Digital Processing at the Rockefeller Archive Center

By Bonnie Gordon

This is the first post in our Spring 2016 series on processing digital materials, exploring how archivists conceive of, implement, and track activities to arrange and describe digital materials in archival collections. If you are interested in contributing to bloggERS!, check out our guidelines for writers or contact us at

At the Rockefeller Archive Center, we’re working to get “digital processing” out of the hands of “digital” archivists and into the realm of “regular” archivists. We are using “digital processing” to mean description, arrangement, and initial preservation of born digital archival content stored on removable storage media. Our definition will likely expand over time, as we start to receive more born digital materials via network transfer and fewer acquisitions of floppy disks and CDs.

The vast majority of our born digital materials are on removable storage media and currently inaccessible to our researchers, donors, and staff. We have content on over 3,000 digital storage media items, which are rapidly deteriorating. Our backlog of digital media items includes over 2,500 optical disks, almost 200 3.5″ floppy disks, and almost 100 5.25″ floppy disks. There are also a handful of USB flash drives, hard drives, and older and unusual media (Bernoulli disks, Sy-Quest cartridges, 8″ floppy disks). This is a lot of work for one digital archivist! Having multiple “regular” archivists process these materials distributes the work, which means we can get through the backlog much more quickly. Additionally, integrating digital processing into regular processing work will prevent a future backlog from being created.

In order to help our processing archivists establish and enhance intellectual control of our born digital holdings, I’m working to provide them with the tools, workflows, and competencies needed to process digital materials.  Over the next several months, a core group of processing archivists will be trained and provided with documentation on digital media inventorying, digital forensics, and other born digital workflows. After training, archivists will be able to use the skills they gained in their “normal” processing projects. The core group of archivists trained on dealing with born digital materials will then be able to train other archivists. This will help digital processing be perceived as just another aspect of “regular” processing. Additionally, providing good workflow documentation gives our processing archivists the tools and competencies to do their jobs.

Streamlining our digital processing workflows is also a really important part of this. One step in this direction is to create a digital media inventory and disk imaging log that will be able to “talk” to our collections management system (ArchivesSpace). We currently have an inventory and imaging log, but they’re in a Microsoft Access database, which has a number of limitations, one of the primary ones being that it can’t integrate with our other systems. Integrating with ArchivesSpace reduces duplicate data entry, inconsistent data, and further integrates digital processing into our “regular” processing work.

The RAC’s processing archivists establish and enhance intellectual and physical control of our archival holdings, regardless of format, in order to facilitate user access. By fully integrating digital processing into “normal” processing activities, we will be able to preserve and provide access to unique born digital content stored on obsolete and decaying media.

Bonnie Gordon is an Assistant Digital Archivist at the Rockefeller Archive Center, where she works primarily with born digital materials and digital preservation workflows. She received her M.A. in Archives and Public History, with a concentration in Archives, from New York University.

4 thoughts on “Digital Processing at the Rockefeller Archive Center

  1. Lora Davis April 5, 2016 / 2:16 pm

    Would love to hear more about the “digital media inventory and disk imaging log” that you’re designing to talk with ASpace. Are you intending something external to ASpace that plays nice with the API? Building out the ASpace events module? Archivematica? Easy, actionable, and well-controlled workflow documentation is the one big hiccup I see in attempting to move to a similar “let the processors do the processing” approach.

    Also curious how you are handling the problem of ensuring all processors have access to required hardware/software when needed, and whether you, as digital archivist, are the one who will have to maintain/update all these distributed work stations (assuming that they are, in fact, distributed).

    Thanks for the post.


  2. Mary Caldera April 5, 2016 / 9:15 pm

    I am also interested in learning more about your media log/ASpace integration. At Yale we are exploring doing away with the our media log entirely and utilizing Aspace and the preservation system to capture necessary data about the our born digital archival materials and what has been done to them.

    Do folks think a separate log is essential or just a remnant of previous practices. If essential, why?


  3. Emma Jolley April 6, 2016 / 11:09 pm

    Thanks for such a great post Bonnie. I’m a Digital Archivist at the National Library of Australia and while we are still in the phase of working relatively separately (there is me and one other archivist) we will need to move fairly quickly to getting the processing team on board. We are also very interested in the ArchivesSpace plug and the documentation (happy to help if you need anything). Also, could I ask a stupid question? what does the media log look like? and what type of information does it contain? Thanks again.


  4. Bonnie Gordon April 7, 2016 / 7:52 pm

    Thanks, everyone! I’m still developing requirements for our digital media log, but it will most likely be an application that sits outside of ArchivesSpace but uses the API. The basic idea is for a processing archivist to be able to note the existence of a digital media item as they’re processing and then later record that the item has been imaged. So the amount of fields will be fairly small; for example, metadata that is created by disk imaging software or other scripts (like file system information) would not be included in the log. I plan on posting about the requirements and the log on the blog of the RAC’s Digital Team as they’re completed:

    As to workstations–we have one digital processing workstation, so that will make the process of making sure everyone has the correct (and up-to-date) tools a bit easier. However, the question of who is responsible for maintaining the digital processing workstation is a really good one; it’ll be me for the next year or two, but after that is unclear.


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