Digital Archiving

Here in Germany, we just witnessed how some old houses collapsed and disappeared down a trench as a landslide occurred into the nearby lake. Just back in March, the communal archive in Cologne fell down into an underground tunnel, and tore the neighboring buildings with it. But unfortunately fires or floods claiming lives and buildings occur all over the world, all the time.
Events like these always leave me speechless, and pondering. About how it must feel to look at the ruins of your own home. Or just be evacuated and not allowed to enter it again because it may be unstable. How it must feel, after barely escaping alive, to have lost everything - in addition to material losses, all your memories are lost as well. No more photos or family videos, documents, letters or postcards, that helped you remember. And sometimes it’s not only your own memories that are lost - I have inherited a whole cabinet of material from my parents and grandparents, that contain precious memories for me as well.

While institutions like the communal archive can spend millions on protecting and saving their assets (physically as well as digitally), similar efforts in the homes of you and me are not only a lot less expensive, but also often less thorough or consistent. And we’ve seen a lot of them over the past decades - every major media change triggered its wave of conversions. Super 8 home movies were converted first to VHS, then to DVD. LPs were copied to DAT tapes, and today are digitized directly. By now, the computer has emerged as the collector for all these types of media - you don’t speak of multimedia for nothing. And the market for services and accessories for digitizing is huge.

Epson Scanner, Produktbild von Epson
And that’s why I’m doing my own digitizing for years now, sometimes more, sometimes less enthusiastic. Always hoping to end up with all my irreplaceable treasures in one neat small package. And thanks to digitizing, this package could actually survive an event like the ones described above. Because digital media can be copied effortlessly, and stored offsite. Or is so handy - as a 2.5” external hard disc for instance - that you could actually grab it and take it with you in case of an emergency evacuation.
Right now, for example, I’m in the process of continually scanning my photo albums, or work on the scanning of my slides. Not too long ago, I scanned all those shoeboxes with the old and ancient family photos, identified and tagged them properly. A fresh project is the digitizing of all our VHS family videos to MP4 (H.264, using an external USB converter), and the scanning of our family’s Super 8 home videos (although we’ll probably have that done by some service).

Seagate FreeAgent ext. Festplatte, Produktbild von Seagate
Now, since the rise of digital photography to the mainstream, there have been ongoing debates about how to actually archive your digital data, and whether digital data isn’t even more fragile than its analog counterparts. For me, I’ve decided to store all those photos, letters, documents and videos on one or two 2.5” external hard discs - they can take 500GB nowadays and are very affordable. I keep them organized, properly tagged and documented, and hope to escape the digital fading that way. And amidst all that is our trusty CDWinder, keeping track of what is stored where, and helping me to keep an overview of where I have my precious memories.

And thus the circle is complete. How do you maintain your digital archive ? And does it involve contingency planning as well ?