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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s