Birders and Personal Archiving

Personal archiving is getting increasing attention from the archives community. Archivists have historically been professionals responsible for selecting, arranging, and preserving materials deemed to be important enough to keep for the long term. Now, with the explosion of personal information that has been enabled by technology such as personal computers, digital cameras, and the internet, many people who never would have given a thought to archives are wrestling with the challenge of managing their digital “stuff” for the long term. At the same time, trained archivists are caught between the rock of limited resources and the hard place of the rapidly increasing quantity of information.

Given these trends, it seems likely that individuals will be increasingly responsible for ensuring the preservation and archiving of information they want to keep and pass on to future generations. For their part, professionals have begun to focus on providing tools and knowledge to amateurs who want to take on this work but don’t know where to start. For example, the Library of Congress’s (LOC) digital preservation blog The Signal frequently includes posts about personal archiving; LOC also has a site offering guidance on the subject. These sorts of resources are sure to increase as personal archiving gets more attention from both professionals and amateurs. After all, if this year’s SXSW conference had a panel called Digital Immortals, can more widespread awareness of personal archiving be far behind?

What does this mean if you’re a birder? Well, many birders keep a cumulative list, as well as taking some sort of notes about their field trips. Many post messages to e-mail lists or on discussion sites. Bird photography has become much more popular due to the ease of using digital cameras. Some birders write blogs or use Twitter. Then there’s the correspondence between birding friends that doesn’t take place in the public context of an e-mail list. Text alerts about rarities…

I could go on, but you probably get the idea. Birders are very good at creating lots of information. Little of that information is going to survive, however, if birders don’t start thinking about the “stuff” they create (both digital and hard copy) as part of being a birder. Because birding is a hobby for most people who practice it, the information created by it has historically not been valued outside of the birding community. How many field notebooks and photos have been thrown out after a birder has died? Could that happen to your field notes after you head off to that big migrant trap in the sky? Would it bother you if those notes and memories of days in the field were lost because no one cared about them after you were gone? If having your birding legacy tossed into the trash would bother you, you need to start thinking now about what you want to save and how you can make sure it survives you.

This week is Preservation Week. As a result, there are many events (both online and offline) being held. There’s information out there for everybody from the beginner who’s wondering how to get started to the person looking for practical help on a specific technique. The Signal has a good overview post here with links to information about preserving both digital and nondigital resources.

How am I celebrating Preservation Week? I’m organizing my digital photography in a way that makes more sense than iPhoto’s default organization method. Photos of things I’ve sold on eBay will not make it into the “keep this after I’m gone” folder, but my moth photos will. I’ve been mothing in earnest since 2006 (when I got my digital camera) and most of my moth field notes are photographs. I want my moth documentation to survive me, because it may be useful to researchers yet to be born. Organizing those photos also helps me to get my data into a format that I can submit to Moth Photographers Guide for inclusion in their online range maps (which is another way of making my stuff useful to others).

So, if you’re a birder, give some thought to what you have and how (or if) you want it to last. If you’ve already started doing that, good for you! Happy Preservation Week to all.


In Praise of Horrid Zales

Horrid Zale by ammodramus88
Horrid Zale, a photo by ammodramus88 on Flickr.

Today I saw the first Horrid Zale moth of the season. Although I don’t have a list of favorite moths, Horrid Zale is probably on that list. I smile every time I see one.

It has a wonderful common name (although “horrid” is apparently not the best translation of the Latin “horrida” in this case; Bob Patterson suggests that “shaggy” is a better translation).

It’s easy to identify.

It’s common.

It looks snazzy in an understated way. It looks a lot like a Mourning Cloak butterfly, assuming the mourning cloak had some gilt embossing on the hem.

Happy spring! Horrid Zales are back!