Computer storage media have begun to arrive in archival collections with increasing frequency over the last 20 years. Approximately 50 of the Ransom Center’s holdings contain floppy disks, CDs, or personal computers. Faced with the daunting task of capturing files from these media and making them available to researchers, archivists have begun to investigate fields such as computer science, engineering, and computer forensics for advances that may facilitate this work.
The Ransom Center recently participated in a Mellon-funded project, led by Matthew Kirschenbaum at the University of Maryland, designed to explore the convergences between computer forensics and the preservation of born-digital cultural heritage materials. Ransom Center archivist Gabriela Redwine and Richard Ovenden, associate director and keeper of special collections at the Bodleian Libraries, served as collaborators on the project, which the Library of Congress named one of the “Top 10 Digital Preservation Developments of 2010.” The resulting report, Digital Forensics and Born-Digital Content in Cultural Heritage Collections, was recently published by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). In 2011, the Society of American Archivists recognized the report with a Preservation Publication Award Special Commendation.
Digital Forensics is the first publication of this length to present computer forensics to the archives and library communities. Building on the pioneering work of Jeremy Leighton John at the British Library, the report examines the relevance of forensic techniques and methodologies to archivists, curators, and others engaged in the collection and preservation of born-digital cultural heritage materials. The report considers challenges related to legacy formats, the authenticity of files, and data recovery; explores the ethical implications of implementing forensic techniques as part of an archival workflow; and concludes with recommendations and next steps. Side bars by an international group of practitioners and scholars cover topics such as diplomatics and donor agreements, offer a sample forensic workflow, provide case studies from the Bodleian and Stanford libraries, and describe “Rosetta” machines of particular use in capturing born-digital materials. Detailed appendices provide contact, pricing, and specifications information for open source and commercial forensics hardware and software.
The authors solicited feedback about an earlier draft of the report at a May 2010 symposium organized around the same topic, which brought together practitioners from archives and libraries, scholars from the humanities and computer science, and computer forensic experts from government and industry.