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Libraries Show Patrons How to Preserve Personal Collections Before It’s Too Late

By econnections on March 8, 2013 12:20 PM | Permalink

The Spinning Beachball, the Blue Screen of Death, Unlawful Kernel Error or just an empty screen – the moment when a computer crashes has many names, and none encompass the feeling of sheer panic as the operator suddenly regrets not backing up the wedding video, the photos of the baby or a decade of vacation memories. At that moment it’s all gone.

Although preservation has a distinct meaning at UNLV Libraries, there is a community element as well. Every individual has a history, and these days, that history is contained in millions of ones and zeros that make up digital files on our computers, smartphones and cameras. And, just like a 200-year-old manuscript, that history deserves to be saved.

Although the average American family doesn’t have access to the equipment Digital Collections at UNLV Libraries uses, the idea of personal history preservation can be less daunting than many people realize, said Cory Lampert, head of digital collections at UNLV Libraries.

“People create so much digital information they don’t realize how much they have, and don’t realize it until they lose it,” Lampert added. “Because we have expertise on this on a larger scale, we like to share the information. They may not have the same equipment or staff, but the principle still applies.”

[The UNLV Libraries Digital Collections unit works to create and provide free access to digital resources that support the teaching and research needs of UNLV and the Southern Nevada community, and uniquely document the rich history of the university and state of Nevada. Resources within the collections, including rare or fragile items, are free and publicly accessible online. Digital resources include text-based materials such as books, journal series, manuscript collections, photographic images, slides, maps, prints, posters, audio, and video. They are organized into collections that span a range of subjects including the Southern Nevada Boomtown Years, The Historic Landscape of Nevada, Menus: The Art of Dining, Howard Hughes, Nevada Test Site Oral History Project, Showgirls, Las Vegas and Water in the West, Southern Nevada & Las Vegas: History in Maps and many more.]

Photo sharing sites help keep treasured photos off the computer’s hard drive and stored in a remote location where they can be downloaded anywhere there’s an Internet connection. Also, external hard drives are invaluable for storage as long as they’re used correctly. Important documents, photos and videos can be stored on them, but Lampert recommends keeping the drive in another location in case of natural disaster or fire. Naming files descriptively also helps find them quickly, and backing up photos on smartphones regularly will ensure no information is lost if the phone meets a watery demise or is lost, stolen or broken.

Why would the UNLV Libraries be concerned with how Las Vegas residents preserve their personal histories? The city is a mere 108 years old, which means many families in town had a lot to do with the city’s growth, whether they’ve been in the city five years or 50.

“Nobody knows who may be interested in their personal history,” Lampert said. “It starts with preserving the artifacts in the first place, so we can be prepared for the future and whatever it may bring.”

Digital Collections can take a scrapbook page, for instance, and scan the letter for the image as well as the content of the letter, making it searchable visually and by words and phrases. Each individual item on the page is treated this way and then the entire page is scanned to preserve the aesthetic of the artifact. The department’s digital copies include not only the image but the content of the scanned image as well.

“We make things searchable. We also try to replicate the original in order to preserve the artifact,” Lampert said. “We do this, so later on, you can find all the of your photos.”

No matter the equipment, some preservation is better than none at all, Lampert said. Anyone with a point-and-shoot digital camera can snap high resolution images of certificates, old photos, important files and papers.

“What’s important is just to get people to think in the mindset,” she added. “It’s more important just to do it.”

Those interested in learning more about the Digital Collections Department or in viewing items from the collections can visit the department’s website at

The community can also learn more about protecting their personal histories during Preservation Week April 21-27. UNLV Special Collections will have a table at the UNLV Festival of Communities on April 20 as well as workshops and lectures about how to preserve personal history. For additional information about National Preservation Week, and for tips on preserving personal history, visit the website at