February 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Get Teens Interested in Digital Preservation


Motivating teens to try out a new program can be a lesson in frustration—they’d rather hang with their own familiar crowd than dive into the unknown. But if the task at hand has anything to do with social media, especially photos and videos, there’s a good chance those young people will sit up and take notice.

In fact, according to a semiannual survey performed by the investment firm Piper Jaffray, teens say that Instagram, the photo-sharing social network, is their most important platform, beating out Twitter, Snapchat, and Facebook. A study from the Pew Research Center backs this up: after texting, the most popular feature on a teen’s cell phone is the ability to take and share photos.

With this in mind, librarians may be uniquely poised to harness a teen’s love of all things visual and digital—and just in time for the American Library Association’s (ALA) Preservation Week coming up April 24–30.

The mission of preservation centers on managing and maintaining digital files so they can be easily accessed in the future. In our ever-changing world, tech mediums change more quickly than we may realize (remember floppy disk drives?), and our precious memories and data can be lost forever.

Not only must preservation efforts overcome program advances, but they also need to persevere through technology snafus, such as a power failure. Miriam Nelson, co-chair of the ALA Preservation Week, agrees. “A natural disaster could destroy where you’ve stored your files,” she notes. Digital files can also “disappear” because of poor descriptions—IMG_DSC3215.jpg doesn’t say much. Even the common occurrence of leaving your phone in a restaurant or on a train can result in the loss of years of images, videos, and emails.

The need for preservation can’t be overstated. “This activity will allow history to look back on our current time period and understand our way of life,” explains Palmer Mitchell, media manager at Digital Media Academy, an education company that runs technology camps for kids and teens. “It is important for our current generation to engage in this pursuit—we can’t expect Instagram to remember all our data,” he adds.

The preservation process operates on a few levels, according to Mitchell. If you’d like to educate your teen patrons about this important, but often overlooked, endeavor through a program, here are key talking points that are likely to resonate with them.

Out with the old; in with the new.  First, data must be transferred from its “old medium” to the “new medium” for storage. This could be an update to the packaging contents (such as file format) or to a different physical storage medium (from a cd to a flash drive). “Make sure that the data can be accessed on the new medium in a way that preserves the information,” notes Mitchell. For example, trying to up-scale that 600 x 480 shot of junior prom to 1920 x 1080 will result in a grainy, pixelated image—there isn’t enough data in the original to be viewed at a larger scale.

There’s strength in numbers. Another form of digital preservation is replication. Data might be copied to many different locations so that it has to fail at several points in order for the data to really be lost. Teens can share pics with friends all they want on Instagram, but they should also keep a Flickr album updated with the images, too. The possibility of losing music will strike a chord with most teens as well. Keeping tunes on a hard drive is fine, but accessing them through the cloud is better. Mitchell got in this habit when iTunes updated its media cache folder, and he ending up losing all his music. “This was before cloud storage, so I was devastated,” he recalls.

It may be a case of stolen identity.  When replication isn’t possible, you can try to emulate the data. By allowing for a newer system to “impersonate” an older one, data may run on the simulated old system. “Teens see this today as a form of backwards-compatibility, as with a new Xbox system playing older generation Xbox games,” says Mitchell.

Keep it in context. Another approach to digital preservation is putting the data you are attempting to store in context. So instead of just preserving an image, you save the album, the titles, and the metadata containing the camera info and location data. These associated files give the image context, and allow for a relationship to be formed between the data and the system that it describes.

Think ahead. A teen’s pictures and videos may be important one day, and not just to their children and grandchildren. They could be part of the cultural record, reminds Nelson. “Consider the site where the papers of the Founding Fathers of the United States are stored. All of their information was properly saved, which allowed people to create future works, such as the Hamilton musical on Broadway,” she notes.


Jennifer Kelly Geddes is a freelance reporter specializing in children’s health and development, and the former research editor of Parenting






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  1. Z Harrington says:

    We need to do whatever it takes to reach our youth!