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Michael Ashenfelder Author Archive

Email: mashe@loc.gov  
Facebook: Michael Ashenfelder  

I write for the Library of Congress about personal digital archiving, digital preservation leaders and developments in digital preservation; I also produce public information videos and podcasts.  On the side I write reviews for the Quarterly Journal of the Music Library Association and I work with community historians in Fredericksburg, VA and County Donegal, Ireland to get oral histories digitized and served online. I also wrote for the Whole Earth Review, the Millennium Whole Earth Catalog and Warner New Media and I produced a Bay Area world-music TV show. I am currently reading short stories by Michael McLaverty.


Personal Digital Archiving: Scanning Simplified

Scanner manuals can often befuddle users with too much information. For non-expert users there are just a few basic things you need to know in order to get the best possible results from your scanner.

audio metadata information

Personal Digital Archiving: Embedding Descriptions in Audio Files

When you play a digital audio file on a device such as a computer or smart phone, the audio player displays information about what is being played. That information might come from a database or it might be embedded in the file itself. In this post we’ll look how you can embed descriptions to audio files to enhance and provide preservation information for audio recordings.

hand writing

Personal Digital Archiving: Adding Descriptions to Digital Photos

Writing descriptions on the back of paper photos is a good practice because someday the descriptions may help refresh your memory or help others understand the content or context of the photos. Similarly, adding descriptions to digital photos is a good practice. Photo editing sofware such as Camtasia or Photoshop enables you to insert text descriptions into a photo file; that text will be readable separate from the photo image. So if you send a digital photo to me into which you’ve embedded a description, I should be able to see the text through my computer or smart phone.[1] Digital cameras automatically add textual data into each photo file, such as the shutter speed, time, date and even the geographic location. Photography professionals routinely add descriptions into their digital photos for business reasons.


Personal Digital Archiving: Cloud Storage as a Backup

Online backup storage – the cloud – is an attractive option for backing up files, especially since a) you should backup your data in different geographic locations and b) with online backup you don’t have to worry about hardware upgrades. However, online storage services are still congealing into something realistic, practical and affordable, and when you shop for a cloud service, there are many conditions to consider.

illustration of a will

Personal Digital Archiving: Digital Estate Planning

In this digital age, we now have the obligation of leaving instructions to our loved ones about what to do with our online things after we die. Just as we cherish certain old cards and letters, our loved ones would cherish some of our online writings, such as email, text, tweets, blogs and wikis. The same goes for our online photos, videos, artwork and other things we’ve created.

smart phone

Personal Digital Archiving: Saving Cell Phone Texts

Most of us save letters and email, so – since text is a form of correspondence — it seems natural to save some of our cell-phone text messages too. Saving text is not too difficult, with a little understanding and effort. You simply transfer text (also referred to as Short Message Service or SMS) off the phone and onto a computer or another storage medium. Cell – or mobile – phones can be loosely divided into two types: “basic” and “smart.” On both you can store text either on the phone’s built-in drive or on a detachable SIM card. The format of the text messages – TXT — is one of the simplest of all file formats, so once you transfer your texts you can display them with a basic text editor or even through a browser; many different programs will display text files.

various types of back up drives

Personal Digital Archiving: Backing Up Your Collection

Once you have organized your files – gathered them all together, decided which ones to save, sorted the files into folders and given the important files easy-to-recognize names – it’s time to transfer a copy of your digital collection off your computer and onto another storage medium.

illustration of file names

Personal Digital Archiving: File Names

In my previous personal digital archiving post, I wrote that one method of organization is to create folders within folders and give them descriptive names. This helps you to browse and locate files. I overlooked an important step though. You can also change the names of individual files. Changing file names does not affect the content of the file. It is similar to changing the labels on folders or jars. In most programs, when you save a document the program will offer you a “save as” option and it asks you to name the document. If you do not type in a name, the program will assign some generic name to it.

screen shot of files

Personal Digital Archiving: Organizing Your Stuff

Once you locate all of your digital files and decide which of those you want to archive, it is time to organize. An organized collection makes it easy to find specific files, such as special photos or important documents, because you can easily visualize the layout and navigate to the place where the file probably resides. More on the “finding” part later.

people gathered around a computer at a library

Public Libraries – Resources for Personal Archiving Efforts

When Noah Lenstra gave a series of public workshops in various Illinois public libraries on the topic of “Digital Local & Family history,” the workshops yielded a few startling revelations for him.

digital images

Personal Digital Archiving: Dealing with Digital Clutter

Once you’ve taken the first step and located the files you want to preserve, the second step is an opportunity to thin out your collection. This step doesn’t so much address the mechanics of digital preservation as it employs a selection process.


Personal Digital Archiving: Gathering Your Digital Files

Personal Digital Archiving: Gathering Your Digital FilesIn my previous column, I noted that we advise people to take the following steps for preserving their digital possessions:

– identify your digital files

– decide which files are most important

– organize the files

– make copies and store them in different places

hands holdling digital camera

Personal Digital Archiving in a Few Simple Steps

We cannot save our digital possessions — such as photos, documents, and recordings — in the same way that we save our material possessions. For example, we can toss paper photos in a box and trust that they will be safe for decades. But this benign neglect doesn’t apply to our digital possessions. Technology changes rapidly and, without proper care, our digital possessions may get trapped on obsolete computer hardware and become difficult to access.