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To have and to hold: Exploring the personal archive. Joseph ‘Jofish’ Kaye, Janet Vertesi Shari Avery, Allan Dafoe, Shay David, Lisa Onaga, Ivan Rosero, & Trevor Pinch. Introduction.

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To have and to hold exploring the personal archive

To have and to hold:Exploring the personal archive

Joseph ‘Jofish’ Kaye, Janet VertesiShari Avery, Allan Dafoe, Shay David, Lisa Onaga, Ivan Rosero, & Trevor Pinch


To design better technologies to support archiving activities in a digital arena we have to understand personal archiving as a human practice, not just information retrieval


Why archive?

Archiving in hci
Archiving in HCI

Henderson, CHI’04: Desktops

Jones et. al., CHI’05: Folders

Whittaker & Sidner, CHI’96: Email

Bellotti et. al., DIS’02: Email, info

Ducheneaut & Bellotti, interactions ’01: email habitat

Whittaker & Hirschberg, ToCHI’01: personal paper archives

Voida et. al., CHI’05: iTunes

Archiving as a whole
Archiving as a Whole

Archiving occurs across

  • media

  • locations

  • careers

  • time

An ongoing practice of

  • selection

  • organization

  • collation

  • display

  • storage

  • retrieval

  • disposal


  • 48 scholars, graduate students to nobel laureates

  • Natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, engineering

  • Interviews

  • Retrieval tasks

  • Archiving practices

Results i the values of archiving
Results I:The Values of Archiving

  • Finding it later

    ….but also…

  • Building a legacy

  • Sharing resources

  • Fears of Loss

  • Identity Construction

Finding it later
Finding it Later

  • no One Best Way

  • locally optimized

  • ceiling on maximum efficiency

Finding it later1
Finding it Later

  • “It works for me.”

  • “It’s very hard to find things.”

  • “..the only way to organize [my books] was alphabetically.”

  • “…fight the hegemony of alphabetical order.”

Building a legacy
Building a Legacy

  • Goal: storage, to put things away, not to find them later.

  • Rigid structures

  • Unique, author built.

  • Academics… but also families (photo albums, Flickr), corporations, etc.

Sharing resources
Sharing Resources

  • Supports necessary retrieval of materials by a large number of people.

  • Not place to put everything, but what’s in there can be found.

  • Very rigid structures: primary interaction is retrieval.

Fears of loss
Fears of Loss

“If there ever were a fire, I would grab this folder right here.”

Influences entire structure of the archive

Values for archiving affect the choices you make about document storage

Fears of loss1
Fears of Loss

What happens when you can’t back up?

“How do you back up a protein? How do you keep a moth alive? How do you keep a cancer cell from growing?”

To have and to hold exploring the personal archive 1342484

“I never expected to experience such a strong emotional reaction to the loss of my archive… After we had survived the first chaotic weeks I had a feeling of emptiness and deprivation and I felt very fragile. Working in our new, temporary, office I felt a big empty space behind my back (the place where my books used to be) and I felt cut off from the past and uncertain about the future. It is the first time in my life I experienced such a strong attachment to things. Talking with friends and family I realized that books are an important part of my identity as an academic scholar.”

Identity construction
Identity Construction

Archiving as an expression and crafting of identity

Projected out to the world and back at the individual.

Goffman: identity kit, tokens, the visible personal.

Voida et. al.: iTunes

Results ii the structures of archiving
Results II: The Structures of Archiving

Everyone we interviewed used both digital & analog

Different tools appropriated or neglected as necessary

Reproduction of similar values from analog to digital

Physical space
Physical Space

Hyper-use: Choose one tool to solve a particular problem and extend:

  • problems:

    mobility, temporality

  • tools:

    filing boxes, cabinets…

    applies to digital space: emails, bookmarks, etc.

Digital space
Digital Space

  • Physical & electronic retrieval times

  • “Advantages” of digital:

    • “I print [papers] out to read if I want to give them any real respect.”

    • Difficulties meshing digital & analog

    • Computer space ‘scarce’…

For further research
For further research

  • Findings may be domain specific: expand beyond academics to families, institutions, companies

Implications for design
Implications for Design

  • Identity Construction

    • How you can allow users to construct the visible personal while preserving privacy

  • Fear of Loss

    • Making backup visible

  • Hyperuse

    • Customization, flexibility

  • Not all data is digital


Why archive?

  • finding

  • legacy

  • sharing

  • fear of loss

  • identity construction

    These values provide criteria for judging the personal archive’s success


Our forty-eight subjects, Phoebe Sengers, Amy Voida, Geoff Bowker, the Culturally Embedded Computing Group and the Science & Technology Studies Department, Cornell University.