News from the Archives
Charles Babbage Institute

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Electronic Records and Digital Archives
Special collections libraries and archives have been wrestling with the prospect of how to manage born-digital collections of personal papers and organizational records for more than a decade now. Much of that time was spent in identifying and discussing all of the potential difficulties in collecting, preserving, and promoting such materials. In recent years, “memory institutions” like these have come some ways toward making this a reality … and just in time! Increasingly, the donors — whose generosity in sharing their ideas and activities allows scholars and students to conduct historical research — have conceived, developed, and shared their work in entirely electronic formats rather than on paper and in other physical formats. The University of Minnesota Libraries Department of Archives and Special Collections (ASC) – home of CBI’s collections of library and archival materials – has been active in meeting the growing demand for digital asset management, and CBI has been at the center of this work.


When I returned to CBI in 2012, in addition to my duties as Archivist I was also assigned the responsibility for developing the capacity of ASC to collect born-digital records and to make them accessible (as ASC Electronic Records Strategist). Last June I wrote a brief article for the ASC blog, “Primary Sourcery,” about our efforts to date. I am delighted to say that just since July 2013 we have made considerable progress. The task force I assembled last year to develop workflows identified the need to acquire a powerful new workstation with specialized hardware and software that would allow us to extract data from a wide variety of storage devices (including legacy media like floppy and zip disks), to copy data and move data in ways that prevent data and metadata from being altered (using digital forensic techniques first developed by law enforcement), and to ensure the authenticity and integrity of data. The proposal that we submitted to the Libraries succeeded in getting us this new workstation as well as a new status as an official, Libraries-wide task force. The new workstation is being installed in a space within CBI’s office suite, and I will continue to lead the new Electronic Records Task Force. It will include members from across the Libraries so that the workflows we develop will be available to librarians across the campus who are facing new challenges from digital publications and records.


Our initial efforts will be on formalizing a variety of workflows for the safe ingest and processing of electronic records. Further work will involve developing access platforms and policies in collaboration with other initiatives across the Libraries, such as the Data Curation and Management Initiative (DMCI), on which I also serve. Some materials will require the development of new platforms, but we will use existing access repositories such as the University Digital Conservancy (UDC) and the U Media Archive when appropriate. Look for more exciting developments!

R. Arvid Nelsen

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