All of us create an enormous amount of electronic material – in our research and writing, phone, email, and internet communications, commercial transactions and official business, and pursuit of our personal pastimes and interaction with others. That material exists in a variety of formats – word processor files, bibliographic databases, pdfs, webpages, image and media files, spreadsheets, computer programs, blog and Twitter posts, email messages, address books and contact lists, text and voice messages and more – and is stored in a variety of locations – on personal computers, tablets, cell phones, the Internet, CDs and DVDs, external hard drives, USB drives and other places as well. The files are typically easy to copy, send, store, transport, edit and transform, but they are also vulnerable to damage or loss through misplacement, editing errors, hardware or software failure or obsolescence, file decay or corruption, theft, water or fire damage, and other mishaps.
Some of that material is short-lived, and thankfully so, given the huge amount of content that each of us produces. At the same time, there is much we will want to save for the short, medium, or long term to support our ongoing research, to refer to or make available as needed, or simply to have as part of our personal collections. Some will be for our use only, but we may want to make some of it available to others, and some we may eventually want to leave behind as a record of the work we have done in our careers.
For all these reasons, it is increasingly important to take steps to organize and preserve your data. Most of us have an inadequate approach to this process at best. However, a growing number of tools and strategies are available to make the process easier and more straightforward. The Libraries and the Center for Digital Research and Scholarship have drawn up a list of some of the most interesting of them, but whichever of them you may decide to employ, the following rules and practices are probably relevant.
· Get started now and strive to make these practices a part of your ongoing routine! The longer you wait, the harder the task of catching up will be.
· Have an explicit policy for archiving your materials – what you will save, how long you will keep it, where you will store it, how you will handle versions of works that go through multiple, revisions, and what you will throw away. Writing it down can actually be of great benefit to you in identifying needs you may never have considered before, and in coming up with a program that meets those needs with a minimum of effort.
· Think about the preservation needs of all your digital material – word-processor files, downloaded scholarly articles and bibliographic information, photographs, sound recordings, phone numbers, emails, social media, etc. Even if you opt not to save some of it at all, it is better to have explicitly considered the option and then rejected it than to have overlooked the issue.
· Adopt consistent and explicit file-naming strategies and directory organization. There are tools that can help you to rename files in directories, for example, to give you photos more explicit names than the usual serial number. And consider including date and filename information in the text of versions of the work you do.
· Take advantage of citation management or similar softwares to organize your scholarly archives in an effective and transparent way.
· Don’t hesitate to weed. Avoiding excessive duplication of unneeded materials can help keep track of what is truly important.
· Archive the materials you produce and revise at frequent, regular intervals.
· Store your backed-up data in at least two, and preferably three locations, whether on an external drive or in the cloud.
· Refresh your non-cloud-stored data by copying the full contents to another drive at least once a year, and consider replacing your storage hardware every few years.
· Try, when possible, to store your files in “open” formats, i.e., ones that can be read by more than one software program
· As you move your system forward, think about hardware and software options that may be rendered obsolete and find a strategy for moving that data forward
· If you have scholarly material of your own that you would like to share with the broader research community, consider depositing it in the University’s Digital Repository.