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Library Guides

Managing your personal digital archive: Finding your stuff: your computer and social media

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.

Your Computer

Finding and accessing your digital material on your computer should be relatively straightforward. First check your desktop and default folders such as Documents, Pictures and Downloads along with any synced folders such as OneDrive or iCloud Drive

If you think there are other files on your machine that you haven't been able to locate, try the following options:

  • If you know the name of the file or folder you are looking for, you can try searching for it (see these instructions for Windows and Mac).
  • You could also look at your recently accessed files. In Windows, open Windows Explorer and select Quick access, recently access files will be displayed in the bottom half of your explorer window. On a Mac go to the Apple menu and go to Recent Items. Mac users can also increase the number of items shown under General preferences.
  • Try opening applications that you have used to access your files, and looking at recent files there, once you have found a file you should be able to identify its location on your computer.
  • You can also look at applications which display files from across different file locations, for example in Windows you could look through the Photos application and when you want to locate an image file right-click on it and Open in File Explorer.
  • There are also dedicated applications that can help you visualise where material is stored on your computer, for example TreeSize Free on Windows or GrandPerspective on Mac.

Other hardware

Don't forget to check other hardware where you might have stored your files. This could include:

  • USB flash drives
  • external hard drives
  • memory cards
  • optical media such as DVDs or CDs

Social Media

You should be able to download individual pictures or videos from social media sites from within their website or app. Most social networks and other online services will also provide some ability to bulk download your personal data as part of their obligations under data portability legislation. Generally the steps will be as follows:

  • Find the option within their website or app, usually under your account settings, allowing you to request your data.
  • The way in which the data is made available will vary from provider to provider but you will usually be able to specify the type of data you want and sometimes a date range. For this reason you may want to combine this step with thinking about appraisal covered in the next section of the guide.
  • Once you have selected and requested the data you want to download, you will usually have to wait a while for the data to be prepared.
  • You will then be notified by email or in-app notification and be able to download it. The format in which the data is provided will vary from provider to provider but you should be able to access individual files such as photographs and videos from within the package you download.  


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The material you are downloading will include personal identifiable information about you and in some cases - such as email services where replies are included - about others. You should therefore treat it carefully and only download what you need. Make sure you follow the University's guidelines on working safely online

Cloud storage

Cloud storage services like OneDrive, Dropbox, Google Drive and iCloud Drive will often already have a local copy of your material in the relevant folder on your computer. If not you can set this up, usually by installing a small syncing program. Alternatively you can  download files and folders individually through the cloud service's website. Many cloud storage providers will also make material available to download in bulk, in which case you should follow the same steps discussed in Social Media above.

As well as personal accounts, you should remember to look at institutional shared drives or Google accounts, such as those provided by the University. Keep in mind that when you finish your course you will lose access to your University accounts, for example you will only retain access to your university google account for up to 18 months