Personal Digital Archiving

Learn some basic terms, best practices, and general resources to help manage and preserve your digital life! The approaches used in Personal Digital Archiving can easily apply to any digital management - at work, school, or home.

Questions about Personal Digital Archiving? Feel free to contact us at!

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Personal Digital Archiving (PDA) is the active maintenance of your digital life through preservation, management, and access.

PDA and Digital Preservation involve a series of managed activities necessary to ensure continued access to digital materials for as long as they are needed. These materials may be digitized versions of physical resources (such as books, photographs, and maps) or materials that have always existed digitally (databases, websites, online reports).    

Personal Digital Archives can be as broad or as limited as you want: e.g. every email, tweet, receipt, and phone picture you’ve ever created vs a selection of content meaningful to you personally or created only within the last 6 months. 

Different types of content will carry different meaning to you and receive a different level of treatment. For instance, you may want to organize and preserve all vacation pictures and family photos, but feel less concerned about your Facebook posts; you may want to download and save a copy of big purchase receipts or important documents sent digitally (including bills), but eventually delete them after a certain amount of  time. 

Personal Digital Archiving may involve:

  • Emails
  • Photographs (including those saved on mobile devices, desktop computers, or in social media)
  • Social Media such as Tweets, Instagram posts, or Facebook pages
  • Digital Receipts
  • Email / Email Correspondence
  • Tax Returns (digital)
  • Scanned Family Photos
  • Medical Records
  • Contracts or Lease Agreements
  • Personal Website or Online Portfolio

Much like our physical world, our digital world can hold valuable and meaningful content worth preserving (for practical or sentimental reasons) and requires special considerations in order to make it long-term accessible. Digital content relies on technology that is constantly changing in order for us to interact with it, share it, or access it over time.

Familiarizing yourself with PDA and digital preservation best practices helps prepare you to manage what makes up your digital world and helps you to avoid common issues like lost files, corrupt data, and file format obsolescence. 

Words to Know

  1. Access Copy – digital copy of the original saved with a lower resolution and/or a compressed format (making it a smaller file) to allow for easy sharing / display
  2. Born Digital – digitally created content; the content has always been digital, it isn’t made digital through scanning. Examples: pictures taken with your cell phone, emails, digital receipts from Amazon
  3. Digitization – the process of transforming physical material into a digital (electronic) form, especially for storage and use in a computer; also called scanning or imaging
  4. File Format – the type of content you are storing, using, and/or displaying; .pdf, .doc, .jpg, and .txt are all different file formats; File format types will inform the digital content’s quality, size, look, and level of interaction
  5. Lifecycle - The series of activities required to manage digital assets throughout their existence
  6. Metadata – information that describes significant aspects of a resource (title, date, creator, type, etc.)
  7. Master / Preservation Copy – original version of digital content that is set aside to protect it from harm, injury, decay, or destruction. It is used only to make other copies for access and tends to be a higher quality format
  8. Migrate - A means of overcoming technical obsolescence by transferring digital resources from one hardware/software generation to the next. The purpose of migration is to preserve the intellectual content of digital objects and to retain the ability for clients to retrieve, display, and otherwise use them in the face of constantly changing technology
  9. Obsolescence - when a digital resource is not readable and is incompatible with other resources; e.g. floppy disks are becoming obsolete as most modern technology doesn’t include floppy disk readers
  10. Resolution – the number of pixels in an image; the higher the resolution, the more detailed and crisp the image and the larger the file
  11. Storage – where digital content is saved; this may include storage on a personal computer, external hard-drive, in cloud storage, or some combination of all approaches

Quick Tips and Pointers for Personal Digital Archiving

Plan your approach & Revisit often

  1. You don’t have to save everything, but knowing your general approach and having a sense of priorities and goals can help you get started and give you something to revisit as you get more comfortable
  2. It’s ok to change your approach or try multiple approaches - do what makes sense for you and keep notes and be consistent when you have a plan

Select & Identify what you’ll be archiving

  1. Now that you know your priorities, what fits in them? Are you really concerned about important documents (taxes, bills, contracts) and photographs on your phone, but less concerned about your Facebook presence and your email?
  2. Select the digital content you want to focus on (which photos, which documents, which devices, etc) and
  3. Identify where the digital content currently is saved, how you interact with it, how do you want to access it in the future?
  4. Identify what formats you are working with. Do you need to digitize anything? Do you want to migrate or convert anything?


  1. Choose your method
    1. Flatbeds = postcards, photographs, things than can be flattened without damaging
    2. Overhead scanners = bound bounds, fragile things
    3. Vendor / specialists = negatives, film, audio/video
    4. The level of quality or type of standard you are trying to meet will inform the method and how much money / time you’re willing to spend. 
    5. Many public libraries and even the Government & Heritage Library have scanners available (including a microfilm scanner)
  2. Create a preservation copy and an access copy
  3. Avoid proprietary formats

Store & Protect

  1. File and folder names: 
    1. Make them unique, descriptive, and consistent.
    2. Only use letters, numbers, underscores, or periods.
    3. Include a version number or a date (YYYYMMDD) for easy sorting.
  2. Lots Of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe (LOCKSS)
    1. Keep a Master Copy for your Personal Digital Archive and make an Access copy for sharing and editing
    2. Keep multiple, exact copies of your Master Copy in various places, so if something were to happen to one copy, you still have others. The more geographically diverse your copy locations, the better
      1. For instance: a local copy saved on a hard drive at home + one securely saved to the cloud
  3. Keep Context (metadata)
    1. This may mean saving additional information about your stuff in a separate file or making sure the embedded metadata is accurate

Manage & Provide

  1. Watch for old formats or company policy changes
  2. Spot check annually by opening files to see if you can retreive them and if your machine and programs can "read" them
  3. Revisit your approach regularly
  4. Decide how, if at all, you want to share or provide access to your content
    1. Avoid using the same password across multiple platforms or programs
    2. Have a plan for how to deal with your digital life if something happens

Personal Digital Archiving: Workshops

Personal Digital Archiving: An Introduction

Not sure what to do with yellowing scrapbooks, social media posts or online correspondence?  The NC Government and Heritage Library (GHL) invites you to an introduction to Personal Digital Archiving.  In this interactive workshop, participants will explore how to manage and preserve your "digital life." 

The first part of the session, led by members of the GHL digital team will focus on:
•    What exactly is Personal Digital Archiving (PDA)?
•    Best practices with digitized and born digital content 
•    Resources available

Particpants will have an opportunity for hands on experience with the library's public scanners or exploring resources and tools discussed in the session. 

There is no experience necessary for this workshop but please come with your questions and materials or projects you would like to work on. 

Handouts & Worksheets

Personal Digital Archiving (PDA): An Introduction [PDF]

Personal Digital Archiving (PDA): Worksheet [DOCX]

Government & Heritage Library's Digitization & Scanning Equipment

Indus 9000 Overhead Book Scanner

Great for fragile materials, bound books, and oversized items like maps. 

Flatbed Scanner & Sheet Feed Scanner

There's one available at each public computer! These are great for photographs, post cards, or standard-sized loose paper.

ScanPro 2200+ Microfilm Scanner

Allows for easy reading and scanning of microfiche and microfilm. Also provides a print option.