October 10th is Electronic Records Day, a tradition begun by the Council of State Archivists (CoSA) in 2010 in order to raise awareness about the importance of managing and preserving electronic records. Electronic records are "born digital" files produced in a computer environment. UNLV Special Collections is working to ensure these electronic files survive well into the future, just as we do with boxes of paper based materials.
In this blog post I will describe what we are doing in Special Collections to care for our born-digital materials. We are currently undergoing a thorough assessment of our holdings, and part of this process involves locating the physical media we already have on our shelves. So far we have identified CDs, DVDs, external hard drives, floppy disks, jaz disks, and zip disks. Physical media comes with its own preservation concerns so it is very important for us to move the files off of their original medium and to an electronic environment which is stable and trustworthy. CDs and DVDs are particularly vulnerable to bit rot which is the deterioration of data on a storage medium that makes data unreadable. Born-digital materials are also at risk of hardware and software obsolesce which can prevent access to files due to unsupported or outdated technology.
Compact discs, jaz disks, and zip disks from a manuscript collection
In order to move files off of physical media we have set up a dedicated born-digital workstation in Special Collections. The workstation supports responsible capture, transfer, appraisal, and preservation steps. The assessment of our holdings will identify what media drivers we will require for our workstation, and we have already acquired some hardware to get us started. We have CD/DVD drives, external drives for 3.5" floppy disks, and what we call a "toaster" for accessing internal hard drives. The workstation is quarantined, or isolated on the local network in order to minimize the risks from malware and viruses posed by older media. We also utilize write blockers which when connected to a drive will protect the files and "block" any unintended alteration to the original files. In addition, we have software that allows us to conduct integrity checks and gather data about the files as we copy the files to a secure location. These steps in combination with documentation of our actions, describe how materials were acquired, their provenance (or history of ownership), and the circumstances of their storage and care once in our holdings. It is important to protect the authenticity and integrity of born-digital materials.
Special Collections born-digital workstation
In addition to our concern for born-digital materials already found in our legacy collections, Special Collections is also taking steps to ensure proper care of electronic records as they come in with new acquisitions. We will keep you posted on our progress!
If you would like to know how to properly care for your own digital files visit CoSA's website for some tips.