On Wednesday, January 18th the Manuscripts Division team went on a field trip to the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC) located in Sleepy Hollow, NY. The team, who consists of Kelly Bolding, Faith Charlton, Allison Hughes, Chloe Pfendler, and myself, was graciously invited by RAC’s Assistant Digital Archivist Bonnie Gordon to meet with our RAC counterparts and have discussions about born digital processing, in specific to knowledge sharing, providing peer support, and horizontal leadership. The team also received a tour of the Center by the Director of Archives, Bob Clark.
The “seed” to this exchange was planted when Faith reached out to Bonnie about RAC’s digital processing workstation specifications (hardware, software, peripheral tools, etc.), which is part of a larger endeavor that we have taken on to best inform building our own workstation (more on this project to come!). In the exchange, Bonnie asked about DABDAC (Description and Access to Born Digital Archival Collections), a peer-working group here in our Department that I had previously mentioned in a presentation I gave at last year’s PASIG meeting at MoMA in New York. Side note: both Bonnie and her colleague Hillel Arnold wrote about their PASIG experience in RAC’s Digital Team blog, Bits & Bytes, which is an excellent resource to keep abreast of digital preservation news and RAC’s innovative projects. In our communication, it became clear that the two respective processing teams at Princeton and RAC were currently undergoing similar efforts of collaborative knowledge and skill set building with regards to born-digital processing. In fact, representatives of both teams are set to give presentations at the upcoming 2017 code4lib conference (*cough*, *cough*) that revolve around how to build competence (and confidence) across an entire team, regardless of whether the word “digital” appears in an archivist’s job title.
Considering that both teams are figuring out ways to get everyone on their team up to speed with digital processing, we decided to meet, to learn from each other, and talk strategy out loud. Here is what I learned from the Rockefeller Archive Center:
RAC’s institutional history:
I’ve always wondered what else could be found in the Rockefeller Archive Center other than Rockefeller family archives. It turns out RAC is also home to the archives of many philanthropic and service organizations like the Ford Foundation, the Commonwealth Fund, and other organizations that were founded by Rockefeller family members like the Rockefeller Foundation. The Center operates in an actual house that was originally built for Martha Baird Rockefeller, John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s second wife, which makes for a very interesting set up for an archival repository. There were many, many bathrooms in the house, which left me wondering if RAC’s entire archival staff of 25 has their own personal bathroom.
RAC’s digital processing workstation:
RAC currently uses a FRED (Forensic Recovery Evidence Device) in conjunction with a KryoFlux, and a number of floppy disk controllers, like FC5025, to disk image 3.5” and 5.25” floppies; and FTK Imager to image optical disks and hard drives. The fact that the KryoFlux and floppy disk controllers can be connected to the FRED, and the FRED is able to access the contents of floppies from these devices, is perhaps the most important thing the Princeton team learned from RAC since we were previously working under the assumption that the FRED’s internal tableau write blocker will disallow the FRED’s ability to access these. The Center also has the use of a MacBook in order to be able to image Mac-formatted materials, which is something that our team is thinking of also including in our workstation in the near future since we have, and anticipate, legacy Mac-formatted materials in our collections.
Bonnie also mentioned that they have FTK installed on their FRED workstation, though it requires a lot of manual labor and is considering getting a second processing workstation with BitCurator installed. Neither the Manuscripts Division or our colleagues in the University Archives at Mudd Library utilize FTK or FTK Imager, and so far both we’ve been satisfied with the suite of tools BitCurator provides. Though because donor imposed access restrictions are much more prevalent in manuscript collections than in university archive materials, FTK might be particularly useful to zero in on particular files and folders with varying access restrictions.
One thing that Bonnie said that I am beginning to understand and be critical about is the need for archivists to retool or hack their way through the current tools available to be able to use them for our needs. Many of these tools, FTK and FRED for example, are not built with archivists as primary customers in mind, but forensic investigators who use them to analyze evidence for criminal investigation. These forensic tools, at times, require significant time investments to be able to get them to be responsive to archivists’ needs, which makes hacking, or improvisation, necessary for folks who want to, or are currently doing, archival work for cultural institutions. In our own limited but growing knowledge and experience in preparing digital archives for long-term preservation, we’ve come across some challenges with configuring each discrete piece of equipment with the necessary operating system, hardware specifications, etc. It is like taking on the task of solving a giant jigsaw puzzle:
- when you first start, you definitely don’t know which piece goes where;
- you may even question if you have all the pieces you need;
- or if you know how to put a damn jigsaw puzzle together;
- you get frustrated and want to give up mid-completed puzzle;
- then you realize that, if you assemble a bigger team together, each one of you can take different sides of the puzzle and go from there.
And truly, that is at the core of what our processing team here is trying to get at: empowering all of our processing staff with the skills and expertise to share the labor of processing born-digital archives so that more diverse sets of skills and experiences can influence conversations about workflows and configurations. If we put more heads together we invite more creative ways of working through roadblocks; and if we have more bodies, we can tackle the growing digital backlog more efficiently.
The Princeton team had an excellent field trip out to the Rockefeller Archive Center. Stay tuned as we return the favor to the RAC team and host them at our digs here in early spring!