Monday, June 20, 2011

Born-Digital Material

The composition of a family collection changes over time.  From the mid-1800s forward, photographs enter family collections, initially posed in black-and-white.  Kodak’s Brownie box revolutionized cameras in the early 1900s, introducing the spontaneity of snapshots.  Color photography emerged early but took a long time to move into the mainstream of family collections.  Then you hit the 1970s, the era of the Polaroid.

Now everything is digital.  Digital is VERY different.  However, while items like digital images (and digital videos, websites, Facebook pages, etc.) may require very different storage than photographs, their preservation needs will still need to be addressed.  Eventually you’re going to want to ensure that our new media is adequately preserving a record of our lives.

Over the next two weeks, I will be sharing a discussion with Tom Clareson, Senior Consultant for New Initiatives at LYRASIS*, and Leigh A. Grinstead, Digital Services Consultant at LYRASIS, about the nature of born-digital preservation.  As the term “born-digital” is a new one,  I started at the beginning, asking them to define it.

“Born-Digital material is something that has not existed in another format or hard copy before. It’s produced or captured in a digital format first—a letter typed directly in Word, rather than being handwritten.  A family photograph taken with a digital camera, an oral history shot on a digital movie camera—or, an event captured on a cell phone, like the images of tornados shot from a front porch.  These are all examples of 'born-digital' materials. What cultural heritage institutions (Museums, Libraries, Archives, Special collections and Historical Societies) have done over the years is to work with their staff, and volunteers to adopt best practices for image and audio capture.  File formats like PDF-A, TIFF or RAW files, and WAV files are all standard, stable, non-compressed formats that have been around for a long time.  They have been adopted by numerous institutions and institutions know how to deal with these files.

“When cultural heritage institutions receive smaller jpg files or mp3 files, depending on the material and its importance, they may convert the file into a TIFF or WAV file.  But not all files justify the time, or the storage space.  For a home environment, you might take only a few of your most important images and save them as TIFF files.

“If I consider myself the family historian, when it
becomes time to invest in a new camera, that is when I would invest in a higher-end digital SLR camera that can capture in TIFF or RAW so that moving forward I have digital files that will be easy to maintain in the future.

“The Library of Congress has been working in the area of digital preservation for a long time and has been developing materials for the public some of which are described at their Digital Preservation page.  During preservation week (the first week of May) they presented a Preserving Your Personal Digital Memories webinar that was very interesting and worth visiting.”

*  The nation’s largest regional non-profit membership organization serving libraries, LYRASIS helps libraries operate more effectively by providing expanded access to valuable resources and professional expertise in content creation and management.

© 2011 Lee Price


  1. I am very much conscious to click photos of my families from time to time so that when I get old then at that time I have a large number of photographs.I bought a digital camera for same.I agree with you that preserving these is very important.I am keen to read your blogs detail on this.thanks