Why people archive
Archiving is a method of storing objects for later retrieval. Documents, music, bookmarks, papers, videos, correspondence, projects. What do you archive, and why?
A recent CHI paper looks at the goals and structure of archiving by interviewing 48 academics and listening to their stories.
Why do people archive?
- Finding it later — The most obvious reason is to store things in a way to be able to find later
- Building a legacy — Past work and achievements are organized to proudly show a person’s legacy
- Sharing — Objects are archived in a home-grown structure to share with others
- Fear of loss — Fire, theft, or the oh-so-common hard disk crash. “If there ever were a fire, I would grab this folder right here,”
- Identity construction — Who am I? To reaffirm their identities, people kept things that projected their self-image.
Archives were either physical or digital. The typical time it took to find things did not significantly differ between mediums. The advantages of electronic documents include saving physical space, being able to access documents from any location, and the built-in facilities of computers such as search, copy, and virtual folder system. However, electronic papers were still printed out because printed papers were easier to read.
The study concludes by suggesting that archiving solutions be created for the different reasons for archiving, and that it’s unlikely archives will become fully digital soon. However, I disagree with the last point — I personally maintain a digital-only archive and find it most convenient and natural. It’s quickly becoming easier and easier to create digital-only archives. Personal letters have been replaced by email, and journals and conference proceedings are almost all available online now.
This summary only takes the cut-and-dry concepts from the paper, but you should read the paper if you have time. The stories and quotes are interesting, and it’s an easy read.
Kaye, J., Vertesi, J., Avery, S., Dafoe, A., David, S., Onaga, L., et al. (2006). To Have and to Hold: Exploring the Personal Archive. Proceedings from CHI ’06: Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 275-284. [PDF]