SPEC Kit 329: Managing Born-Digital Special Collections and Archival Materials · 15
ten use it to provide access. The results seem to sug-
gest that access to collections is not as fully developed
as the management of born-digital content.
The survey asked whether the institution is using
different types of repositories for different types of
born-digital materials. While 63% reported that they
are, their comments indicate that they use different
repositories for a variety of reasons, including media
type (e.g., images, audio/visual materials, websites),
record type (e.g., thesis and dissertations, faculty pre-
prints), access and preservation requirements, and
whether the material is digitized or born digital.
Ingest Challenges
The challenges related to the ingest of born-digital
materials can be grouped into three broad categories:
the difficulties associated with accessing information
stored on legacy media and/or in obsolete file formats;
the lack of policies, end-to-end workflows, and ro-
bust, integrated systems for digital object ingest; and
the need to scale up to meet the increasing volume of
born-digital objects needing preservation.
The challenges related to working with legacy for-
mats and hardware were the most frequently cited
ingest issues (43% of respondents listed file format or
software obsolescence; 38% included legacy media or
hardware). Donors, campus offices, and other records
creators place their materials in a library or archives
when they are no longer actively using them. As a
result, libraries often receive storage media (punch
cards, floppy disks, hard drives, CDs, zip disks,
etc.) that are no longer accessible through current
Being able to transfer the files to appropriate stor-
age is only the first step. The archivist then needs to
be able to open them to assess their content. Obsolete
file formats sometimes cannot be opened or execut-
ed using current software. Older versions capable of
opening the files might require specific environments
(operating systems and hardware) to run. Copyright
restrictions and the terms of software licenses may
make it difficult or impossible for staff to locate ver-
sions they can legally use. In addition, digital objects
accessed through more modern systems often render
differently than they did in their original environ-
ment. The formatting or appearance may be altered,
and sometimes the behavior or even the actual con-
tent will change. Without the ability to access the con-
tent of older digital objects, it is difficult to determine
which digital materials are most important and how
best to allocate resources among collections. Given
these challenges, nearly three quarters of respondents
reported that their institutions store at least some of
their legacy media as is, without transferring to new
media or to server storage.
Collection donors have used a very wide variety
of hardware and software configurations over time.
As one respondent noted, “Each new collection seems
to bring new technical issues that must be dealt with.”
In most libraries, it is unclear who should be respon-
sible for developing technical solutions for accessing
legacy media and obsolete file formats. This work is
often outside the mandate of the information technol-
ogy division and usually beyond the expertise of spe-
cial collections staff. Some libraries and archives are
creating “ingest labs” in house (the Bodleian Library,
the British Library, Stanford, and the University of
Virginia have working labs that serve as potential
models). Others are outsourcing file recovery. An al-
ternative file management strategy is to use a tool
such as the Catweasel universal floppy disk control-
ler, which is designed to connect legacy floppy disk
drives to modern computer systems so that data can
be read and written to floppy disks.
Interestingly, few respondents discussed chal-
lenges associated with complex digital objects (com-
prising more than one file and/or more than one file
type), social media, digital objects stored in the cloud,
websites, and networks of information, presumably,
because most special collections and archives are just
beginning to work with these types of digital objects.
The second category of ingest challenges relates
to the workflows and systems needed to manage the
digital objects once they are transferred off of their
original carrier media. Maintaining privacy and pro-
viding adequate security topped the list of concerns.
Respondents called for privacy and security policies
specific to digital objects that address donor concerns
and that insure compliance with university policies
and federal and state laws. They noted the need for se-
cure storage and networking and for tightly controlled
access to files that contain personally identifiable
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