Behind the Scenes: Early Princeton University Trustee Minutes in High Resolution

The Princeton University Archives at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library is continually working to make more materials available in a digital format for ease of use and access.

A large scale project of both photographing and scanning the Trustee Minutes of the University has been an ongoing task.

2014-11-14 14.37.11Currently, the Board of Trustees Minutes. Volumes 1-8 are view able in high resolution in the Princeton University Digital Library (PUDL). Volumes 12-70 are viewable in PDF format on our Finding Aid website.

Recently, we asked the Princeton University Library Digital Studios to photograph the remaining Volumes 9-11, for addition to the PUDL and the Finding Aids.

We were lucky enough to visit the Digital Studios and see the digitization of the volumes in action. Digital Studio staff members use a number of digital cameras and lighting to achieve the best quality image.

photo%202 photo%205Images are fed to a local computer and continually checked by staff as they shoot.

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The entire process can take a few months to complete, from photograph to online availability.

We are happy to be able to share the process with you and look forward to announcing the final early volumes being available online soon.

The University Archives and its Focus on Fixity

The Council of State Archivists (CoSA) has designated today as Electronic Records Day and we’d like to use this occasion to provide updates about our efforts to preserve and provide access to born-digital archival records within the University Archives. I wrote about born-digital records in a previous blog post, but as a reminder, challenges unique to born-digital records include bit rot, technological obsolescence, and file authenticity.

Because the last challenge, authenticity, is such a vital piece of the archival puzzle, the Princeton University Archives recently revised its instructions for donors who transfer or donate archival materials containing digital records. You can find those procedures freely available on our website, so rather than repeat them here, it’s more useful to explain why we made the change. Our new policies better reflect a core property that helps archivists demonstrate the authenticity of digital records: fixity.

Archivists understand fixity to be verifiable evidence that a digital file has remained the same over time or across a series of events. Any number of things could impact a file’s fixity, from the purely mundane to the absolute sinister; a person opens a file to delete a punctuation mark or a virus attacks a server to corrupt every sixth block of data on a disk. To generate fixity information at the University Archives, we rely on cryptographic hash values, known in other circles as checksums. Computer programs produce these unique alphanumeric characters by using a variety of hash algorithms, with Message Digest (specifically MD5) and Secure Hash Algorithm (specifically SHA-1 and SHA-256) being the most widely used in archives and libraries.

Examples of MD5 cryptographic hash values

Examples of MD5 cryptographic hash values

With these cryptographic hash values created for each file, Mudd archivists are able to compile a manifest—yes, similar to a ship’s or flight manifest—and later verify if all the files that made it on board the ship (or disk or server or flash drive) are the same as those currently aboard; no additions, no subtractions, and no alterations.

After a transfer is complete, we can quickly verify fixity on each file using our newly installed Forensic Recovery of Evidence Device (FRED). Running a highly customized Ubuntu Linux operating system tailored to meet the needs of archivists and librarians handling born-digital records, this machine is capable of verifying checksums as well as reading most contemporary varieties of solid-state, magnetic, and optical media. I’ll share more about FRED in a future post.

Forensic Recovery of Evidence Device (FRED)

Forensic Recovery of Evidence Device (FRED)

While it’s no secret that cryptographic hash algorithms occasionally “collide”—which is to say, a program might assign the same hash value to more than one file—and that well-known attacks have occurred on different algorithms, such instances are extremely rare and an archival repository can safeguard against collision by using more than one algorithm, which Mudd most certainly does. Nonetheless, the focus on fixity is one of many ways the University Archives is working to secure tomorrow’s digital history today, by providing future users with authentic digital records. Happy Electronic Records Day!

Records Management and University Archives: Perfect Together

The job of the Princeton University Archives is to keep in perpetuity the University records that should be kept, and the University Records Manager, Anne Marie Phillips, helps to identify them.  She also helps offices determine how long non-permanent records must be kept before they can be destroyed.

With the University’s first financial records retention schedule coming online, she identified almost 300 boxes of journal vouchers and check registers from the 1950s and 1960s held within the Archives that should have been destroyed long ago.

containersThese records filled 21 bins (see above photo) and weighed over 6,000 pounds.  Now that shelf space can be used for permanent records that the Archives will keep for as long as there is a Princeton.

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Exhibition celebrates 50th anniversary of University Archives

The richness and depth of the collections of the Princeton University Archives are the focus of “‘The Best Old Place of All’: Treasures From the Princeton University Archives,” a new exhibition at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library opening Friday, Feb. 20.

The exhibition coincides with the yearlong celebration of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the University Archives and features some of the most historically significant documents and objects from the collection alongside seldom-seen treasures. It will run through Friday, Jan. 29.

“The goal of this exhibition is to illustrate the University’s long and impressive history and, in doing so, to celebrate and reflect upon the vital role of the University Archives in preserving and documenting that record,” said University Archivist Dan Linke.

Featured in the exhibition are documents, photographs and objects from the University Archives covering the time of the institution’s founding to the modern era. A page from the 1783 minutes of the Board of Trustees contains the trustees’ request that George Washington sit for a portrait so that they might replace the work of King George that was destroyed in the Battle of Princeton. Nearby, a draft of then-University President Woodrow Wilson’s vehement argument on the matter of the location of the Graduate College hints at another battle fought on campus more than a century later.

Many of the objects capture the ever-changing nature of student life and academics at Princeton. Early course examinations, class schedules and a set of handwritten student lecture notes from the time of John Witherspoon (who was University president from 1768 to 1794) exemplify how, though times may have changed, the purpose of the typical Princeton student has remained largely the same. One notable exception to that credo can be seen in the form of a so-called “cheating cuff,” which hearkens back to the days before the Honor Code. Early 20th-century football programs and photographs from Triangle Club shows point to extracurricular pursuits.

In addition to paper documents and photographs, “‘The Best Old Place of All'” draws upon the extensive memorabilia collection of the University Archives. Items such as canes, clay pipes and the Reunion jacket of Adlai Stevenson — the influential politician and diplomat who graduated from Princeton in 1922 — are all a part of the University’s heritage. Other objects such as the discus that 1897 alumnus Robert Garrett threw in the 1896 Athens Olympics and a blackball box used during eating club “bicker” selections represent some of many curiosities that have found their way into the archives in the last 50 years.

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