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Digital Initiatives: Personal Digital Archiving

Digital Initiatives department at the North Dakota State Library

Personal Digital Archiving

Personal Digital Archiving: Overview

Welcome to the Personal Digital Archiving page! This page provides guidance and resources on organizing, digitizing, storing, and preserving personal digital files in a variety of formats. This page is intended for use by members of the public.

Browse the various tabs on this page to learn more about personal digital archiving.

If any cultural heritage institutions (such as libraries, archives, and historical societies) are looking for information and resources, consult the Digital Projects Toolkit.

Personal Digital Archiving: The Basics

Preserving Digital Memories

The main steps to follow and consider when preparing to archive your digital files are:

  1. Digitize (if you have not done so already)
    • Digitization does not equal preservation (do not discard the originals after digitizing)
    • Follow appropriate digitization standards
  2. Identify and import
    • Determine all the locations where you have digital items (cameras, computers, flash drives, phones, CDs, external hard drives, email, cloud storage, social media, etc.)
    • Gather everything into one location (importing them if necessary)
  3. Select
    • Determine what you want to save (select files that have long-term value)
    • Remove duplicates, near duplicates, poor quality items, etc.
    • If there are multiple versions of the same item, choose the one with the highest quality
  4. Organize
    • Give descriptive but brief file names
    • Avoid spaces and special characters, such as: # @ + % ! ? = * < > | " $ { } ; :
    • Instead of special characters or spaces, use underscores or hyphens (e.g. Smith_Wedding_1952 or 1952-Smith-Wedding)
    • Include the date when applicable
    • Add/ tag/ embed as much information to your files as you can (identify the who, what, when, where)
    • Create a consistent organizational structure that works for you (by year, by subject, etc.)
    • Create an inventory
  5. Storage and backup
    • Make copies and store them in different places
    • Follow the 3-2-1 rule (have 3 copies of your digital files, store them on 2 different media, and 1 copy should located off-site)
    • See the "Digital Storage" tab on this page for more information
  6. Mange and preserve
    • Check your files annually to make sure they are still accessible
    • Plan to migrate your digital archive every few years to new storage media andcreate new media copies to avoid data loss


For more information and guidance on how to transfer digital files to your computer, consult these resources:

Personal Digital Archiving: Digital Preservation

Digital preservation is:

  • The "process of (actively) maintaining a digital object for as long as required, in a form which is authentic, and accessible to users."
    • Brown, Adrian. Practical Digital Preservation: A How-to Guide for Organizations of Any Size. Chicago: Neal-Schuman, 2013.
  • A "formal endeavor to ensure that digital information of continuing value remains accessible and usable."

Key Concepts

  • Digital files are just as fragile (if not more so) than physical items
    • Digital items have a shorter lifespan than their physical counterparts.
    • They can easily become corrupted by malware, viruses, or misuse. They can also easily become lost (especially if stored on things like flash drives and memory cards) or deleted.
  • Not only is the format for digital items constantly changing but with that changing technology the hardware and software for it can become obsolete (like floppy disks)

Digital Files & Websites

To learn about the preservation of...

  • Digital files (images, documents, etc.)
  • Websites and webpages

...visit the Preservation page.


In an archival setting, correspondence (letters, memos, postcards, etc.) is an important type of record. They can provide an in-depth look on a person's life and work. Now, email is the norm for correspondence. Your emails like contain important information, so make sure you are saving these emails. Consult the resources below for information on how to download or archive your emails.

Social Media

If the content on your social media accounts are important to you, there are different ways to download your data. Some platforms allow you to access and download your content, but in some cases, you may need to use a third-party tool.

Personal Digital Archiving: Digital Storage

Storage is an important aspect of digital preservation. The saying "don’t put all of your eggs in one basket" also applies to digital collections. It is important to make copies of your digital files and store them in different places.

3-2-1 Rule

Follow the 3-2-1 rule for digital storage:

  • Have 3 separate copies of your digital files
  • 2 copies should be stored on different storage media
    • Don’t have both copies live locally on the same computer. If that computer crashes, you may lose both copies.
    • For example, one copy could live locally on a computer and another copy could live in cloud storage.
  • 1 of the copies should be located off-site
    • The off-site criteria is to there to help protect your digital collection in case something should happen to the main location (the "on-site" one). It is there to help safeguard against water damage, tornado, fire, etc.

3-2-1 Rule Examples

  • Digital collection stored locally on your home computer; external hard drive kept at home; the cloud
  • Digital collection stored locally on your home computer; external hard drive kept at home; external hard drive kept at work

The Cloud

The cloud can be a beneficial addition to your storage plan.

  • Cloud storage can include things like Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox, etc. Many other options are also available.
  • Cloud storage is typically accessible from anywhere.
  • Some options are free (up to a certain GB). The large storage options are relatively inexpensive, but the more storage you need, the more money it will cost.
  • Cloud storage is generally a good backup, as it is typically a secure, off-site option.

However, cloud storage should NOT be your only backup method.

The cloud is useful but it is NOT the solution to everything.

  • Using cloud storage, your files will be stored on a server that is managed by a third-party company.
  • There are no guarantees that this company will last forever.
  • Make sure to read the company’s user agreements, so there are no hidden privacy issues.
  • The cloud is essentially someone else's computer, so it is still at risk to the same threats a normal computer would face.

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Many of these resources and programs are funded under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.