Who more, who less has a personal library and is able to describe it easily. But if you want to get into the details, it gets complicated. Let’s do that exercise. To begin with, we must distinguish between the analog personal library and the digital personal library, although what is common to them is that they contain documents created or selected in some way by us.

The analogical or physical personal library, that of all life, is made up of three main elements related to reading:

  • books and magazines printed on paper, placed on shelves in the home or office;
  • other printed materials, such as appliance instructions, invoices, receipts, etc., stored in folders or file cabinets at home or in the office;
  • and, finally, the collection of autograph manuscripts, such as diaries, notes with the shopping list, letters or postcards that we receive from children, brief writings or drawings of our own or another hand…

Then there are the music discs and the pictures, posters and photos, all of them things that we can take with our hands, as they exist in tangible media, as the legislation calls them attending to the material presence and leaving aside the content.

It should be noted that in this collection there are originals (our notes) and especially many, many copies (books, printed documents …). Until Gutenberg, the libraries contained only manuscripts, that’s why we include them too.

The most prestigious members are the books, which occupy their space with pride and withstand the passage of time: for example, I haven’t opened that copy for twenty years, but who knows if I will open it tomorrow.

Just in case it stays there, for my children. With the rest of the printed matter and manuscripts we are not so clement: many expire and we expunge them, making them disappear: space is valuable and most papers have a very short useful life, although from time to time we ask ourselves:

Where will the damn instructions of the refoncilador este be? 0 well, I would swear I have that photo somewhere, in which the one who is now an important public office dawns through the door of the tent several decades ago made a teenager!

In short, we do more or less what we saw our parents do with their books and papers, with at least two important exceptions: the first is the abundant handwritten correspondence that they exchanged when they were young (and that was lost in some transfer or cleaning) and that we have no longer written with a pen.

And secondly, the abundance of printed documents coming from digital archives that reach us or that we print ourselves on paper, although each time some are less (electronic receipts and invoices that can be consulted on the Web) and others are more (digital medical prescriptions printed from the doctor’s computer, and no longer handwritten autographs).

We can consider all this collection of documents our personal library, which extends in space and occupies it generously, especially in the case of walls and books.

It always has a certain order, because its raison d’être is to be able to retrieve whatever is needed, be it the grandmother’s recipe, rent or academic accreditation: it is also our personal archive. If we lend books, our library extends beyond that, of course. It’s one of our most important and beloved possessions, isn’t it?

How does the advent of the digital age affect our personal library?

Let’s go ahead, as you can easily imagine, a lot, a lot. How much exactly? Let’s take a cursory inventory, like the previous one, and compare, member by member, when possible, the digital library with the analog library.

The first thing in our personal digital library are electronic books, which we call by analogy with paper books and their favorite genres: narrative, essay, poetry. Many people already have hundreds or even thousands of ebooks stored in their electronic ink readers (ereaders), in the computer, the tablet or the mobile phone itself, where it reads whenever it can.

There are many reading programs and applications and a generous digital offer, including both old digitized and recent works that have already been born digital while being edited (or not) on paper. Let us ask ourselves, if we are devoted readers, how many titles we have in physical support, printed in paper, and how many in supports of electronic files.

It will not be difficult for digital titles to outnumber paper ones. The reasons for this are so well known that it is not worth stopping.

Let’s go on: the next group of digital documents is the equivalent of paper forms. We also have them in large quantities, stored as files in computer, tablet or mobile folders. They come from Internet downloads, e-mails or our own creations: sometimes we still print them, in order to archive them better -we say-, and just in case.

It is in our hands to file a part of those documents in the site (folder) that we choose, and we can move or copy them, like the documents generated by word processors or spreadsheets. But another part of those documents we cannot move them to our whim, since they are stored in an opaque way in the folders of the program or application and only through them we can access them (Evernote, Keep, iTunes).

Other applications offer more open access to their folders, such as WhatsApp, which allows you to copy and move their (your) images, videos and audios, since the content is not encrypted and can be opened with other programs or applications, for example to copy them to our main collection of digital photos in a folder on the computer’s hard drive.

All these applications take up digital storage space, whether in accessible or inaccessible folders, but some also store copies of files in the cloud, which are synchronized with local folders (Evernote, Dropbox, Google Documents). This has several advantages and some disadvantages. It is great to be able to access our writing from any device, either from the one we created it or from another that has a connection, in order to edit and synchronize the contents.

We can edit while we move. The disadvantage is that we need a connection to be sure that we open the latest version. Some of these applications allow you to create offline, such as Documents, Evernote or Keep, and then decide whether to synchronize or not.

Digital storage space, once expensive, is becoming cheaper at times due to competition between providers, who yearn for our data – the true price of free – and truecan gigas for having us with them.

On the other hand, terminals come with more and more internal storage and many allow you to add external memory cards where you can save not only the text documents we handle, which are digital objects that occupy very little (a novel represents one or two megabytes, but a text document the tenth part) but photos (one with some quality one or two megabytes) and videos (mega the minute of video).

With these facilities, you don’t have to go around erasing, unless you want to do it and are willing to dedicate the time that it requires.

This abundance poses numerous problems of management and recovery, to which we will refer later. But we have not finished the enumeration of the constituent elements of the new digital personal library.

Some go back a long way in time: for a few years letters were no longer written and their place was occupied by telephone conversations, the oral content of which could not be retrieved, but soon the electronic mail arrived, which today is essential to us and which, as digital correspondence, analogous to that of ink, we must without hesitation incorporate into our personal digital documentary collection.

Mail programs and applications usually store our texts in a proprietary way, in local packaged files or in the cloud, in such a way that access is only possible from our account, of course, and from any terminal, be it our own or not, like in an Internet café.

Those that are ours are the mails, both sent and received, which once read are preserved forever as long as there is space or if we erase them, for a while, in the trash, or disappear.

But there are more documents of conversations that do endure, being written and not oral: for example, chat messages, of which we generate industrial quantities.

If we take the trouble to know how many WhatsApp messages we have sent or received in a period of time: my network usage in the last months indicates 16,646 messages received and 13,768 sent, which translates into a traffic of about 800 and 500 Mb. respectively of multimedia data and only 50 and 42 Mb. of text.

And this should be nothing compared to the statistics of a teenager, who participates in numerous groups.

Those who enjoy Twitter, Facebook and other social networks also generate a juicy collection of their own or other people’s texts that they incorporate into their personal library.