Digital File Backup, Records Management and Archival Preservation

A fellow attendee at a meeting for an exhibition asked me what else I was working on.

“I’m digitizing, preserving and archiving my professional, exhibition files, associated data for repositories… ” I said, watching his eyes glaze over as he nodded his agreement to the rhythm of my words. “And backing up files of my works-in-progress in case of… blah, kms auto blah, blah.” I gave up. Ever feel like you are talking to a bobblehead?

“Why,” he asked, a little dazed. “Aren’t repositories places where things are laid to rest?”

Repositories, I thought. That was his only take-away from what I said?

“No, repositories are places where things go to live,” I said. “You are mistaking repositories for graveyards. Repositories collect and preserve institutional and individual intellectual production for posterity and research. I am also creating an alternative location for my working files in case of… blah, dryer repair san diego blah, blah… ”

I know by his glazed look that I am losing him again. How little does this poor soul know about our technological future, I though. In fact, fancy name preserving the world as we know it seems to be the furthest thing from most people’s minds. Everyone seems to accept the myth that once data is on the Internet or a storage device, it lives forever. If you are a writer, you produce an enormous amount of copy that will live forever only if you take responsibility for preventing its disappearance. Files saved in various formats, including paper, get old and die, which means they are no longer machine accessible or human readable.

If you believe all those files on large floppy discs, compact diskettes, CD-ROMs, CDs, zip drives, flash drives, memory cards, expansion chips, cassettes, reels, computer hard drives, external hard drives, tablets, cell phones, clouds and more will be accessible or even viewable in the future, you may be sadly incorrect. The average life of a website is 2-5 years. Other static media may last 5-7 years if handled carefully and stored properly. That is the reason government and businesses stress and train staff in records management. Agencies and companies establish entire records management departments to satisfy the legal requirements for record creation, provrf maintenance and use, and disposal.

What is a record?


  • A record is evidence of procedures, decisions, policies, correspondence, drafts and other activities captured electronically or saved in any physical state or on any digital media.


As a professional writer, you have created thousands of records over the course of your career. Your book and article manuscripts are records, themenu and so are their drafts. Your records include query letters to editors and publishers, publishing contracts, associated emails, book reviews by you and about your book, newspaper article contributions by you and coverage of you, fan mail, project reports, grant and competition applications, awards, rejection letters, letters of references, photographs, speech transcripts, video, audio and so on, all of which are records within some form of files that require your management. The most important aspect of records management is file names. Vague unrelated file names are essentially useless. Give files meaningful titles that will make sense so they remain accessible over time.

Records management generally deals with two types of records–temporary and permanent.

Temporary – Records that can be deleted as agency policy warrants expiration of usefulness or your records that are no longer needed.

Permanent – Records that need protection for all eternity such as records at the National Archives or records you are saving for repository archives.

On an individual professional level, records management may come down to a legal matter of challenging someone’s infringement of your copyright. If you are trying to prove your ownership and establish a timeline in the ownership of a certain literary work, against another party’s claim, it may help if you have maintained and preserved the lifecycle of your document files to support your claim to ownership. For more info please visit these sites:-

The least you can do to save your records is to:


  • Take inventory of files
  • Select files worth saving
  • Assign distinctive names to selected files
  • Organize selected files into folders named for category
  • Copy selected folders and files to two or more file storage devices
  • Place storage devices in different physical locations


Remember the desk drawer filled with old diskettes? Let’s hope you haven’t delayed your file transfers too long. Are all those diskettes the same format or even the same size? And what machine do you own today that will open those antiquated files? Oh, and do not forget about the obsolete software you used to create the files–old word processing and scripting-writing software you have not used in decades. In fact, the software could be so old by now it’s not usable in your current computer. You will need a machine with a disc drive to read those diskettes. Hopefully you still have such a machine to retrieve those potential National Book Award novels and Oscar-caliber film scripts you promised yourself and your family you would finish and get published and produced.

Does your current computer have a ROM drive?

Did you use a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive to install the old software you used to create those files you now want to preserve? Can you locate the box that contains the software? What box, you may ask. We download most software now directly from the Internet. Did we call software, software back then, in the days before APPs?


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