Each year at the end of April, cultural heritage institutions around the world celebrate Preservation Week, a time when places such as libraries and museums work to bring awareness to preservation issues affecting collections everywhere, even personal collections held by individuals. Without long-term care and preservation planning, many of the items we feel are important and should be saved for personal or community memories will find themselves in precarious situations, from uncontrollable environmental disasters to fast-paced innovation leaving obsolete technology in its wake. While the care and maintenance of our materials can sometimes feel overwhelming, even the smallest steps can make a big difference!
A good place to start for the long-term preservation of important physical and digital materials is simply awareness, which is what Preservation Week is all about! Did you know that storing photographic prints in acid-free enclosures is better for long-term security and stability? Did you know that you can create archival captures of your website, even if you don’t plan on continuing to host or update it? If so, please share with your friends and family! A lot of individuals who aren’t regularly involved in cultural heritage fields may not even know about the possibilities for preserving their treasures, so just talking about preservation and doing some brief research can have a positive impact on the outlook for many of these items.
Once long-term preservation is on your mind, it’s time to create a plan. It’s okay to start small, and the plan might even be to move a few digital files off of your desktop to external hard drives and cloud storage. (Just remember the principle behind LOCKSS, or Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe)! You might also consider prioritizing your items, whether that means the time that you can spend ensuring their preservation or the funding it might take to have more complex items digitized for you. It’s also important to take a proactive approach to preservation. For example, you might be going back and preserving items that you created or acquired years ago, but what about that website you will be starting on tomorrow? Building preservation into your project plan from the start could reduce accidental losses later, or scrambling to find preservation tools at the last minute.
Finally, proceed bravely! It can be intimidating to try and figure out the best way to preserve and care for your materials, particularly if it involves complex, new technologies, but there are lots of resources out there and professionals in the field willing to help. You might even try making it a goal to attempt one new tool or technique a month to preserve your materials. (We’ve recently been testing out webrecorder.io for preserving individual websites!) A great place to start is the Association for Library Collections & Technical Services “Saving Your Stuff” or our own Digitization Tips post. And, don’t forget, you can always stop by your local library or museum for additional help with finding resources!