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Library School at U. of North Carolina Offers Students Lifelong Digital Archive

Incoming students at the University of North Carolina’s School of Information and Library Science this year are getting a new kind of welcome-to-campus perk: Free data storage, for keeps.

The service, called LifeTime Library, works on students’ personal computers, allowing them to automatically archive files and folders. The data are preserved on the Web, where students can search for files by name or by date saved.

Students can continue to use the online storage locker after they graduate, and the plan is for the program to remain free, said Gary Marchionini, the school’s dean. About 60 incoming students out of a total of 160 have signed up for the first year of the program, he said.

The idea is to “help students learn to manage their digital lives,” Mr. Marchionini said. Dealing with large amounts of online data is a big part of what students learn at the School of Information and Library Science, and the LifeTime Library can serve as a teaching tool for students to figure out the best ways to organize reams of their own digital information.

For example, two courses will focus at least in part on ways to make the service more useful. Mr. Marchionini hopes that with student input, the program will soon be able to save every version of a file—such as, say, a Word document that has been edited multiple times. Perhaps the program will be able to archive mobile phone data, too, or crawl a student’s Facebook page, Mr. Marchionini said (the public parts only, of course).

The school has no plans to scan what students are putting in their digital archives, though it retains the legal right to do so, and students must adhere to an acceptable-use policy. “It’s not our intention to go looking for abuses,” Mr. Marchionini said.

The school has at least doubled its data-storage capacity, but much more space will be needed to keep the service sustainable in the long run, the dean said. He’s hoping he can get alumni donors on board.

As the program continues, not only will more students stash their data, but users may well store more than they would have otherwise. That makes it hard to know how much storage will be needed—and therefore how much the school will have to pay to maintain the service, Mr. Marchionini said.

For now, though, these 60 graduate and undergraduate students get to back up their files free. And, later on, if they’re feeling nostalgic, they can dig through their old work.

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