Research Post: Personal Archiving and Empowerment

I&A Research Teams are groups of dedicated volunteers who monitor breaking news and delve into ongoing topics affecting archives and the archival profession. Under the leadership of the I&A Steering Committee, the Research Teams compile their findings into Research Posts for the I&A blog. Each Research Post offers a summary and coverage of an issue. This Research Post comes from the General News Media Research Team, which monitors news media for issues related to archives.

Please be aware that the sources cited have not been vetted and do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Roundtable.


Personal archiving has been an increasingly common topic among library and archives professionals. Digital preservation, defined broadly, has received fairly frequent coverage in mainstream media outlets recently as well. As personal records are created more frequently in digital environments, public concern for the preservation of born-digital personal archives becomes increasingly pervasive. (1) The term “personal archiving” is itself an interesting one, particularly when positioned within communities of professional archivists. It may gesture toward a shift in attention from working with collections at inactive stages in their lifecycles and providing access to researchers, to educating the public to be informed custodians of their own records, with intervention beginning much earlier in the record lifecycle. Librarians and archivists are increasingly relied upon to provide education and training to the public, empowering individuals to take control of the long-term maintenance and preservation of their own records, digital or otherwise.

Articles in popular media intended for a general audience reflect a widespread concern—and in some cases, panic—about the preservation of digital records, from personal documents or photographs stored on computer hard drives to blogs and files stored in the cloud. It has been noted that these articles rarely interview archivists or other professionals engaged in this very work. (2)

Of course, within professional literature and practice, much work has been devoted to exploring the roles that information professionals can (and do) play in working with the public on the organization and preservation of personal, family, and community records. (3)

At the same time, much has also been written recently on the (often lack of) diversity represented both in archival collections and in the profession itself. In addition to responding to concerns about digital preservation and the “digital black hole,” personal archiving outreach initiatives have the potential to address this scarcity of diverse representations in the historical record. (4)(5) But in order to do so, archivists and librarians must expand outreach efforts to include their complete communities. Who is included in personal archiving education and conversation? In the instance of a public program, archivists and librarians might treat this statistically and ask if those in attendance constitute a representative sample of the population of the community in which the hosting organization is situated.

This outreach may also potentially include pitching more articles to popular publications to counteract those in which archival work is largely invisible. It might also include cooperative efforts, both large- and small-scale, between members of the profession and personal archivists in sharing information, expertise, and resources. As community members themselves, archivists and librarians might consider how they are reaching their constituents, and how they are empowering their complete communities to work with them to preserve community histories, independently or as collaborators.

An additional key issue here involves differing uses of the term “archivist.” Who is included in the phrase “members of the archival community”? Does it include so-called “citizen archivists,” or is the title of “archivist” reserved for qualified and employed professionals? If the latter, are archivists and librarians denying themselves the value of experience provided by amateur collectors? These are questions archivists and librarians face when discussing the future of their professional identities and their relationships with their publics and community partners.


Sources cited:

(1) Weiner, Eric. “Will Future Historians Consider These Days the Digital Dark Ages?” On the Media (January 4, 2016).

(2) Lyons, Bertram. “There Will Be No Digital Dark Age.” Issues and Advocacy Blog (May 11, 2016).

(3) Personal Digital Archiving 2016 conference schedule.

(4) Mass Memories Road Show.

(5) The Memory Lab at DC Public Library.

Additional sources:

Ashenfelder, Mike, “Personal Archiving in the Cloud,” in National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, Library of Congress, Perspectives on Personal Digital Archiving (Library of Congress: Washington, D.C., 2013): 21.

Becker, Devin and Collier Nogues, “Saving-Over, Over-Saving, and the Future Mess of Writers’ Digital Archives: A Survey Report on the Personal Digital Archiving Practices of Emerging Writers.” The American Archivist 75:2 (Fall/Winter 2012): 509.

Brown, Nathan, “Helping Members of the Community Manage Their Digital Lives: Developing a Personal Digital Archiving Workshop.” D-Lib Magazine 21:5/6 (May/June 2015).

Cushing, Amber L., “Highlighting the Archives Perspective in the Personal Digital Archiving Discussion,” Library Hi Tech 28:2 (2010): 305.

Drake, Jarrett. “Expanding #ArchivesForBlackLives to Traditional Archival Repositories” (June 27, 2016).

LaFrance, Adrienne. “Raiders of the lost web.” The Atlantic (October 14, 2015).

Marshall, Catherine, “Challenges and Opportunities for Personal Digital Archiving,” in I, Digital: Personal Collections in the Digital Era, Christopher Lee, ed., (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2011): 97.

Marshall, Catherine C., “Rethinking Personal Digital Archiving: Part 1.” D-Lib Magazine 14 (March/April 2008).

Marshall, Catherine, Sara Bly, and Francoise Brun-Cottan, “The Long-Term Fate of Our Personal Digital Belongings: Toward a Service Model for Personal Archives,” in Proceedings of Archiving (Ottawa: Society of Imaging Science and Technology, 2006): 25.

Pardes, Arielle. “How digital storage is changing the way we preserve history.” Vice (February 19, 2016).

Redwine, Gabriela, Personal Digital Archiving (Great Britain: Digital Preservation Coalition, 2015): 2.

Soleau, Teresa. “Preventing digital decay.” The Iris: Behind the Scenes at the Getty (October 20, 2014).

Strausheim, Carl. “Preventing a digital dark age.” Inside Higher Ed (March 10, 2016).

Winsborough, Dave; Lovric, Darko; Chamorro-Premuzic, Tomas. “Personality, Privacy, and Our Digital Selves.” The Guardian (July 18, 2016).

Wortham, Jenna. “How an archive of the internet could change history.” The New York Times (June 21, 2016).

The I&A Steering Committee would like to thank the General News Media Research Team, and in particular, Chelsea Gunn, for writing this post.

The General News Media Research Team is:

Jeremy Brett, Leader
Anna Trammell
Daria Labinsky
Chelsea Gunn
Meghan Kennedy

If you are aware of an issue that might benefit from a Research Post, please get in touch with us:

Research Post: The Right to Be Forgotten

I&A Research Teams are groups of dedicated volunteers who monitor breaking news and delve into ongoing topics affecting archives and the archival profession. Under the leadership of the I&A Steering Committee, the Research Teams compile their findings into Research Posts for the I&A blog. Each Research Post offers a summary and coverage of an issue. This Research Post comes from the Other Professional Associations’ Communications Research Team, which monitors the communications of other associations, for issues related to archives.

Please be aware that the sources cited have not been vetted and do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Roundtable.

This is the first in a series of posts about the Right to Be Forgotten. Stay tuned for additional coverage.


The Right to be Forgotten (RTBF) is a 2014 legal ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) that gives individuals the right to have information found on the Internet regarding themselves delisted (be made difficult to find) in search engines and in other data providers (such as websites). The CJEU’s ruling stems from a 2010 legal case in Spain in which a Spanish citizen filed a complaint with Spain’s national data protection agency against a Spanish newspaper, which published a true fact about the person, and Google Spain/Google Inc., whose search engine results linked to the information about the person. The citizen argued that the information about him was no longer relevant and that the search engine results infringed upon his privacy rights. (3) In February 2016, the French Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL), which chairs the Article 29 Working Group (European Union privacy regulators), extended the implementation of the RTBF law to all domains (extensions) of a search engine. (7) Previously, the delisting would only happen in the country of the individual who requested (and was approved) the delisting. In February 2015, the Guardian reported that Google said it had “received 386,038 ‘right to be forgotten’ removal requests since the ruling, and has accepted approximately 42% of them.” (4)  A year later, the Guardian further reported that Google had delisted 600,000 search results. (7)

Some main points of the RTBF ruling:

  1. Individuals have the right to request information about themselves found on the Internet be delisted if the “information is inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive for the purposes of the data processing.” (3)
  2. According to the CJEU’s ruling the request for delisting needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis because neither the right to the protection of personal data nor the right to freedom of expression are absolute rights. Therefore each case needs to be assessed individually considering the personal privacy of the individual versus the freedom of expression and access to information. (3)
  3. The data providers (for example Google, Inc.) are tasked with the application of the RTBF ruling. Delisting of information on the Internet will be decided by the data providers, not legal or governmental bodies.
  4. Data providers cannot disclose internal processes, or what has been subject to delisting on the Internet. The original publisher or owner of a website cannot be notified when something is delisted.
  5. There are previous rulings in the European Union that prefigured the 2014 ruling, such as the European Union Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC of 1995. In Germany, an individual has the right to privacy and to rehabilitation after they have paid their debts to society (for example after completing a term of a prison sentence).
  6. Public figures are not (usually) subject to the RTBF ruling.
  7. The CJEU believes that the RTBF ruling “strikes the balance between the right to the protection of personal data and freedom of expression.” (3)

In February 2016, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), issued an official statement regarding the 2014 RTBF ruling. In the statement, IFLA addressed the issues of the RTBF ruling and its implications for libraries and urged its members to participate in policy discussion regarding RTBF. (1)

IFLA’s list of issues for libraries concerning the RTBF ruling:

  1. Integrity of and access to the historical record.
  2. Freedom of access to information and freedom of expression. This is based upon Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” (6)
  3. Privacy of the individual.

The RTBF ruling strikes at some of our core values as archivists, librarians, and information professionals. We strive to protect privacy rights of the individual, yet we also strive to protect the integrity of our information sources, support the freedom of expression, and advocate for access to information. Further, the delisting of information, especially information that is truthful and accurate, goes against some of the core values and code of ethics outlined in the Society of American Archivists’ “Core Values Statement and Code of Ethics.” (8)

In 2015, a public debate was held in New York City on the RTBF ruling titled “The U.S. should adopt the Right to be Forgotten Online.” (5) [The video is available online.] One of the participants of the debate, Jonathan Zittrain of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, said that the United States should not adopt the RTBF because he felt that the RTBF ruling was “a very bad solution to a very real problem.” He gave the following analogy that we as archivists, librarians, and information professionals can relate to regarding the delisting of information on the Internet: “It’s like saying the books can stay in the library, but you have to set fire to the card catalogs.” (5)

Some critiques of the RTBF ruling include:

  • The rules (of the RTBF ruling) are vague and unclear.
  • The decisions for delisting/erasure are left to corporations.
  • There is no transparency or accountability to the delisting of information.
  • Due to the vagueness of the ruling, the principle could expand beyond search engines.
  • RTBF is censorship (particularly when delisted information is true/factual/accurate).
  • The territorial scope of the RTBF ruling goes beyond the European Union.

As the IFLA statement on the RTBF ruling advised, we need to monitor how the RTBF ruling is being applied in Europe and around the world and how it affects the integrity of and access to the historical record on the Internet. Countries outside of Europe, including Japan, Colombia, Brazil, and the United States have implemented similar rulings or have delisted information on the Internet. (2) In 2018, the European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will supersede previous data protection laws In Europe. (9) Understanding the new 2018 regulations and how they may affect privacy rights of the individual, freedom of expression, access to information, and the integrity of the historical record on the Internet will be crucial.


Sources cited:

(1) “IFLA Statement on the Right to be Forgotten.” International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions. Accessed 2016 April 26.

(2) “Background on the Right to be Forgotten in National and Regional Contexts.” International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions.  Accessed 2016 April 26.

(3) Fact Sheet on the “Right to be Forgotten” ruling (c-131/12). European Commission. Accessed 2016 April 26.

(4) Gibbs, Samuel. “Google to Extend ‘Right to be Forgotten’ to all its Domains Accessed in EU.” The Guardian. (February 11, 2016). Accessed 2016 April 26.

(5) “The U.S. should adopt the “Right to be Forgotten Online.” Intelligence Squared Debates. (March 17, 2015) Video accessed 2016 April 26.

(6) United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. United Nations. Accessed 2016 April 26.

(7) Hern, Alex. “Google takes right to be forgotten battle to France’s highest court.” The Guardian. (May 19, 2016). Accessed 2016 June 2.

(8) “SAA Statement of  Core Values and Code of Ethics.” Society of American Archivists. Accessed 2016 June 2.

(9) “Reform of EU Data Protection Rules.” European Commission. Accessed 2016 June 2.

Other sources regarding the RTBF:

Toobin, Jeffrey. “The Solace of Oblivion.” The New Yorker. (September 24, 2014). Accessed 2016 April 26.

Scott, Mark. “Europe Tried to Reign in Google. It Backfired.” The New York Times. (April 18, 2016). Accessed 2016 April 26.

“Freedom: the right to be forgotten.” My Digital Rights. British Library. Accessed 2016 April 26.

Google Transparency Report. “European privacy requests for search removals.” Google. Accessed 2016 June 2.

The I&A Steering Committee would like to thank Patricia Glowinski and Blake Relle for writing this post.

The Other Professional Associations’ Communications Research Team is:

Tara Kelley, Leader
Jamillah Gabriel
Patricia Glowinski
Jasmine Jones
Blake Relle

If you are aware of an issue that might benefit from a Research Post, please get in touch with us: