Personal archives and personal digital archiving

Personal archives or fonds are entireties of records created and accumulated by individuals during their lives. They differ from institutional archives because they are more “archives of character” according to C. Hobbs (2001) than institutional repositories of records archived for their transactional value. As Eastwood (2016) stated, private archives should meet “the individual’s proclivities and needs”.

Accumulation of digital personal records and content exceeds the capacities of the archival community which should advise the creators or help them organize their archives. The archivists could not support the creators of personal archives enough during the creation of their archives, and there is a danger of losing the content. We know today that public institutions are creating just a part of future memory and that private records creators accumulate socially and culturally relevant archival materials too. It adds a severity to the risk of losing potentially valuable archival holdings. Will we be able to deliver our legacy to the future generations?

It’s time to change our approach to personal archives because they are different from the typical fonds that archivists process and because their accessions to archival institutions are not likely to happen. Preserving potentially valuable archival holdings should be the main drive here as well as “developing new mechanisms for educating the public about how to care for their personal and family archives” (Cox 2009). Because of the large amounts of personal materials produced, we propose an efficient mechanism for addressing archives in the development stage – software or service with built-in professional knowledge. This suggestion is consistent with the contemporary archival mission.

There are numerous tools available to people for creation, capturing, storing, sharing and recycling of content. However, there is the absence of tools which might ensure content cohesion – tools for gluing records together, adding provenance to the content and for organizing records and saving their interpretative potential for the future. Archival tools for the organization of personal fonds are unavailable to personal records creators (end users). It leaves personal accumulations unstructured, provenance links decaying and content scattered. (Provenance refers to the archival principle of grouping materials of the same origin). It is also why we need to capture and preserve as much context as it is possible in the period of content creation and without burdening the creator too much.

Our approach includes the use of technologies that are already out there (apps, content services, repositories) and built-in archival mechanisms, in an innovative and user-friendly way, as well as adding contextual information and ensuring provenance links. It is our answer to the questions how to build personal archives today and why to do it.

(This is summarized text of the introductory part of the article “Gluing Provenance to Dispersed Personal Content and Creating Contemporary Personal Archives” that was published in InFuture2017 Conference proceedings.)