Preserve Your Work! Academic Commons and Personal Digital Archiving


Image by Suze Myers '16



What happens to your senior capstone (thesis, essay, or other project) after you graduate? How can you make your research available to scholars who come after you? How can you ensure you have a copy of your work when you need it?

This guide provides information on depositing your work in Academic Commons and personal digital archiving practices. For more information, speak with your adviser and schedule an appointment with your personal librarian!

Guide by Martha Tenney and Shannon O'Neill with help from the Barnard Librarians and Academic Commons Staff


What is Academic Commons and why should I deposit my work there?

According to their about page,


Academic Commons is a freely accessible digital collection of research and scholarship produced at Columbia University or one of its affiliate institutions (Barnard College, Teachers College, Union Theological Seminary, and Jewish Theological Seminary). The mission of Academic Commons is to collect and preserve the digital outputs of research and scholarship produced at Columbia and its affiliate institutions and present them to a global audience.


Works in Academic Commons are:


  • freely accessible online, to anyone and everyone.

  • regularly backed up.

  • easily discoverable via search engines.

  • assigned a persistent URL so they can always be found.


For more information see AC’s FAQ.


Why Submit to Academic Commons?


  • Your capstone will receive its own permanent URL and will be backed up. Note that the Barnard Archives and Special Collections does not preserve senior projects, and departments may or may not keep your capstone. Depositing your work in Academic Commons is a great part of a sound personal digital archiving strategy (see the section below for more!)

  • Your capstone will enter the scholarly conversation and have readers beyond your thesis advisers (and family/friends!). Your research will have more potential to benefit others and influence future scholarship. And you can see how many times your capstone has been viewed.

  • Need a solid writing sample? Add your thesis’ permanent link to your résumé and graduate school applications.

  • The permanent URL allows you to share your thesis with others over email, social media, etc.

Before submitting your work to Academic Commons

Before submitting to Academic Commons (and ideally throughout the process of researching and creating your capstone), use the following checklist to determine if your submission is appropriate:


  • If my capstone discusses human subjects, have I obtained all necessary approvals from Barnard’s Institutional Review Board (IRB)? If applicable, is my thesis compliant with HIPAA’s guidelines for human subjects research? You should only submit your work to Academic Commons if you have necessary approvals. For more information, see the Provost’s Institutional Review Board page.

  • If my capstone contains copyrighted works, have I obtained permission/licensed them/satisfied the requirements for fair use? You should only submit work to Academic Commons that does not infringe on others’ intellectual property rights. For more information, see our guides on Intellectual Property and IP for Visual Resources, and/or talk to your adviser or personal librarian.

  • If my capstone discusses potentially sensitive/personal information, have I obtained informed consent and permission or adequately anonymized it? You should only submit work to Academic Commons that can be openly available online, with no restrictions. For more information, talk to your adviser or personal librarian.

  • You should also talk with your faculty adviser about publishing options. If you or your faculty adviser is planning on publishing your work (or some portion of it, including your data), you may want to deposit your work to Academic Commons with an embargo. This means your work will be deposited but will not be publicly available for the term of the embargo (you may select an embargo of one year or two years). For more information about publishing, embargoes, and open access undergraduate journals, talk to your personal librarian.


Once you have addressed the items on this checklist, ask your faculty adviser to email the Academic Commons staff at to sign off on the deposit of your project. Throughout the process of creating your capstone, talk with your with faculty adviser and your personal librarian about any of the above topics.


How to submit to Academic Commons


  • The process for depositing may change. Please check back here for updates!

  • If you are self-depositing, you can follow Academic Common’s instructions for depositing.

    • You’ll read and accept an author agreement.

    • You’ll fill out some basic information about yourself and your work.

    • You’ll upload a file.

  • If you have not already done so, ask your faculty adviser to email the Academic Commons staff at to sign off on the deposit of your project. Once your adviser's approval has been received, your project will be added to Academic Commons.
  • Academic Commons accepts a wide variety of format types: papers, data, images, and moving images. Academic Commons is for final products of research, not drafts or in-progress works.


In addition to submitting to Academic Commons, or in place of submitting if Academic Commons is not an option for you, you should consider utilizing a personal digital archiving strategy. Personal digital archiving will help you to save your work well into the future!


Personal Digital Archiving

In addition to depositing your work in Academic Commons, or instead of depositing your work in Academic Commons, there are steps you can take to preserve your work for the future.


  • IDENTIFY: Take inventory of what you have. Identify all your digital photos, videos on cameras, computers, phones, and removable media such as memory cards; locate all digital document files on computers and removable media such as DVDs or thumb drives; locate all your content on the Web, including personal websites and social media sites and services.

  • DECIDE: Determine what is important for you to keep. If you have multiple versions, and it’s not important to record the process or development of the project, choose the version that is the highest and best quality. You can be as narrow or as wide as you want in your decision making process -- it’s YOUR personal digital archive

  • ORGANIZE: This is an important step to help you find and identify what you have! Make sure you utilize logical, descriptive, and consistent file names. You may want to include information like dates, capstone project title, and course title in your file name. For example: DancePerformanceB_DanceSeniorThesis_Spring2018.

  • MAINTAIN: Lots of copies keeps stuff safe! Make at least two copies of your selected information. Store copies in different locations that are as physically far apart as practical. If disaster strikes one location, the other copy of your important web content in the other place should be safe. For example, you can keep a copy on a hard drive, and upload a copy to a service like Google Drive or DropBox. Check your saved files at least once a year to make sure you can read and access them.


Why this is important:


  • You may want to save your work for a number of reasons:

    • To reflect back on your work, or share it with family and friends

    • To utilize your work for future publication or broadcast

    • To incorporate your work into graduate program or job applications

  • Digital materials are considered more fragile than physical ones. Machines and software used to read digital files can break or become obsolete. Also, the files themselves must be continually managed, and their longevity is unpredictable.


You can learn more about personal digital archiving by talking with Barnard Archivists, Martha Tenney and Shannon O’Neill.

More Resources

Last updated April 2017