Personal digital archiving: influencing factors and challenges to practices

Date19 June 2017
Published date19 June 2017
AuthorDonghee Sinn,Sujin Kim,Sue Yeon Syn
Subject MatterLibrary & information science,Librarianship/library management,Library technology,Information behaviour & retrieval,Information user studies,Metadata,Information & knowledge management,Information & communications technology,Internet
Personal digital archiving:
influencing factors and
challenges to practices
Donghee Sinn
Department of Information Science,
University at Albany (State University of New York), Albany, New York, USA
Sujin Kim
Department of Biomedical Informatics, University of Kentucky, Lexington,
Kentucky, USA, and
Sue Yeon Syn
Department of Library and Information Science, Catholic University of America,
Washington, District of Columbia, USA
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to investigate the associations of personal archiving behaviors to
factors and challenges that have been assumed to affect personal digital archiving strategies.
Design/methodology/approach This study created an online survey to understand general patterns
of personal digital archiving practices and related phenomena. The survey was employed to investigate
to what extent people show a certain behavior or feel certain factors and challenge when archiving personal
digital content.
Findings Some of the findings of this study regarding specific personal digital archiving practices were
in accordance with existing studies. However, the associations between digital archiving challenges
and archiving practices were not observed statistically significantly as assumed in previous studies.
General technology efficacy and the awareness of the importance of personal records appeared to influence
personal archiving practices.
Research limitations/implications This study used Amazons Mechanical Turk. As this is not a
commonly used internet service, the workers here could have higher than average levels of internet efficacy.
This possibility may have affected the demographics, and the survey responses may be biased in this respect.
Practical implications As the study results suggest that technology efficacy and personal heritage
awareness are the influencing factors of personal digital archiving, these are the areas where information
professionals can involve in assisting users for future cultural heritage.
Originality/value This is the first study that develops measures for personal digital archiving related
practices and perceptions that the previous qualitative studies have identified. With these measures, it
examines the general status of individualsarchiving strategies and the overall associations of digital
archiving challenges as well as looking into other technological and personal factors.
Keywords Archiving practices, Challenges, Factors, Survey, MTurk, Personal digital archiving (PDA)
Paper type Research paper
With the advancement of information technology, the amount of information that
individuals create is enormous, and such information contains valuable content for
individuals who created it and for the society that they live. Personal archives are important
cultural heritage in society because they provide unique views for events,represent
individuals and their richly individualistic activities,become evidences of underlying
process behind achievements and historical events,and are a way to bring the world of the
past alive in evocative ways( John et al., 2010, p. 98). Archivists and librarians have
preserved personal records in various formats in their repositories as examples of cultural
heritage. Archival strategies that have been practiced by professional archivists for
historical figures, however, may not work for the general publics personal information.
Library Hi Tech
Vol. 35 No. 2, 2017
pp. 222-239
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/LHT-09-2016-0103
Received 23 September 2016
Revised 2 February 2017
Accepted 16 February 2017
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
In fact, the general public has rarely been instructed about how to manage their digital
assets effectively. On the other hand, information professionals have become more
interested to understand the preservation and curation practices of individualsdigital
information. With such understanding they will be able to assist the general public with new
challenges regarding personal digital asset management and preservation.
Research for individualsdigital preservation activities has been conducted with different
perspectives. Some researchers investigate this topic from those of personal information
management and focus on information management behaviors (Marshall et al., 2006;
Bergman,2013; Whittaker et al., 2006). Anotherresearcher focus on underservedpopulation in
the digital preservation of personal information studies (public library users) and argues the
personal digital preservation should be addressed with personal, social, and technological
factors (Copeland, 2011). There is an attempt to understand how people would curate
large digital collections by understanding how they deal with physical sentimental clutter
( Jonesand Ackerman, 2016). Further, othersexamine the larger context of individualsdigital
lives and their digital contentslife cycles ( John et al., 2010; Williams et al., 2009).
Many of these studies have taken qualitative and exploratory approaches to understand
individualsspecific behaviors with personal digital content and some of the challenges they
experience. Findings in these qualitative studies have provided an extensive picture that
show the wide range of individualsperceptions regarding archiving, its diverse and
complex processes. However, those identified digital archiving behaviors and perceptions
have not been confirmed whether or not there are any general behavior patterns. The British
Library conducted a research project on peoples lives, pertaining to their personal
digital data with multiple studies using various methodologies ( John et al., 2010). This is a
broad-based survey and does not necessarily focus on archiving practices. Still minimal
research has been done to understand the general publics archiving strategy behavior
patterns or to recognize common challenges and factors that may influence the process of
people managing their digital content.
This study examinesthe extent of individualsarchiving strategies,challenges, and factors
for their perceived behaviors that have been identified from existing studies. Based on the
general patternsidentified from the research,it further aims to examine relationships between
various factors, challenges, and behaviors of digital archiving. While many qualitative
studies have assumed that certain archiving challenges (e.g. digital stewardship and widely
distributed enormous amount of digital content) could affect individualsdigital archiving
behaviors, thereis no clear evidence to substantiatesuch assumptions. This study intends to
find any available associations of the factors to the digital archiving practices.
This study uses broad definitions of terms related to personal digital archiving. Personal
digital information is used for the information that individuals create, receive, access, or
manage for their daily lives in the digital environment, and personal digital archives are the
aggregate of digital information that individuals maintain for future uses. Preservation-
related terms, such as archiving, backing up, and saving, are used in the most general sense
that refers to any activities to store personal digital information for the purposes of retaining
to the future. Digital curation and digital stewardship are also used in a general sense that
indicates the activities of making decisions to delete or preserve digital content.
Literature review
Personal digital archiving strategies
Individuals preserve their digital assets to document personal life history, occasions for
achievements, and identity construction evidence (Kaye et al., 2006). They archive diverse
types of digital files such as text documents, images, spreadsheets, databases, pdf files,

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