage like Drobox or OneDrive. On the one hand they can be very convenient, but on the other you risk replicating errors or overwriting material when it gets synced. Remember you don't have to use a syncing service to make use of a cloud service, you can usually manually upload files through the web.

The University offers online storage on the H: drive and Google Drive storage to all students, so while you are at university, you should take advantage of this service. However, keep in mind that this will only be available while you are a student, so make a plan for when your studies are coming to an end.

Your storage strategy

The most important principal for keeping your archive safe is to make multiple copies of it stored in different locations. Sometimes this is called LOCKSS: Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe. Essentially, you need to make sure you have several copies on different devices or services, ideally in different physical locations. Then if (and when!) one device or copy fails you can restore it from your other copies, making sure you always have multiple copies. Once you have decided on where to keep your stuff, make sure you keep all your copies up to date.

There is no single perfect device or place for storing your stuff, the import thing is make sure you have multiple different copies. So for example, you could have one copy on your computer, another uploaded to a cloud service and another on an external hard drive. To make your archive safer, simply add more copies. Remember though, that doing something is always better than doing nothing and you can always move to a more complicated solution later. Here are some examples of what that could look like, on the left is a more simple strategy, on the right is a more complex approach.

A diagram showing a simple backup system. At the bottom is an image of a computer labelled 'Live files on your computer'. Arrows go out from the computer. One arrow points to an image of a cloud, labelled: 'Copy 1: uploaded to a cloud service e.g. University H: drive. The other arrow points to an image of a hard drive, labelled 'Copy 2: stored on an external drive'A diagram showing a more complex backup system. At the bottom is an image of a computer labelled 'Live files on your computer'. Arrows go out from the computer. One arrow points to an image of a cloud and back to the computer, the cloud is labelled: 'Live files synched with cloud service e.g. OneDrive'. The other arrow points to an image of a computer folder, labelled 'Copy 1: Separate folder on your computer'. Two arrows go out from the folder. the first arrow goes to a cloud labelled 'Copy 2: uploaded to a different cloud service e.g. Univeristy H: drive'. The second arrow goes to an image of an external drive labelled 'Copy 3: stored on an external drive'

 

 

 

 

Maintaining your archive

Now that you have created your archive and implemented a storage strategy, you need to actively maintain it. Here are a few key points to consider:

  • Try to organise your work as you go along. When you are starting a new project refer back to the section on arrangement so you can chose folder and filenames that will work well with your archive.
  • If you decided to have a separate archive folder, make sure you keep adding to it when you finish with some work.
  • Make sure you keep all your copies up to date, at minimum put aside some time every week to do a complete back-up. Important work should be backed-up more frequently. 
  • Plan to move your files to new services or devices when necessary. For example when you are changing devices, or when you lose access to University online storage at the end of your studies. Keep in mind that you may need to replace an external drive every five years or so.
  • Similarly if you are going to lose access to a particular piece of software, make sure you have exported your files into an open format that other software can read.
  • Put aside some time to regularly spot-check a few files in your archive and make sure everything seems ok. Review your strategy annually. A good time to do this would be World Digital Preservation Day, held every year on the first Thursday of November.
  • Keep an eye out for news stories about software or services becoming obsolete, in case they apply to you.