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Skip Navigation LinksSimcoe County > Archives > Guide to Digital Preservation at Home

Guide to Digital Preservation at Home

​​​​​​​​Image of a Zenith data systems computer

Zenith Z-100 data systems computer, purchased 1983.  Copyright:  Ellen Millar, used with permission

​​Most of the records created in the 21st century will be digital only or born-digital. Digital records are very convenient, being easily shared and stored out of sight on hard drives and in the cloud, but they pose significant problems for long-term preservation.  

Rapid changes in file format support, software versions and features, operating system environments, and physical hardware can make digital records obsolete more quickly than physical records. 

These problems can be mitigated by adopting some basic digital records management practices. 

Getting started 

  • Make a list of where your digital files are kept– desktop, laptop, tablet, phone, external hard drives, USBs, cloud storage, blog, social media, etc. 
  • Decide if and how you want to export records from various online services 
  • Gather existing files you want to save in one place so you can quickly identify them. 
  • Organize newly created files as you create or receive them. 
  • Organize your files in an easy-to-use system of directories and folders. 
  • Decide whether you want to file by date, or by event, or by a combination of both 
  • To make files, folders, and directories easier to find and navigate, use descriptive names for them 

            Metadata 

            Metadata refers to information about your data, such as file name, and date of creation. 

            • Write a brief description of the directory/folder structure and the files they contain. 
            • Whenever possible, add extra details, for example: 
            • Who is in a photograph, when it was taken, where, and on what occasion? 

              File types 

              • Save important files in a format that is widely used and widely supported by common software. Acceptable formats include common office software formats, .MSG, PDF, JPEG, TIFF, MP4, MKV, MP3, WAV, FLAC, OGG, etc.  
              • Lists of formats acceptable for long-term preservation are available from Library and Archives Canada​the American​ Library of Congress, and the UK National Archives​.
              • ​If possible, and you know how, convert proprietary or uncommon formats to more common formats. 
              • If you are able, save two sets of important digital images – a set of uncompressed, lossless master files (i.e. TIFFand a set of compressed access files (i.e. JPG). 

                Backup and Verify 

                • Store at least two copies of important files on separate hard drives. 
                • If you can manage it, keep one copy at a second location. 
                • If you have access to cloud storage, it can make an ideal off-site addition to local storage. 
                • Check your files at least once a year to make sure you can still read/view them, and that the storage media still works. 

                Migration 

                Upgrades to hardware, operating systems and software can damage your files or make them unreadable. 

                • Every 3-5 years you will need to copy and move (migrate) your files to a newer media. ​
                • Use new, high-quality storage media. 
                • Convert files created with obsolete software to newer formats. 

                  Donation 

                  If you are intending to donate your digital records to the Archives, we strongly recommend that you follow the preceding recommendations.  It will make your records that much easier for us to preserve, as well as making it easier for future researchers to use them.  

                  Before contacting the Archives about donating, please read the information provided in the Archives’ Donor Portal​. 

                  Further reading 

                  Digital preservation is a complex and interesting topic. These resources may help you learn more: