“Digital preservation” is a term known mostly to librarians, archivists, and the computer geeks who work with them. It’s something we should all be concerned with, though, if we have data files that we want to stay around for a long time. Once it was possible to save papers and photographs for many years by sticking them in a box in a dry, safe place. With the advance of technology, their computer equivalents can vanish or become unreadable in just a few years — sometimes in the blink of an eye.

You might be the systems administrator for a small business, or the clerk of a club, a photographer with a valuable stock of digital pictures, or simply someone who wants to keep important files around for future generations of your family. The art of keeping files usable isn’t a simple one, but it’s one which any computer-savvy person can learn, especially with the help of this site.

What are the issues you need to be concerned with? Here are a few:

  • Storage media and hardware. We take file systems for granted, but we all know — too often from personal experience — they can fail. What’s the best way to store files so they’ll last? How can you get the maximum life out of your media? Will the machines of ten or twenty years from now be able to read them?
  • Preservation strategies. How can you lay out a plan for preservation? Should you save everything, or just a select group of files? Will that dry, safe closet keep them safe from damage?
  • Understanding formats. What file formats are best for long-term storage, and which ones will be unintelligible garbage next year?
  • Understanding metadata. Metadata — data about data — tells you what a file is about. Who is that a picture of? Aunt Martha or some near-stranger who was just visiting? The metadata can tell you — if it’s there. Where does it go? How do you get it out? How do you make sure it doesn’t disappear in transit when you convert or edit a file?
  • Using tools. What software is available to help you in all these tasks? How do you use it?

The Library of Congress’s preservation site has some great material, but it’s oriented toward libraries, and it can’t afford to be as opinionated and outrageous as I can on a personal blog. I plan to get fairly technical, but there will be some useful material for anyone who knows a disk drive from a mouse.

Stick around, and each Tuesday there will be new information here on how you can have files that last.