Avoiding the Gambit for Our Personal Digital Archives

Back in Spring/Summer 2016 I responded to a call for chapter proposals for a forthcoming ALA Edition entitled The Complete Guide to Personal Digital Archiving for Librarians, Archivists, and Information Professionals. The chapter was accepted. In it I address the paradigm shift that users are witnessing and playing game to as the lifecycle of our digital content migrates toward online cloud platforms. 

 Image courtesy Flickr user osde8info: https://flic.kr/p/aBh2cu

Image courtesy Flickr user osde8info: https://flic.kr/p/aBh2cu

Entitled "Avoiding the Gambit for Our Personal Digital Archives," I use the metaphor of the chess gambit to describe how our pawns of privacy, ownership, and control are slowly but surely being drawn out by the major tech companies--Apple, Google, Amazon, etc.--in order to capture the full lifecycle of our digital content creations. They are doing this through their device lock-in and their gated content ecosystems. They are doing it to more fully profit off of our creativity and our attention.

You can read the pre-print here. The published chapter is due out at the end of October and I will be sure to call attention to it here when it becomes available. I've also got a presentation accepted for Digital Preservation 2017, the theme of which is "Preservation is Political," which strikes me as wholly appropriate for this issue.

To summarize the chapter briefly, I basically aim to throw down in clear terms the various trade-offs and challenges that this dramatic paradigm shift portends--particularly for libraries, archives, and other cultural memory organizations. The future of preservation, as managed by our cultural heritage sector is not getting any rosier in the face of the average creator's increased reliance on mobile devices, tablets, netbooks, and wearable devices. 

For libraries, archives, and other cultural memory organizations to successfully intervene and find their meaningful role, curators are going to have to get more familiar with cloud platforms, their APIs, and how they impact data integrity and data formats. Professional curators are also going to have to get savvier with digital forensics and emulation. But most importantly, we are going to have to get more engaged with users and become better educators and advocates.

On that note, I was as tickled as I could be to see a major new, and relevant publication hit this Fall shortly after turning in my final chapter edits. This is The End of Ownership: Personal Property in the Digital Age from MIT Press. I'm nearly finished with it and it puts forward some bold strategies for tackling the threats to ownership of our digital goods going forward. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a concise review

Libraries, archives, and other cultural memory organizations are going to have their hands full in the near future as we find ourselves working closely with donors to funnel their cloud-managed creations to our repositories. 

If we are going to have a viable role in that space at all, we as curators have to start with becoming more adept users, engaging our donors, and advocating for more openness and freedom to share. We need to start joining forces with initiatives already underway, and where necessary sticking our necks out and taking a little egg on the face to call foul on the efforts of tech giants and content distributors as they wittingly or unwittingly rob us of our ownership, privacy, and control. 

With that, stay tuned. I'll be using future posts to spotlight activism opportunities and applaud successes where we can find them in the fight to make our digital creations more open, affordable, and shareable.