RootsTech 2018 Access and Preservation Day: Preserving Digital Memories


by Robert Raymond

Brewster Kahle, Founder and Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive, presented the opening keynote of the Access and Preservation Day at RootsTech 2018. With digital, all has changed, he said. “We are digital citizens.” We have digital memories, and there are big, as yet unanswered, questions: What do we do with these things? How do preserve our digital memories?

By way of introduction, Brewster helped us understand the breadth of the Internet Archive’s holdings. They have 11 million books and texts, 2 million videos, 4 million audio recordings, including a growing collection of 78 rpm records. They have 3 million hours of television and hundreds and hundreds of billions of web pages. You may not have known they have 100,000 software titles, bringing them back to life through emulation. They even have a collection of 2.3 million paper books.

Brewster spoke of things needing preservation: records (like censuses and certificates), analog memories (think photographs and personal papers), offline digital memories (such as our hard drives and cell phones), web activities (like research and citations), and online digital memories (like Facebook and Twitter).

We are actually doing quite well preserving records according to Brewster. But when it comes to the other things, big question marks remain.

What do you do with your analog memories, your shoe box of photos? Brewster mentioned one good thing about older photos: it was too expensive to take very many. People have started to digitize and upload them.

Brewster asked us, when it comes to web research, how do you make certain web discoveries remain permanent? On average, a web page lasts—unchanged—for just 90 days. The Internet Archive archives websites and you can request that a page be archived. One way is using Save Page Now in the Wayback Machine and a browser extension. The Internet Archive’s Archive-It is a subscription service that companies can purchase. Archive-It saves pages of a website on a predetermined schedule.

There are question marks around our offline digital memories. Even if you can get them off old hard drives and cameras, how would you organize them? There are no very good options yet, Brewster said. For photographs, there’s Flickr. A website,, is in beta. On the Internet Archive home page, click the Upload button, and try it out.

When it comes to online digital memories, like Facebook and Twitter, how do you preserve them? He asked who remembered MySpace, GeoCities, and Friendster. When it comes to online memories, pray these services don’t go out of business. How do we bridge between the current digital world and permanence? Some people take screen shots, but those are saved on hard drives or thumb drives. Does anyone remember CDs? Facebook can be archived pretty well, but YouTube is constantly changing, making it difficult for Internet Archive to crawl it.

Internet Archive offers some tools to address some of these questions, but few people know about them. Brewster asked if they should make Archive-It available to individuals through family history centers. Email them at, and let them know what you think.

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