How to save and preserve your writing for your grandchildren and beyond

The author runs a broadcast technology consultancy and regularly advises national broadcasters on how to build and maintain accessible digital archives of their valuable (and irreplaceable) assets. What works for the professionals can work for you too.

You wrote it - don't lose it!

Not everyone worries about posterity, but if, like most writers, you take pride in your output, the prospect of it all just disappearing, whether in your lifetime or after, is not a pleasant one. Fortunately, with a little care taken now, it is possible to minimise the risk of loss, so that future generations have a chance to know you through your writings, through what you choose to leave behind, and not just as someone in an old photograph wearing ridiculous clothes.

Survey: Will your content survive you?

Which of these best describes your preservation strategy?

See results without voting

Safety First - Remote Replication

If your latest work exists only as a single file on your PC, it is at its most vulnerable. You could accidentally delete it, the file could be corrupted, the operating system or hardware could crash - there are so many things that could go wrong. Here are a few things you can do to protect it, in order of effectiveness (worst first!)

  1. Make a local copy to a back-up folder on the PC.
  2. Print it out as a hard copy
  3. Back it up to removable media (CD, DVD, USB-Drive)
  4. Email it to your own webmail (Gmail, Yahoo, etc.)
  5. Upload it to a content site (HubPages, Blogger, etc.)

No 1 is virtually useless because it only protects against 'finger trouble' on the local PC.

Nos 2 & 3 are better, although conventional wisdom among Broadcast and National Archivists is that the minimum physical separation between the original and the back-up should be 40 kilometres or 25 miles (in case the main site goes on fire or, worst case, is bombed!)

No 4 immediately gives you excellent security, because your file is now not only stored on a remote mail server, where it is protected against disk failure by RAID technology, but it is also replicated from that mail server to a disaster recovery server on another remote site.

No 5, publishing on HubPages, Blogger, etc, is best of all. Not only does it provide the same file security as the mail server option, but it also starts the process of automatic metadata creation through the provider's own indexing systems and through search engine discovery.

The Chained Library

hereford cathedral chained library
hereford cathedral chained library | Source

Data and Metadata

In Hereford Cathedral, there is an ancient library of hand written books dating from the 12th Century. As the books were unique, they were chained to the library shelves, and to protect their spines, they were stored as in the photograph, spines uppermost. This is how the medieval monks protected their irreplaceable data. But, how did they ever find anything in such a blind library?

There was one more book, also chained, but on a flat table. This book listed all the books in the library, by title, author, summary, shelf location and book position. This was their Amazon Catalog, This was their metadata, 900 years ago.

Metadata literally means data about data. Metadata is how you search and find what you are looking for. I'll say more about it later, but for now let's just say that if you zip up all your precious content and save it on CDs or DVDs, you might just as well have thrown it away. Without metadata, no-one is ever going to search through it all, not even you. They say content is King, but unreferenced content isn't even a page(!)

How safe is the Web?

Content uploaded to HubPages, Blogspot, etc. is very much safer than content stored at home (and of course doing both is safer still). But for how long? The Internet is very young, especially compared with the written or printed word. Companies don't always survive, and while I would trust a profitable service provider to look after my materials, a bankrupt provider would have higher priorities than my few megabytes. Ironically, the chances are your data will survive, as it is replicated on caches all over the world, but as the structured metadata collapses with the collapsed provider, your material is as good as lost.

Setting up your own website is not the answer either, because if you're not around to pay the various registration and hosting fees, the site will outlive you for no more than a year or so.

It would seem, then, that while the Internet is your friend as a living, breathing author, something more controllable is indicated for any permanent record. So, where to start?

Metadata, metadata, metadata...

Remember the monks' library? You need a catalog (or database) of everything you want to keep. The catalog should have one page (or card - think of a library card-file) for every item. The page can have as much detail (as many fields) as you want to provide, but as a minimum it should contain these fields:

  1. the Title of the piece
  2. the Author's name (not a difficult question!)
  3. the File-name of the master copy (if it exists on a computer or server. If it is handwritten, use the field to reserve a file name for the future)
  4. the File-Name of the back-up copy (note as above)
  5. the Location of the master copy (note - location can be a URL, like http://www,etc,etc, or it can be a physical location, like 'Mimi's house, spare bedroom, red box on top shelf'. This is the single most important field of metadata!)
  6. the Location of the back-up copy. (note as above)
  7. theĀ Summary of the contentĀ 
  8. etc - whatever additional fields are important to you, for example: origination date, publication date, revision date, version number, and so on.

File and Media Formats (important!)

Two related but different and important concepts for the would be archivist are:

File Format - assuming your material is digitised (i.e. entered into, stored on, or saved from, a computer) it will have to be in a recognised file format. It is best to use the simplest and most generic formats, as these can be read by more applications and are more future-proof. Text files (.txt) and simple hypertext (,html) are the most universal. Formats that are specific to a word processor program (e.g. .doc) are higher risk. Cross-platform 'standards' (.pdf) are probably pretty safe. As a quick test, try to open your preferred file in Notepad or Textpad. If it opens and almost all of what you see is the content, everything should be ok. But if the content is swamped by 'instruction characters' (aka gibberish!) then it might be wise to reconsider.

Media Format - this refers to the physical media, e.g. flash drive, CD-ROM, DVD. There's a guessing game here. Who knows what we'll be using in 30 years time? Still, there are good and bad choices. Avoid formats that depend on complicated physical dimensions and precision moving parts. Your grand-daughter will not possess a CD player. (Do you own a wax cylinder phonograph or even a 5-inch floppy disk drive? - QED!) USB Flash Drives are a far better bet. Even if/when USB disappears as a standard, any half-way competent Engineer could recreate the four simple contacts and send/receive drivers to make it work. But a CD reader would need a precision production plant. Of course, another great unknown is how long will an unread Flash Drive survive? We simply don't know, because they have not been around long enough to die.

So here's what I do:

  • upload all my stuff to HubPages, Blogger and a couple of Websites
  • download the hubs and blogs as complete webpages, and mirror the websites by FTP
  • decide what I want to preserve
  • create an index (metadata file) on Google Docs, of all the good stuff
  • replicate the index file to my PC and keep a printout of it
  • mail a copy of the index file to my daughter (miles away)
  • re-send a copy with every update
  • save an html file (master) and a txt file (backup) of every indexed article, on two separate flash drives
  • replicate the flash drives, and store them far away
  • (by the way, I don't bother to save pictures or formatting - text is everything!)
  • save two paper print-outs of every article (in case flash drives die)
  • mail one copy to my daughter

I wish - -

Of course I don't do all that. I know I should, but I'm too busy. I'm too busy helping my paying clients to preserve 25+ years of accumulated audiotapes, videotapes and films of inestimable value. Stuff of history, of the breaking and making of nations. That's my job. I'll take care of my own scribblings when I retire. Meanwhile - do as I say, not as I do. Your grand-kids will thank you.

and thanks for reading!

More by this Author


Comments 42 comments

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

Paraglider, is that what your paying clients pay you to do? I didn't realize! I've been thinking about some of the same issues lately.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Aya - It was funny today to see that your new hub was also 'archival', because mine's been 'on the pins' for the last few days. I'm a broadcast projects engineer, but more and more, these days, the focus is on realising the asset of legacy tapes - ingesting and logging them, enabling browse and search etc, so you can always react to events with the most relevant content, in the shortest time. TV news is very competitive that way!


pgrundy 7 years ago

Wow, I never even gave this a thought, but now I'm thinking about it seriously. I have a five year old grandson, and who knows--the time may come when he would be interested in this. Thank you, I'm going to take these suggestions (to the best of my limited ability.) :)


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Pam - if you do nothing else, write the index file (metadata) to give posterity a fighting chance of salvaging the rest!


Jon Green profile image

Jon Green 7 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

Great hub - even audio is a problematic area. For instance I already have cassettes, VHS PCM tapes, minidiscs, CDs. Enough formats, already! I'm also trying to archive family history. if you're interested in this, let me know.

Cheers, Jon Green


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Jon - with that kind of collection, the best is to ingest everything to a file format (wav or mp3 or both) and store the files on a static media like flashdrive. But it's a labour of love. Also keep the originals, after digitising, in case you have to redigitise id something goes wrong.

wav is to audio as txt is to text - the simplest and most future proof format (though not the most compact!)


ArchDynamics 7 years ago

Good evening/morning, D:

An exceptional article ... we backup rigorously, but I found a few good tidbits in here to tighten up our game a bit.

As you said, even with the latest solid-state drives, no one can effectively predict how long they'll last.

And, considering how quickly new storage media are brought to market, I can't even imagine what we'll be using hence.

By then Apple will probably have a little implant chip where you simply 'think' the data into something the size of your fingernail capable of holding exabytes of information.


VioletSun profile image

VioletSun 7 years ago from Oregon/ Name: Marie

I didn't think of how computer systems change and a disk today may not be usable in the future. Thanks for bringing this to my attention!

I have an online friend who wrote a cookbook and she shared bits of it with me, and it was funny and the recipes were great. When she was reading to submit her manuscript to a publisher, something went horribly wrong with her computer and you guessed it, she lost all her work! No hardcopies had been made or storing in a disk.

Thanks for the expert tips!


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

ArchDynamics - it sounds as though you are pretty organised. Many companies leave it until it is too late and too difficult/expensive to recover.

VioletSun - There will probably be specialist 'transfer houses' that will migrate data from obsolete to current formats (at a price!) But only you are equipped to write your own metadata. Thanks for the visit :)


fangwang28 profile image

fangwang28 7 years ago from China

Good.


rebekahELLE profile image

rebekahELLE 7 years ago from Tampa Bay

I do think of this, where to put my writing. I have so many notebooks of composing, finished writing. some is on a pc, but much of it is handwritten.

this is very helpful. I want to keep my notebooks as they are. any suggestions? maybe a fireproof/waterproof case. thanks for sharing this valuable info.


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 7 years ago from USA

Paraglider - Just a small thought - a possibility for some present and future entrepreneurs:

The electronic writing records are easy enough to keep. The means by which to "read" them are not so easily retained. (How does one view the contents of a disk, flash card, etc. when the equipment and storage media and protocols are changed in the future? Paper also disintegrates with time.

Perhaps a useful business might consist of retention of working equipment and well preserved media (dry nitrogen-stored in secure containers?) including driving software, manuals, etc. It would a costly undertaking for folks like you and me, but, as a business to be operated well into the future, the shared costs would be tolerable. Gus


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

RebekahELLE - better than a fireproof, waterproof case is a duplicate in another place. But most important is the index, or metadata, which should be replicated and stored apart from the originals.

Gus - serious archivists are already doing this, at a price. But early broadcast video recorders/players occupy about two cubic metres, each. They are full of germanium transistors, thermionic valves and wet electrolytic capacitors. And they need knowledgeable and highly skilled engineers to make them work. The manuals are already incomprehensible to younger graduates with no knowledge of analogue electronics, because the manuals' starting point is exactly that level of assumed expertise.

What we are doing, in the industry, is migrating all the valuable content into file format, with attached metadata, as quickly as possible, before the expert skillset and useable machinery are gone forever.

The older stuff, on film, is easier. Because a film gives a real picture that can be re-scanned. But the very old, or badly looked after, acetate film is a big problem, because it turns unstable and disintegrates (or spontaneously combusts!)


Sufidreamer profile image

Sufidreamer 7 years ago from Sparti, Greece

Interesting Hub, PG - I will have to think about some of the measures that you suggested. Maybe a nice little project for next year.

I don't know if you remember the Domesday Project, but that was an example of saving the data just before it became impossible to retrieve!

http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue36/tna/


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Sufi - recently I was advising a Saudi consortium on how to 'monetise' what they called their archive. (Actually it was a roomful of unreferenced obsolete tapes!) They wanted to train up youngsters to operate and maintain 1970's hardware to transfer the media to modern server systems. I tried to persuade them that it is unfair to teach kids the dead technologies because there's then no career path for them. Better is to give 'summer jobs' to retired BBC/Granada engineers who will do it for the sake of memory lane and have some fun in the process. But Saudi employment law forbids that. They do a lot of forbidding over there ;)


prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 7 years ago from US

very useful hub Dave, I lost my file because I accidentally step on a CD, and it broke (it contained all my articles and published reseach papers). I have to sit down and cry but i learned my lesson well,

and yes everybody want to share something useful to the next generation too (they will have pride in it)

thanks for this hub, Have a good day, maita


Jane@CM profile image

Jane@CM 7 years ago

I would have never thought of saving my work for my kids. I do back up my "real" writing, my type written journals and poetry. Great thoughts, great idea!


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Maita - go barefoot in the home, much safer for the CD's you leave around! All we have from my grandfather is a few pages from a notebook. But how much else did he write?

Jane - what do you want people to see, a picture someone else took or a poem/story that you wrote yourself? Worth considering :)


Quilligrapher profile image

Quilligrapher 7 years ago from New York

Fantastic advise, Para. So much more to do, so little time.

Q.


Sufidreamer profile image

Sufidreamer 7 years ago from Sparti, Greece

Good old Saudi - maybe, one day, they will forbid forbidding things :/


Peter Dickinson profile image

Peter Dickinson 7 years ago from South East Asia

Very useful info. Thank You.


mercon profile image

mercon 7 years ago

good article, probably I'll bookmark this hub

thx :)


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Q - and time keeps speeding up too, doesn't it! I have far too many retirement plans already. In the meantime, I make sure I don't lose data.

Sufi - Saudi is predictable, if nothing else!

Peter - most welcome :)

Mercon - thanks!


goldenpath profile image

goldenpath 7 years ago from Shenandoah, Iowa, USA

As an avid record keeper I appreciate this hub. I feel safer and assured of my family's genealogy records. After extensive work on our various lines they are now stored in a massive granite vault in the Rocky Mountains. I compare it's vital applications to all of your suggestions on record preservation. Thanks again for the useful counsel!


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Goldenpath - I like the sound of the granite vault in the Rocky Mountains. That beats a shoe box under the bed any day! Thanks for visiting :)


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India

Excellent advice, Paraglider! I lost most of my writing years ago when a boiler burst in the attic - how I wish I'd had a copy of all that handwritten stuff stored somewhere else.

I must put 'metadata' on my list of must-dos!


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Shalini - it's much easier to keep stuff safe now than it used to be, with free on-line applications like Google Docs etc. I'm moving more and more to working on-line and thinking of the laptop as the back-up, not the original. It also means I can work on any of my stuff from any terminal, e.g. an internet cafe when travelling. But the long term archive still takes a bit of planning. The important thing is to start!


dusanotes profile image

dusanotes 7 years ago from Windermere, FL

A priceless Hub, Paraglider. Thanks, Don White


askjanbrass profile image

askjanbrass 7 years ago from St. Louis, MO

I just purchased a separate hard drive where I store all my writing. I'd never want to lose it.

Great hub! Thanks for sharing.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Don - thanks for that. You might like this - in Hereford Cathedral, as well as the chained library, is the Hereford Mappa Mundi, a 1300 attempt at a map of the world (with the Holy Land at the centre, of course). Check this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hereford_Mappa_Mundi

Askjanbrass - that's a good start, but do think about indexing it all, and keeping the index (metadata) in different locations.


2uesday profile image

2uesday 7 years ago from - on the web, I am 2uesday.

Thank you for the advice in this Hubpage. I really liked the information about the chained books it was fascinating, I would like to be able to see it one day.

I will book mark this hub to use for advice in the future for when I want to save/store duplicates of my writing.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

2uesday - the chained library is a very strange place. There's something almost sad about the books having no title on view. But it was clearly a good idea, because it's still there, properly indexed, after nearly 1000 years!


xunlei profile image

xunlei 7 years ago

yeah,great

I'll keep your post


emievil profile image

emievil 6 years ago from Philippines

Okay, I don't have a lot of hubs / articles yet posted on the Internet. But this is a very interesting idea Paraglider. I bookmarked it and then I will get back to it after I hit the 100 hubs (whenever that is :D). Thanks for the tips and this hub :).


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

86 hubs is pretty close to the 100 - time to start thinking about it :)


emievil profile image

emievil 6 years ago from Philippines

LOL, knew you would say that. Yes Sir, I'll start thinking about it :D.


Bbudoyono profile image

Bbudoyono 6 years ago

Thanks for the tops Paraglider. I never think about this seriously before.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

I have to think about it, for work. I do intend to sort out my personal 'legacy' sooner rather than later. I've made a start, but there's a lot more to do. Thanks for the visit!


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa

Thanks for the heads-up! I am very lax in this sort of thing. Must get my act together. My four-score-and-ten comes up injust four years from now so I had better get going, I guess.

Your tips will be of great help.

Love and peace

Tony


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

You're well ahead of me then - my three-score is three years away, so I still buy green bananas! You wonder what future generations will make of all the stored content on the Internet (if it survives, that is).


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago

I very much appreciate your timely advice, brother. I intend to use your recommendations. Excellent Hub.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Thanks James - you've got some stuff that's well worth saving. It would be a shame not to give it the best chance of survival.

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