Dispatches from a Distance: Dispatch from a Detroit foundation archivist

This is the second of our Dispatches from a Distance, a series of short posts intended as a forum for those of us facing disruption in our professional lives, whether that’s working from home or something else, to stay engaged with the community. There is no specific topic or theme for submissions–rather, this is a space to share your thoughts on current projects or ideas which, on any other day, you might have discussed with your deskmate or a co-worker during lunch. These don’t have to be directly in response to the Covid-19 outbreak (although they can be). Dispatches should be between 200-500 words and can be submitted here.


by Lori Eaton, MLIS, CA

The economic news swirling around the COVID-19 outbreak frequently references how people with the fewest financial resources will bear the brunt of the pandemic-driven recession. As an archivist and records manager working with foundations, I’ve been awed by how quickly the philanthropic community in Michigan has sprung into action. Foundations are distributing emergency funds, coordinating resources to help nonprofits support clients and staff (for an example, see the Council on Foundations COVID-19 Resource Hub, which provides resources for funders and grantees), and working with grantees who provide direct aid to those in our communities who need it most. 

On March 16, 2020, the Detroit-based foundation where I’ve been embedded for the last year made the decision to close the office and asked staff to work remotely. Thankfully, the foundation moved to cloud-based file storage almost a year ago and had recently enhanced teleconferencing capabilities. Grants are also managed through a cloud-based tool as are board of trustee resources. 

Together with learning and impact staff, I’ve been working to gather and organize a digital library of COVID-19 related resources and records generated by the foundation. We’re collecting files the foundation staff creates but also those of funding partners, grantees, nonprofit support organizations, and state and local government. I’ve taken on the task of naming and describing these files and applying a consistent vocabulary. 

In the near term, this resource library will help foundation staff keep track of the deluge of information flooding in through emails, Google docs, websites, and conference calls. In the future, it is our hope that this library will help tell the story of how both the foundation and the philanthropy community in Michigan rose to the challenge presented by this pandemic. 

Dispatches from a Distance: Losses and Gains

This is the first of our Dispatches from a Distance, a series of short posts intended as a forum for those of us facing disruption in our professional lives, whether that’s working from home or something else, to stay engaged with the community. There is no specific topic or theme for submissions–rather, this is a space to share your thoughts on current projects or ideas which, on any other day, you might have discussed with your deskmate or a co-worker during lunch. These don’t have to be directly in response to the Covid-19 outbreak (although they can be). Dispatches should be between 200-500 words and can be submitted here.


by Jordan Meyerl

Working from home has its challenges and its benefits, or as I’ve begun thinking of them, its losses and gains. As a graduate student who is graduating in May, the losses I am experiencing feel debilitating. While I have met the minimum requirements for my capstone, I had hoped to process more linear feet of material. While I can still engage in meaningful projects as part of my graduate assistantship with the University of Massachusetts Boston University Archives and Special Collection, the exhibit I so painstakingly helped curate has been delayed until next year. While I am grateful it has not been outright cancelled, the sense of disappointment and loss still hangs over me.

I am working to balance this feeling of loss with the gains I have made. I have gained more time to work on the written portion of my capstone. I have gained the opportunity to be a curator for A Journal of the Plague Year: An Archive of COVID-19. In the same vein, I have gained the ability to work on more digital projects through my assistantship and foster skills that make me marketable. I have also gained the chance to spend more time with my partner and focus on me, something I haven’t been able to do in a while.

Since I started graduate school at the University of Massachusetts Boston, I have been career driven. I am deeply passionate about being an archivist, and I have worked hard to complete my coursework to the best of my ability while also establishing myself within the professional communities. I have been so focused on these that I have failed to care for myself. And while I am still career driven and am taking advantage of new opportunities that have cropped up as a result of COVID-19, my greatest gain is definitely the chance to focus on me.

What’s Your Set-up? Born-Digital Processing at NC State University Libraries

by Brian Dietz


Background

Until January 2018 the NC State University Libraries did our born-digital processing using the BitCurator VM running on a Windows 7 machine. The BCVM bootstrapped our operations, and much of what I think we’ve accomplished over the last several years would not have been possible without this set up. Two years ago, we shifted our workflows to be run mostly at the command line on a Mac computer. The desire to move to CLI meant a need for a nix environment. Cygwin for Windows is not a realistic option, and the Linux subsystem, available on Windows 10, had not been released. A dedicated Linux computer wasn’t an ideal option due to IT support. I no longer wanted to manage virtual machine distributions, and a dual boot machine seemed too inefficient. Also, of the three major operating systems, I’m most familiar and comfortable with Mac OSX, which is UNIX under the hood, and certified as such. Additionally, Homebrew, a package manager for Mac, made installing and updating the programs we needed, as well as their dependencies, relatively simple. In addition to Homebrew, we use pip to update brunnhilde; and freshclam, included in ClamAV, to keep the virus database up to date. HFS Explorer, necessary for exploring Mac-formatted disks, is a manual install and update, but it might be the main pain point (and not too painful yet). With the exception of HFS Explorer, updating is done at the time of processing, so the environment is always fresh.

Current workstation

We currently have one workstation where we process born-digital materials. We do our work on a Mac Pro:

  • macOS X 10.13 High Sierra
  • 3.7 GHz processor
  • 32GB memory
  • 1TB hard drive
  • 5TB NFS-mounted networked storage
  • 5TB Western Digital external drive

We have a number of peripherals:

  • 2 consumer grade Blu-ray optical drives (LG and Samsung)
  • 2 iomega USB-powered ZIP drives (100MB and 250MB)
  • Several 3.5” floppy drives (salvaged from surplused computers), but our go-to is a Sony 83 track drive (model MPF920)
  • One TEAC 5.25” floppy drive (salvaged from a local scrap exchange)
  • Kryoflux board with power supply and ribbon cable with various connectors
  • Wiebetech USB and Forensic UltraPack v4 write blockers
  • Apple iPod (for taking pictures of media, usually transferred via AirDrop)

The tools that we use for exploration/appraisal, extraction, and reporting are largely command line tools:

Exploration

  • diskutil (finding where a volume is mounted)
  • gls (finding volume name, where the GNU version shows escapes (“\”) in print outs)
  • hdiutil (mounting disk image files)
  • mmls (finding partition layout of disk images)
  • drutil status (showing information about optical media)

Packaging

  • tar (packaging content from media not being imaged)
  • ddrescue (disk imaging)
  • cdparanoia (packaging content from audio discs)
  • KryoFlux GUI (floppy imaging)

Reporting

  • brunnhilde (file and disk image profiling, duplication)
  • bulk_extractor (PII scanning)
  • clamav (virus scanning)
  • Exiftool (metadata)
  • Mediainfo (metadata)

Additionally, we perform archival description using ArchivesSpace, and we’ve developed an application called DAEV (“Digital Assets of Enduring Value”) that, among other things, guides processors through a session and interacts with ArchivesSpace to record certain descriptive metadata. 

Working with IT

We have worked closely with our Libraries Information Technology department to acquire and maintain hardware and peripherals, just as we have worked closely with our Digital Library Initiatives department on the development and maintenance of DAEV. For purchasing, we submit larger requests, with justifications, to IT annually, and smaller requests as needs arise, e.g., our ZIP drive broke and we need a new one. Our computer is on the refresh cycle, meaning once it reaches a certain age, it will be replaced with a comparable computer. Especially with peripherals, we provide exact technical specifications and anticipated costs, e.g., iomega 250MB ZIP drive, and IT determines the purchasing process.

I think it’s easy to assume that, because people in IT are among our most knowledgeable colleagues about computing technology, they understand what it is we’re trying to do and what it is we’ll need to do it. I think that, while they are capable of understanding our needs, their specializations lay elsewhere, and it’s a bad assumption which can result in a less than ideal computing situation. My experience is that my coworkers in IT are eager to understand our problems and to help us to solve them, but that they really don’t know what our problems are. 

The counter assumption is that we ourselves are supposed to know everything about computing. That’s probably more counterproductive than assuming IT knows everything, because 1) we feel bad when we don’t know everything and 2) in trying to hide what we don’t know, we end up not getting what we need. I think the ideal situation is for us to know what processes we need to run (and why), and to share those with IT, who should be able to say what sort of processor and how RAM is needed. If your institution has a division of labor, i.e., specializations, take advantage of it. 

So, rather than saying, “we need a computer to support digital archiving,” or “I need a computer with exactly these specs,” we’ll be better off requesting a consultation and explaining what sort of work we need a computer to support. Of course, the first computer we requested for a born-digital workstation, which was intended to support a large initiative, came at a late hour and was in the form of “We need a computer to support digital archiving,” with the additional assumption of “I thought you knew this was happening.” We got a pretty decent Windows 7 computer that worked well enough.

I also recognize that I may be describing a situation that does not exist in man other institutions. In those cases, perhaps that’s something to be worked toward, through personal and inter-departmental relationship building. At any rate, I recognize and am grateful for the support my institution has extended to my work. 

Challenges and opportunities

I’ve got two challenges coming up. Campus IT has required that all Macs be upgraded to macOS Mojave to “meet device security requirements.” From a security perspective, I’m all onboard for this. However, in our testing the Kryoflux is not compatible with Mojave. This appears to be related to a security measure Mojave has in place for controlling USB communication. After several conversations with Libraries IT, they’ve recommended assigning us a Windows 10 computer for use with the Kryoflux. Beyond having two computers, I see obvious benefits to this. One is that I’ll be able to install the Linux subsystem on Windows 10 and explore whether going full-out Linux might be an option for us. Another is that I’ll have ready access to FTK Imager again, which comes in handy from time to time. 

The other challenge we have is working with our optical drives. We have consumer grade drives, and they work inconsistently. While Drive 1 may read Disc X but not Disc Y, Drive 2 will do the obverse. At the 2019 BitCurator Users Forum, Kam Woods discussed higher grade optical drives in the “There Are No Dumb Questions” session. (By the way, everyone should consider attending the Forum. It’s a great meeting that’s heavily focused on practice, and it gets better each year. This year, the Forum will be hosted by Arizona State University, October 12-13. The call for proposals will be coming out in early March).

In the coming months we’ll be doing some significant changes to our workflow, which will include tweaking a few things, reordering some steps, introducing new tools, e.g., walk_to_dfxml, Bulk Reviewer, and, I hope, introducing more automation into the process. We’re also due for a computer refresh, and, while we’re sticking with Macs for the time being, we’ll again work with our IT to review computer specifications.


Brian Dietz is the Digital Program Librarian for Special Collections at NC State University Libraries, where he manages born-digital processing, and web archiving, and digitization.

What’s Your Set-Up?: Establishing a Born-Digital Records Program at Brooklyn Historical Society

by Maggie Schreiner and Erica López


In establishing a born-digital records program at Brooklyn Historical Society, one of our main challenges was scaling the recommendations and best practices, which thus far have been primarily articulated by large and well-funded research universities, to fit our reality: a small historical society with limited funding, a very small staff, and no in-house IT support. In navigating this process, we’ve attempted to strike a balance that will allow us to responsibly steward the born-digital records in our collections, be sustainable for our staffing and financial realities, and allow us to engage with and learn from our colleagues doing similar work.

We started our process with research and learning. Our Digital Preservation Committee, which meets monthly, held a reading group. We read and discussed SAA’s Digital Preservation Essentials, reached out to colleagues at local institutions with born-digital records programs for advice, and read widely on the internet (including bloggERS!). Our approach was also strongly influenced by Bonnie Weddle’s presentation “Born Digital Collections: Practical First Steps for Institutions,” given at the Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifact’s 2018 conference at the Center for Jewish History. Bonnie’s presentation focused on iterative processes that can be implemented by smaller institutions. Her presentation empowered us to envision a BHS-sized program, to start small, iterate when possible, and in the ways that make sense for our staff and our collections. 

We first enacted this approach in our equipment decisions. We assembled a workstation that consists of an air-gapped desktop computer, and a set of external drives based on our known and anticipated needs (3 ½ floppy, CD/DVD, Zip drives, and memory card readers). Our most expensive piece of equipment was our write-blocker (a Tableau TK8u USB 3.0 Bridge), which, based on our research, seemed like the most important place to splurge. We based our equipment decisions on background reading, informal conversations with colleagues about equipment possibilities, and an existing survey of born-digital carriers in our collections. We were also limited by our small budget; the total cost for our workstation was approximately $1,500. 

Born digital records workstation at the Brooklyn Historical Society

A grant from the Gardiner Foundation allowed us to create a paid Digital Preservation Fellowship, and hire the amazing Erica López for the position. The goals and timeline for Erica’s position were developed to allow lots of time for research, learning through trial and error, and mistakes. For a small staff, it is often difficult for us to create the time and space necessary for experimentation. Erica began by crafting processes for imaging and appraisal: testing software, researching, adapting workflows from other institutions, creating test disk images, and drafting appraisal reports. We opted to use BitCurator, due to the active user community. We also reached out to Bonnie Weddle, who generously agreed to answer our questions and review draft workflows. Bonnie’s feedback and support gave us additional confidence that we were on the right track.

Starting from an existing inventory of legacy media in our collections, Erica created disk images of the majority of items, and created appraisal assessments for each collection. Ultimately, Erica imaged eighty-seven born-digital objects (twelve 3.5 inch floppy disks, thirty-eight DVDs, and thirty-seven CDs), which contained a total of seventy-seven different file formats. Although these numbers may seem very small for some (or even most) institutions, these numbers are big for us! Our archives program is maintained by two FTE staff with multiple responsibilities, and vendor IT with no experience supporting the unique needs of archives and special collections. 

We encountered a few big bumps during the process! The first was that we unexpectedly had to migrate our archival storage server, and as a result did not have read-write access for several months. This interrupted our planned storage workflow for the disk images that Erica was creating. In hindsight, we made what was a glaring mistake to keep the disk images in the virtual machine running BitCurator. Inevitably, we had a day when we were no longer able to launch the virtual machine. After several days of failed attempts to recover the disk images, we decided that Erica would re-image the media. Fortunately, by this time, Erica was very proficient and it took less than two weeks! 

We had also hoped to do a case study on a hard drive in our collection, as Erica’s work had otherwise been limited to smaller removable media. After some experimentation, we discovered that our system would not be able to connect to the drive, and that we would need to use a FRED to access the content. We booked time at the Metropolitan New York Library Council’s Studio to use their FRED. Erica spent a day imaging the drive, and brought back a series of disk images… which to date we have not successfully opened in our BitCurator environment at BHS! After spending several weeks troubleshooting the technical difficulties and reaching out to colleagues, we decided to table the case study. Although disappointing, we also recognized that we have made huge strides in our ability to steward born-digital materials, and that we will continually iterate on this work in the future.

What have we learned about creating a BHS-sized born-digital records program? We learned that our equipment meets the majority of our use-case scenarios, that we have access to additional equipment at METRO when needed, and that maybe we aren’t quite ready to tackle more complex legacy media anyway. We learned that’s okay! We haven’t read everything, we don’t have the fanciest equipment, and we didn’t start with any in-house expertise. We did our research, did our best work, made mistakes, and in the end we are much more equipped to steward the born-digital materials in our collections. 


Maggie Schreiner is the Manager of Archives and Special Collections at the Brooklyn Historical Society, an adjunct faculty member in New York University’s Archives and Public History program, and a long-time volunteer at Interference Archive. She has previously held positions at the Fashion Institute of Technology (SUNY),  NYU, and Queens Public Library. Maggie holds an MA in Archives and Public History from NYU.

Erica López was born and raised in California by undocumented parents. Education was important but exploring Los Angeles’s colorful nightlife was more important. After doing hair for over a decade, Erica started studying to be a Spanish teacher at UC-Berkeley. Eventually, Erica quit the Spanish teacher dream, and found first film theory and then the archival world. Soon, Erica was finishing up an MA at NYU and working to become an archivist. Erica worked with Brooklyn Historical Society to setup workflows for born-digital collections, and is currently finishing up an internship at The Riverside Church translating and cataloging audio files.

What’s Your Set-up?: Curation on a Shoestring

by Rachel MacGregor


At the Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick in the United Kingdom we have been making steady progress in our digital preservation work. Jessica Venlet from UNC Chapel Hill wrote recently about being in the lucky position of finding “an excellent stock of hardware and two processors” when she started in 2016. We’re a little further behind than this—when I began in 2017 I had a lot less!

What we want is FRED. Who’s he? He’s your Forensic Recovery of Evidence Device (forensic workstation), but costing several thousand dollars, it’s beyond the reach of many of us.  

What I had in 2017: 

  • A Tableau T8-R2 write blocker. Write blockers are very important when working with rewritable media (USB drives, hard drives, etc.) because they prevent accidental alteration of material by blocking overwriting or deletion.
  • A (fingers crossed) working 3.5 inch external floppy disk drive.
  • A lot of enthusiasm.

What I didn’t have: 

  • A budget.
Image of Dell monitor and computer, keyboard, mouse, and writeblocker on a desk in an office.  Bitcurator software opened on the screen.
My digital curation workstation – not fancy but it works for me. Photo taken by MacGregor, under CC-BY license.

Whilst doing background research for tackling our born-digital collections, I got interested in the BitCurator toolkit which is designed to help with the forensic recovery of digital materials.  It interested me particularly because:

  • It’s free.
  • It’s open source.
  • It’s created and managed by archivists for archivists.
  • There’s a great user community.
  • There are loads of training materials online and an online discussion group.

I found this excellent blog post by Porter Olsen to help get started. He suggests starting with a standard workstation with a relatively high specification (e.g. 8 GB of RAM). So, I asked our IT folk for one, which they had in stock (yay!).  I specified a Windows operating system and installed a virtual machine, which runs a Linux operating system on which to run BitCurator. 

I’m still exploring BitCurator—it’s a powerful suite of tools with lots of features. However, when trialing it on the papers of the eminent historian Eric Hobsbawm, I found that it was a bit like using a hammer to crack a nut. Whilst it was possible to produce all sorts of sophisticated reports identifying email addresses etc., this isn’t much use on drafts of published articles from the late 1990-early 2000s. I turned to FTK Imager which is proprietary but free software. It is widely used in the preservation community, but not designed by, with, or for archivists (as BitCurator is). I guess its popularity derives from the fact that it’s easy to use and will allow you to image (i.e. take a complete copy of all the whole media including deleted and empty space),  or just extract the files, without too much time spent learning to use it. There are standard options for disk image output (e.g. as a raw byte-for-byte image, an E01 Expert witness format, SMART, and AFF formats). However, I would like to spend some more time getting to know BitCurator and becoming part of its community. There is always room for new and different tools and I suspect the best approaches are those which embrace diversity. 

Another tool that looks useful for disk imaging is one called diskimgr created by Johan van der Knijff of the Nationale Bibliotheek van Nederland. It will only run on a Linux operating system (not on a virtual machine), so now I am wondering about getting a separate Linux workstation.  BitCurator also works more effectively in a Linux environment as opposed to a virtual machine–it does stall sometimes with larger collections. I wonder if I should have opted for a Linux machine to start with. . . it’s certainly something to consider when creating a specification for a digital curation workstation. 

Once the content is extracted, we need further tools to help us manage and process. Bitcurator does a lot, but there may be extra things that you might need depending on your intended workflow. I never go anywhere without DROID software. DROID is useful for loads of stuff like file format identification, creating checksums, deduplication, and lots more. My standard workflow is to create a DROID profile and then use this as part of the appraisal process further down the line. What I don’t yet have is some sort of file viewer—Quick View Plus is the one I have in mind (it’s not free and as I think I mentioned my resources are limited!). I would also like to get LibreOffice installed as it deals quite well with old Word processed documents.

I guess I’ll keep adding to it as I go along. I now need to work out the most efficient ways of using the tools I have and capturing the relevant metadata that is produced. I would encourage everyone to take some time experimenting with some of the tools out there and I’d love to hear about how people get on.


Rachel MacGregor is Digital Preservation Officer at the Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick, United Kingdom. Rachel is responsible for developing and implementing digital preservation processes at the Modern Records Centre, including developing cataloguing guidelines, policies and workflows. She is particularly interested in workforce digital skills development.

What’s Your Set-up?: Managing Electronic Records at University of Alaska Anchorage

by Veronica Denison


For years, archivists at the University of Alaska Anchorage Archives and Special Collections have known that we would have to grapple with how to store our electronic records. We were increasingly receiving more donations that contained items created born digitally, and I also knew I wanted to apply for grants to digitize audio, video, and film in our holdings. The grants would not provide funding for our storage system, which also meant we had to come up with alternative means to pay for it.

Prior to 2018, anything we digitized was saved on what we called “scribe drives” which were shared network drives mapped to the computers in the archives. These drive could store about 4TB of data. In 2017, we digitized 10 ¼-inch audio reels as .mp3 and .wav files, which gave us both access and master copies of those recordings. At the time, we had enough storage space for everything, but in 2018, we received a request to digitize two 16mm film reels from the Dorothy and Grenold Collins papers. Unfortunately, we could not save both the access and masters to the drive since the files were too large (about 350GB per film for the master copy). 

Around the same time, we also received the Anne Nevaldine papers. The collection contained 4 boxes of 35mm slides as well as multiple CDs that in total contained 64,932 files within 1446 folders for an amount of 322GB. I had a volunteer run each of the CDs through the Archives segregation machine to check for viruses and then transfer the digital files onto an external hard drive. We thought we had time to figure out a more permanent solution than the external hard drive, but two weeks after I made the finding aid available online, a researcher came in wanting to look at the digital photographs in the collection. This created an issue, as my only option was to give her the external hard drive to look at the images. While she was in the Archives Research Room, I watched her closely to make sure nothing was deleted or moved. 

We decided that we needed a system where we could save and access all of our digital content, while also having it backed up, and have the option to make read-only copies available to researchers in the Research Room. We knew we would probably end up having at least 5 TB of data right away if we factored in our current digital items and the possibility of future ones. We initially approached the University’s IT Department to learn about our options. Unfortunately, we were quoted a very high cost (over $10,000 a year for 20TB), so we approached the Library’s IT Department for suggestions. After some discussion about what would be appropriate for our needs, Brad, the Library’s PC and Network Administrator, presented us with some options.

We ultimately decided on a Synology DiskStation DS1817+, which cost $848, with WD Gold 10TB HDD drives. We settled on 8 drives for total of 80TB (to provide growth space), which were $375 each for a cost of $3000. Then we needed a system to hook it to. For that we used a Windows 10 Desktop, which cost $1065. The total cost for the hardware was $4913, however we also needed a cloud service provider to back up the files. We decided to go with Backblaze, which costs $5 per TB per month. This whole system is a network-attached storage system, which means it is a file-level computer data storage server connected to a computer network. We took to calling it “the NAS” for short. Thankfully, when we presented the need for electronic storage to the Library’s Dean, he was willing to provide us with the funding needed to purchase the items.

Once everything was installed, we had to transfer the files and develop a new system for arranging and saving the files. We decided on having three separate drives, two of which would be on the NAS (Master and Access), and one a separate network drive (Reference_Access). The Master drive is the only one that is backed-up to Backblaze. The Master drive acts as a dark archive, meaning once items are saved to it, they will not be accessed. Therefore, we created the Access drive where archivists can retrieve the digital contents for reference and use purposes. The Access drive is essentially a copy of the Master drive. There is also a Reference_Access drive, which is mapped separately to each computer within the Archives, and not on the NAS. Reference_Access is the drive researchers use to access digital content in the Research Room and contains the access copies and low resolution .jpgs of photographs that may be high resolution in the Master and Access drives. 

The next step was mapping the Reference_Access drive to the researcher computer in the Research Room, and to make it read-only, but only for that computer. After working with the University’s IT Department, Brad was able to make it work. Since establishing this system in Spring 2019, the Reference_Access drive has been used by multiple researchers and it works great! They are able to access digital content of collections as easily as looking through a box on a table. We are grateful for all those who helped the Archives have a great mechanism for saving our electronic records, at a relatively low cost.


Veronica Denison is currently the Assistant University Archivist at Kansas State University where she has been since September 2019. Prior to being hired at K-State, she was an archivist for six years at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She holds an MLIS with a Concentration in Archives Management from Simmons College.

What’s Your Set-Up? Born-Digital Processing at UNC Chapel Hill

by Jessica Venlet


At UNC-Chapel Hill Libraries’ Wilson Special Collections Library, our workflow and technology set-up for born-digital processing has evolved over many years and under the direction of a few different archivists. This post provides a look at what technology was here when I started work in 2016 and how we’ve built on those resources in the last three years. Our set-up for processing and appraisal centers on getting collections ready for ingest to the Libraries’ Digital Collections Repository where other file-level preservation actions occur. 

What We Had 

I arrived at UNC in 2016 and was happy to find an excellent stock of hardware and two processing computers. Thank you to my predecessors! 

The computers available for processing were an iMac (10.11.6, 8GB RAM, 500GB storage) and a Lenovo PC (Windows 7, 8 GB RAM, 465 GB storage, 2.4GHz processor).  These computers were not used for storing collection material. Collections were temporarily stored and processed on a server before ingest to the repository. While I’m not sure how these machines were selected, I was glad to have dedicated      born-digital processing workstations.

In addition to the computers, we had a variety of other devices including:

  • One Device Side Data FC0525 5.25” floppy controller and a 5.25” disk drive
  • One Tableau USB write blocker
  • One Tableau SATA/IDE write blocker
  • Several USB connectable 3.5” floppy drives 
  • Two memory card readers (SanDisk 12 in 1 and Delkin)
  • Several zip disk drives (which turned out to be broken)
  • External CD/DVD player 
  • 3 external hard drives and several USB drives
  • Camera for photographing storage devices
  • A variety of other cords and adapters, most of which are used infrequently. Some examples are extra SATA/IDE adapters (like this one or this kit), Molex power adapters and power cords (like this or this), and USB adapter kit (like this one). 

The primary programs in use at the time were FTK Imager, Exact Audio Copy, and Bagger. 

What We Have Now

Since 2016, our workflow has evolved to include more appraisal and technical review before ingest. As a result, our software set-up expanded to include actions like virus scanning and file format identification. While it was great to have two dedicated workstations, our computers definitely needed an upgrade, so we worked on securing replacements.

The iMac was replaced with a Mac Mini (10.14.6, 16 GB RAM, 251 GB flash storage). Our PC was upgraded to a Lenovo P330 tower (Windows 10, 16 GB RAM, 476 GB storage). The Mini was a special request, but the PC request fit into a normal upgrade cycle. We continue to temporarily store collections on a server for processing before ingest.

Our peripheral devices remain largely the same as above, but we have added new (functional) zip drives and another Tableau USB write blocker used for appraisal outside of the processing space (e.g. offsite for a donor visit). We also purchased a KryoFlux, which can be used for imaging floppies. While not strictly required for processing, the KryoFlux may be useful to have if you encounter frequent issues accessing floppies. To learn more about the KryoFlux, check out the excellent Archivist’s Guide to the KryoFlux resource.

The software and tools that we’ve used have changed more often that our hardware set-up. Since about May 2018, we’ve settled on a pretty stable selection of software to get things done. Our commonly used tools are Bagger, Brunnhilde (and the dependencies that go with like Siegfried and clamAV), Bulk_Extractor, Exact Audio Copy, ffmpeg, IsoBuster, LibreOffice, Quick View Plus, rsync, text editors (text wrangler or BBEdit), and VLC Media Player. 

Recommended Extras

  • USB hub. Having extra USB ports has proven useful. 
  • A basic repair toolkit. This isn’t something we use often, but we have had a few older external hard drives come through that we needed to remove from an enclosure to connect to the write blocker. 
  • Training Collection Materials. One of the things I recommend most for a digital archives set-up is a designated set of storage devices and files that are for training and testing only. This way you have some material ready to go for testing new tools or training colleagues. Our training and testing collection includes a few 3.5” and 5.25” floppies, optical discs, and a USB drive that is loaded with files (including files with information that will get caught by our PII scanning tools). Many of the storage devices were deaccessioned and destined for the recycle. 

So, that’s how our set-up has changed over the last several years. As we continue to understand our needs for born-digital processing and as born-digital collections grow, we’ll continue to improve our hardware and software set-up.


Jessica Venlet works as the Assistant University Archivist for Digital Records & Records Management at the UNC-Chapel Hill Libraries’ Wilson Special Collections Library. In this role, Jessica is responsible for a variety of things related to both records management and digital preservation. In particular, she leads the processing and management of born-digital special collections. She earned a Master of Science in Information degree from the University of Michigan.

Welcome to the newest series on bloggERS, “What’s Your Set-Up?”

By Emily Higgs


Welcome to the newest series on bloggERS, “What’s Your Set-Up?” In the coming weeks, bloggERS will feature posts from digital archives professionals will explore the question: what equipment do you need to get your job done? 

This series was born from personal need:; as the first Digital Archivist at my institution, one of my responsibilities has been setting up a workstation to ingest and process our born-digital collections. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the range of hardware and software needed, the variety of options for different equipment types, and where to obtain everything. In my context, some groundwork had already been done by forward-thinking former employees, who set up a computer with the BitCurator environment and also purchased a WiebeTech USB WriteBlocker. While this was a good first step for a born-digital workstation, we had much farther to go.

The first question I asked was: what do I need to buy?

My initial list of equipment was pretty easy to compile: 3.5” floppy drive, 5.25” floppy drive, optical drive, memory card reader, etc. etc. Then it started to get more complicated: 

  • Do I need to purchase disk controllers now or should I wait until I’m more familiar with the collections and know what I need? 
  • How much will a KryoFlux cost us over time vs. hiring an outside vendor to read our difficult floppies? 
  • Is it feasible to share one workstation among multiple departments? Should some of this equipment be shared consortially, like much of our collections structure? 
  • What brands and models of all this stuff are appropriate for our use case? What is quality and what is not?

The second question was: where do I buy all this stuff? This question contained myriad sub-questions: 

  • How do I balance quality and cost? 
  • Can I buy this equipment from Amazon? Should I buy equipment from Amazon? 
  • Will our budget structure allow for me to use vendors like eBay? 
  • Which sellers on eBay can I trust to send us legacy equipment that’s in working condition?

As with most of my work, I have taken  an iterative approach to this process. The majority of our unprocessed born-digital materials were stored on CDs and 3.5” floppy disks, so those were the focus of our first round of purchasing a few weeks ago. In addition to the basic USB blocker and BitCurator machine we already had, we now have a Dell External USB CD drive, a Tendak USB 3.5” floppy drive, and an Aluratek multimedia card reader to read the most common media in our unprocessed collections. We chose the Tendak drive mainly because of its price point, but it has not been the most reliable hardware and we will likely try something else in the future. As I’ve gone through old boxes from archivists past, I have found additional readers such as an Iomega Jaz drive, which I’m very glad we have; there are a number of Jaz disks in our unprocessed collections as well. 

As I went about this process, I started by emailing many of my peers in the field to solicit their opinions and learn more about the equipment at their institutions. The range of responses I got was extremely helpful for my decision-making process. The team at bloggERS wanted to share that knowledge out to the rest of our readership, helping them learn from their peers at a variety of institutions. We hope you glean some useful information from this series, and we look forward to your comments and discussions on this important topic.


Emily Higgs is the Digital Archivist for the Swarthmore College Peace Collection and Friends Historical Library. Before moving to Swarthmore, she was a North Carolina State University Libraries Fellow. She is also the Assistant Team Leader for the SAA ERS section blog.

Recap: BitCurator Users Forum, October 24-25, 2019

The fifth annual BitCurator Users Forum was held at Yale University from October 24-25, bringing library, archives, and museum practitioners together to learn and discuss many aspects of digital forensics work. Over two days of workshops, lightning talks, and panels, the Forum covered a range of topics around acquisition, processing, and access for born digital materials. In addition to traditional panels and conference sessions, attendees also participated in hands-on workshops on digital forensics techniques and tools, including the BitCurator environment.

Throughout the workshops, sessions, and discussions, one of the most dominant themes to emerge was the question of how archivists and institutions should address the environmental unsustainability of digital preservation. Attendees were quick to highlight recent work in this area, including the article Toward Environmentally Sustainable Digital Preservation by Keith L. Pendergrass, Walker Sampson, Tim Walsh, and Laura Alagna among others. The prevalence of this topic at the Forum as well as other conferences and in our professional literature points to urgency that archivists feel toward ensuring that we are able to continue to preserve our digital holdings while minimizing negative environmental impact as much as possible.

The role of appraisal in relation to the environmental sustainability of digital preservation specifically was a major focus of the Forum. One attendee remarked that the “low cost of storage has outpaced the ability to appraise content,” summing up the situation that many institutions find themselves in, where the ever decreasing cost of digital storage, anxiety about discarding potentially valuable collection material, and a lack of time and guidance on appraisal of digital materials has resulted in the ballooning of their digital holdings.

Participants challenged the notion that “keeping everything forever” should be our default preservation strategy. One common thread to emerge was the need to be more thoughtful about what we choose to retain and to develop and share appraisal criteria for born digital materials to help us make those decisions.

Also related to concerns about the environmental impact of digital preservation, presenters posed questions about how much data and related metadata for digital collections should be captured in the first place. Kelsey O’Connell, digital archivist at Northwestern University, proposed defining levels of digital forensics rather than applying the same workflow to every collection. Taking this type of approach to acquisition and metadata creation for born digital collection materials could help institutions minimize the storage of unnecessary collection data.

The BitCurator Users Forum provides an excellent opportunity for library and archives practitioners to learn new skills and discuss the many challenges and opportunities in the field of digital archiving. This year’s Forum was no exception and I have no doubt that it will continue to serve as a valuable resource for experienced practitioners as well as those just starting out.

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Sally DeBauche is a Digital Archivist at Stanford University and the ePADD Project Manager.

DLFF’d Behind?

This year’s Digital Library Foundation Forum (DLFF or #DLF2019 or #DLFforum if you’re social) was held October 14-16 in Tampa, FL. As usual, many of the sessions were directly relevant to the Electronic Records Section membership; also as usual, the Forum was heavily Tweeted, giving a lot of us who couldn’t be there a mix of vicarious engagement and serious conference envy.

Thankfully, the DLF(F) ethos of collaboration makes it a little easier for everyone who couldn’t be there: OSF repositories for the DLF Forum and DigiPres meetings host (most of) the presentation slides for the 2019 meetings, organizers set up shared notes documents for the sessions, and each session had its own hashtag to help corral the discussion, annotations, and meta-commentary we’ve come to expect from libraries/archives/allied trades Twitter.

As most anyone who’s attended DLF Forum will tell you, every time slot has something great in it, and there’s no substitute for being there: for the next best thing, we’re happy to present below a few sessions which caught our interest– the session description and available materials, shared notes, and of course, the Twitter feed. Enjoy, and FOMO no more!