Thursday, October 6, 2011

Surveying "Hidden" Electronic Media

As a part of my position, I implemented a Condition Survey of the archival collections maintained by the three collecting repositories at Bobst Library. This survey will provide data on our collections that will inform the Preservation Department's strategic preservation planning for the Archives Preservation Program at NYU. This post at The Back Table (the NYU Special Collections collective blog) describes this survey in more detail. You can also view a poster about the findings of this survey to date (Summer 2011) presented earlier this year at the Society of American Archivists Annual Conference in Chicago.

The survey identifies preservation issues on a unit (or box) level as well as, in aggregate, at the material level. During the course of the first year of surveying, we uncovered a significant amount of electronic media stored on various magnetic, optical and flash storage devices. Our goal this fall is to target and survey collections, known or suspected, that contain electronic media for the purposes of identifying, quantifying and, later, prioritizing preservation for these items. Building a survey tool that can accommodate the appropriate information for identifying and quantifying electronic media storage required some research that took me to view presentations from last year's Rare Books and Manuscript Pre-Conference (scroll down to the seminar I. Born-Digital Manuscripts: A Primer) as well as Wikipedia. I am not afraid to say, as I have heard former professors admit and use heavily during my coursework, that Wikipedia is an excellent source for computer and technology history. From my research, I developed a guide for identifying various type of magnetic, optical and flash storage devices that the survey assistants will be able to refer to while surveying. Also, I reconstructed a portion of the survey tool to accommodate collection of information necessary for identifying and quantifying electronic media. For instance, manufacturer, disk format, label information and commercial/non-commercial status will help preservation staff determine migration requirements, potential file types, and storage capacities. This information will also help curators determine priorities for preservation in the future.

While this survey gets underway, I am sure tweaks will be made to the survey tool as well as our surveying techniques. If anyone is undertaking a similar project, I would be happy to hear about your experiences, discuss successes and failures, and long term planning.

Jennifer Waxman

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