Personal Digital Archiving

A few months ago, while researching how to archive digital photos, I learned about PDA (Personal Digital Archiving). It’s a growing area of study, for academics, independent scholars and personal archivists, with its own annual conference. I’ve decided to submit a proposal this year. The deadline is Monday, December 7th.


As the centrality of personal digital archives and the ubiquity of digital content grows, librarians, archivists, scholars, students, activists, and those who fill the role of the “family IT person,” have to deal with how to best select, preserve, and manage digital material. PDA 2016 seeks to host a discussion across domains focusing on how to best manage personal digital material, be it at a large institution or in a home office.


My Focus: “Personal digital archives and why they matter to individuals, communities, and organizations”

Here’s my first draft of the abstract which can be up to 300 words. It’s 299.

From Scraps of Memory to Fragments of Unofficial Student Life: Personal Digital Archives as Storytelling

Faced with the loss of two grounding forces, my family’s farm and my passion for being an academic, I felt compelled to recover, collect, organize, explore and experiment with materials from my past. Photos, video footage, papers, exams, syllabi, memoirs, letters, scrapbooks, teachers’ comments, course blogs, tweets, newspaper clippings, digitized oral history recordings and more. The result of this memory work are two ongoing online story projects: a story experiment about my family’s farm, The Farm and a virtual collection of accounts of my Undisciplined life as a student, scholar and teacher.

Central to both of these projects is the creation and maintenance of public/online digital archives that not only offer a way to organize and access the personal materials that I use in my story projects, but serve as crucial parts of the storytelling process. For my farm project, which is inspired by a Finnish rag rug loom, the materials in my archive are digital “scraps of memory” that can be accessed and re-purposed by anyone who wants to use them to “weave” their own stories about the Farm. For my Undisciplined life project, the materials in my archive become an unofficial student transcript that provides a record of my undisciplined life as a student and allows me to trace an alternative trajectory for my scholarly self to a space beside and besides the academy.

In this talk, I will describe how these digital archives function within my two storytelling projects, why they are so important in my own processes of remembering and re-imaging my past, and why I’m chosing to house them online on a public blog. I will also discuss my efforts and struggles with collecting materials and determining how to make them accessible to a wide range of people.

UPDATE: Here’s my official submission.

On Walking

Last week, I walked around Como Lake in St. Paul. This walk wasn’t about exercising or getting anywhere in particular. I walked because I happened to be at the lake, waiting for STA to finish a meeting.

Footage from my walk around Como Lake. Total distance around lake = 2.6 miles

These days, I rarely take walks like this. Walks where I slowly wander by myself, observing my surroundings and ruminating on life. I don’t take walks because I’m usually running. I love running, but it’s different than taking a walk.

When I run, I run quickly and intensely.  But when I take a walk, I walk slowly and leisurely. I amble along, breathing in the air, listening to the birds or, more often these days, the bugs, and being curious about the world and my place within in it. When I run, I don’t think too much. I just listen to my current playlist and try to let go…of stress, nagging doubts and critical thoughts. Shutting down my brain, and my penchant for thinking critically and creatively all of the time, is a good thing and I’m glad that running helps me do it. But I like taking walks. I like the space and time it gives me for thinking deeply and slowly. I get great ideas while I’m taking walks. Inspiration for new projects, revelations about my life, tentative solutions to problems I’m encountering.  I need to take more walks this fall.


Swimming to the dock

A few years ago, I embarked on a digital moments project. The goals of that project were to document my life, using small, often mundane, fragments of my day and to get in the habit of using and experimenting with digital video. It was such a fun and useful project. Even now, every couple of months, we (STA, FWA, RJP and me) sit down and watch different “moments.” I want to start creating these again this fall. Maybe something different this time? Instead of just creating stand alone moments, sometimes I’ll try to write about the footage. Here’s my first one: Swimming at the dock.

Just outside of the orange buoys at the little beach at Lake Nokomis, there is a small platform that you can swim to, sit on or dive off of. I call it “the dock.”  I can’t remember how long it has been there, but for the past three years, it has been one of my key landmarks (or watermarks?) at the lake.

This summer, the dock played a big part in two of my favorite swimming practices:

The dock at the 50th street beach. Video shot from lifeguard's chair.

one: While swimming across the lake during open swims (on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Sundays), the dock served as the halfway point of my 1200 yard loop, from the big beach to the little beach and back again. The first year I swam across the lake in 2013, I would frequently stop as I swam from one beach to the next, to get my bearings and to take a rest. The second year, I successfully swam across the lake without stopping, but I always took a brief break at the little beach before heading back to the big beach. This year, I swam in loops, starting and ending at the big beach. It was fun to circle around the dock without stopping. Sometimes kids would be sitting on the dock watching the swimmers. I’d glance at them as I turned my head to breathe or lifted just my eyes, like an alligator gliding through the water, to see where I was going.

two: Occasionally, when she wasn’t in camp, my daughter RJP would come with me to the lake and we would swim out to the dock together. After making sure she made it up the ladder, I’d swim around the three white buoys that marked the lap swimming area. After I rounded the third buoy, RJP would jump off the dock and meet me. We’d chat for a few seconds, then she’d climb back up and I’d start another loop. After a few loops, we’d swim back closer to shore and do handstands in the water. Then we’d sit in the sun and read.