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.