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By: Gwynn Thayer

An exhibit case featuring materials from the Special Collections Research Center welcomes visitors this summer at the William Rand Kenan, Jr. Library of Veterinary Medicine.  The exhibit showcases the diversity of pathology work in the twentieth century, from research to practice to service. Items from three different collections are featured. This item, shown below, is from the Milton M. Leonard Papers; it lists a veterinarian’s fee schedule (relating to dog hospitalization) from approximately 1950. Several other items in the exhibit, not pictured here, show the fee schedules of veterinary services (including pathology procedures) in the 1950s.

Dr. Milton Leonard opened a veterinary practice in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1914, and was awarded the Distinguished Veterinarian Award by the North Carolina Veterinary Medical Association (NCVMA) in 1978. The collection also includes Dr. Leonard’s research files, research papers, and various other items he collected during his career, such as medical brochures and catalogs.

The Edward J. Noga Papers are also featured in the exhibit. Dr. Noga was Professor of Aquatic Medicine in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Professor of Zoology. Dr. Noga’s main research interests were infectious diseases in fish and shellfish, with a focus on immune mechanisms and how these are affected by environmental stressors and toxins. Pathological explorations, especially necropsies of fish, were integral to Dr. Noga’s work. Included in the exhibit is an example of a clinical pathology datasheet from the red-sore project Dr. Noga conducted in the 1980s.

Finally, one item from the Animal Rights and Animal Welfare Pamphlets is featured; this collection was written about in a press release also published in our blog.

For more information about items in Special Collections relating to Veterinary Medicine and Zoological Health, please go to: and

By: Rose Buchanan

By Rose Buchanan and Rachel Jacobson

We used a color-coordinated Excel spreadsheet to organize and share information about large collections.

There is a commonly held assumption that processing archivists work in dark, dusty rooms, all alone except for their precious manuscripts and their gray Hollinger boxes. Here at NCSU, however, processing archivists frequently collaborate on collections and divide the work between two or more team members. This is especially the case when a collection is very large and would take one archivist months to rehouse, arrange, and describe by him- or herself. With large collections, it is not unusual for a team of archivists to complete an initial survey of collection materials, decide together how to divide materials into series, and each process one or more series independently. The team periodically comes together to discuss their progress, interesting findings, and obstacles they encounter.

Since January, the Library Associates at the Special Collections Research Center have been collaborating on a particularly large collection: the Raymond LeRoy Murray Papers, a collection that is nearly 300 linear feet. Murray was a physics professor in the Nuclear Engineering Department at NC State University and was instrumental in establishing and operating the University’s nuclear reactor. His papers include research and teaching materials, publications, correspondence with professional organizations and other scientists, and software and programming materials. As the Library Associates have found, processing these papers together is challenging in some ways, but advantageous in others. The lists below outline some of the pros and cons of processing large collections in teams.


  • Collections are processed more quickly.
  • Archivists can bounce ideas about arrangement and description off of each other.
  • Archivists do not feel as anxious as they would if they were expected to process nearly 200 cartons of material alone.


  • Archivists working on individual series may have difficulty visualizing the collection as a whole and where the series they are working on fits into it.
  • Archivists may use inconsistent naming conventions or styles when labeling folders and creating finding aids.
  • Team members must be conscientious of each other’s work style and speed.

Overall, working together to process a large collection is the best option to ensure that things get done in a timely manner. That being said, how can archivists overcome some of the challenges that team processing can present?

Here are some of the guidelines we have for ourselves as we work in a team:

  1. Make sure to communicate with team members. Information found in one series may illuminate materials placed in another series. Sharing this information with each other will promote a richer, more integrated finding aid.
  2. Be flexible. Ordinarily, there is a method behind people’s madness!
  3. Be willing to share work. Remember, you are processing this collection together. Although you may work more closely with a specific series than other team members, that series does not become “yours.”
  4. Help your colleague if he or she needs it. Processing is not a race. You do not score points for finishing a series before your team members or for letting team members struggle.

Using these strategies, processing archivists can successfully collaborate with each other on large collections and make those collections more accessible for researchers as a result.

For a guide to the collection as it was initially received by Special Collections, go to the Raymond LeRoy Murray Papers, 1948-1993. For information about the current status of this collection, please contact Special Collections.

By: Jason Evans Groth

Since we began our born digital strategic initiative at NCSU Libraries we have been confronted with puzzlement about the project (why would anyone want anything on a floppy disk?) to fetishism (if it’s on a floppy disk it HAS to be worth looking at!) but, mostly, “I haven’t used a disk like that in xx years,” which implies “how could anyone even do anything with that disk?” When personal computing became affordable in the 1980s, a multitude of differently sized storage formats were available. Floppy disks of 5.25″, and especially 3.5″ (the drives for which were not uncommon to see in computers until the early 2000s) were especially ubiquitous. One could buy them at local computer stores or KMart. They were not only a handy portable data format but they were, for many, the only way to store data on a personal computer until hard drives became standard.

Unfortunately for the academy, libraries, and other repositories of knowledge, the demands of research and the responsibilities of keeping technology up to date has done to disk drives and other storage media that contains the work of our past what thousands of consumers did with their turntables at the dawn of the digital music era – the machines have been surplussed, donated, or simply left to rot, while the needs of current production are met. The disks themselves are put in a box on a shelf in an office, and the idea that they were once our only means of storage becomes a faint memory. IT departments, focusing on the demands of their clients, move on to what’s new, and what was in the past becomes unsupported. No more 3.5″ floppy drives are in computer labs. If you see a 5.25″ disk drive in the hallway of a library you might assume it’s being donated to a museum.

Ad from the Technician, Freshman Orientation Special Summer 1989

But outside of the halls of the academy is a flourishing trade of people who never let those particular bits die or who actively want them to be seen again. The Software Preservation Society, for example, is responsible for the Kryoflux, a common and robust tool that allows modern computers to control older disk drives and capture the information as a disk image that can then more easily be read in a modern environment. According to their website, the group “ dedicates itself to the preservation of software for the future, namely classic games.” The Kryoflux is well-known in digital forensics, despite it having been apparently developed to play old Amiga games. It’s ability to read low-level data helps in deciphering even the most difficult disks. Other devices, like Device Side Data’s FC5025, were created for the same reason. One of the earliest announcements on their website from January 27th, 2007, says “attendees to this electronics and ham radio swap meet were invited to bring disks and have image copies made.”

The device the NCSU Special Collections Research Center has employed for its processing of born digital items that come as 5.25″ and 3.5″ disks is called the Supercard Pro. Like the Kryoflux, the Supercard Pro was designed by a video game enthusiast – Jim Drew – to move the bits from his Commodore systems into the future.  Unlike those who assume this kind of technology is lost and gone forever, the Supercard Pro and Jim Drew are positive examples for those working on born digital programs that there are alternatives to online retailers and typical university vendors.

Dorothy Waugh of Emory University’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL) has spoken of reaching out to the retrocomputing community in Atlanta for answers to her questions about legacy equipment. This model, in concert with the knowledge that these devices and this expertise is out there, should be a ray of hope that, so long as we’re paying attention, the work can be done to find sustainable and efficient methods to deal with what many consider to be forgotten technology. While it may be more difficult to use Craigslist or eBay as a vendor in a university environment, a quick scan of both will net a multitude of hits for equipment – and potentially even human expertise behind the email addresses of sellers – that can bring this so-called dead material back to life. So the question is, then, how do we start tapping into these non-traditional marketplaces for the equipment we need.

Like the recent resurgence of vinyl records (which, contrary to popular belief, never stopped being created even when compact discs took over the market), legacy storage formats and devices have never truly left the market, either. Manufacturers still produce inexpensive 3.5″ USB floppy drives (which aren’t perfect), but based on the massive amount of drives and other computer equipment used heavily for thirty years, it’s not difficult to find better versions of what you need, it may just mean looking in alternative places. Floppy disk drives are not rare, they are just not on a Best Buy shelf anymore. As evidenced by the gamers that have propagated the use of legacy drives for the betterment of the digital forensics computing, there are plenty of people who want that equipment to tap into the data of years past. We aren’t going to, any time soon, revert to floppy drives as a practical storage solution, but knowing there are ubiquitous ways to take this legacy data – all 1s and 0s, just like today’s today’s data – and bring it forward into a hard drive environment means that sustainable born digital programs, with some practice, persistence, and a lot of flexibility, can be attained.

By: Virginia Ferris

Students view materials with Todd Kosmerick and Eli Brown.

The Special Collections team put together our first Show and Tell event at the College of Textiles on April 20.  Over 100 visitors from the college’s faculty, students, and staff viewed the pop-up exhibit, set up in the Textiles Building Atrium.  Special Collections staff brought rare materials including an engraving of an 18th century textile loom from Diderot’s Encyclopedia, books of color dye samples, and catalogs of textile samples from the Textiles Marketing Publications Collection, plus a wealth of material from University Archives collections highlighting the history of the college.

Materials on display showing the history of the College of Textiles.

Faculty shared some of their memories and stories about the College of Textiles that they saw reflected in the photographs, graduate catalogs, newspaper clippings, commemorative woven bookmarks, and samples of textiles developed in the college (including a lint-free washcloth developed for NASA astronauts by John T. Bogdan that was used on the Gemini and Apollo space flights in 1965). Students remarked on the changes in the types of research and facilities used by the college, and many were surprised to learn that the Textiles program was originally based in Tompkins Hall, which suffered a fire and was rebuilt in 1914. One undergraduate student recognized several of the commemorative woven bookmarks that were collected and saved by her mother, who was also a student in Textiles in the 1980s. Many of these bookmarks are available in the NC State University Memorabilia Collection.

Selections from the papers of the college’s first dean Thomas Nelson drew in visitors interested in seeing his class notes, color combination experiments, and a first edition copy of his book Weaving: Plain and Fancy.  Others were interested in learning about Dean Malcolm Campbell, who received a synthetic aorta implant after a stroke, adding eight years to his life. The synthetic aorta was first developed by Campbell’s colleague William Edward Shinn, head of the Department of Knitting Technology at NC State, in 1955.  Actual samples of Shinn’s knitted artificial arteries are available in his papers, in addition to other items reflecting his career as an NC State student, professor, and department head.  Visitors were also impressed with the array of fashions on display in photographs of the early Textile Exposition and Style Shows, organized by NC State students and held from 1925 through 1943. Students from local women’s colleges participated in the popular annual events by creating fashions from fabrics made by NC State students and by modeling for the shows in Pullen Hall.

Student models in the Textiles Exposition and Style Show, 1929.

Our Historical State Timeline for the College of Textiles features many more highlights in the college’s history.

We had a great time getting to know the faculty and students in the College of Textiles, and look forward to helping them use these collections and others in their teaching and research.  To view any of these collections in person, check out our online collection guides and schedule an appointment at the SCRC by sending an email to:

By: Virginia Ferris

Cooperative Extension Service publications, North Carolina Farm Bureau Women's Committee handbooks, and other materials on display.

Head of Special Collections Eleanor Brown shows materials to Scarlett Howard, mother of Chef Vivian Howard, and an NC State student.

Special Collections staff arranged a special Show and Tell event in honor of Chef Vivian Howard at the Friends of the Library Spring Meeting on April 7, 2015, bringing together a selection of rare and unique items highlighting the story of North Carolina food, agriculture, and rural empowerment.  Chef Howard, of Kinston NC, is an NC State alum (’00) and the James Beard-nominated star of A Chef’s Life on PBS. Chef Howard and her staff from Chef and the Farmer served a meal of small plates during a conversation about Howard’s career, North Carolina agriculture, and Southern foodways, moderated by Dr. Nancy G. Creamer, NC State Professor and Director of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems.

Over 60 visitors stopped by the Show and Tell event to learn more about the canning labels, recipes, photographs, and farming publications on display. The event showcased the richness of collections like the Cooperative Extension Service Publications, 4-H Youth Development Records, and the North Carolina Farm Bureau Records, that documentthe ways that cooperative extension and home demonstration impacted the way North Carolinians live and eat.

Food was key to home and farm demonstration programs, which largely focused on improving southern crop yields by promoting the latest scientific farming methods. Around 1912, agriculturalist Seaman Knapp developed this hands-on instructional methodology that focused on involving the entire family – not just the farmer – and encouraged the development of rural clubs for homemakers and their children.  Male extension agents from NC State worked with boys’ clubs and farmers, promoting scientific agriculture and business practices that emphasized crop diversification and increased yield.  Female agents, led by founding head of NC home demonstration Jane McKimmon, led girls in Tomato Clubs that instructed them in gardening, canning, and selling food that they produced themselves. Canning allowed women to preserve vegetables, fruits, meat, and juice, providing variety and greater nutritional value in their family’s diet year round, and cooking demonstrations helped women learn to prepare meals from canned goods. Curb markets through home demonstration programs and 4-H clubs also equipped rural women and youth with marketing skills and additional income for their families.

African American home demonstration exhibit with displays of food and marketing.

The “Live-at-Home” campaign, launched by NC State Director of Agricultural Extension I.O. Schaub and actively promoted by Governor O. Max Gardner in 1929, encouraged farm families to grow and conserve their own food, rather than planting nonfood cash crops like cotton or tobacco, and encouraged North Carolina “city folk” to buy their supplies from local farmers as much as possible. A menu from a dinner hosted by Governor Gardner in 1929, featured in the Show and Tell event, recognizes the North Carolina farmers that provided food for this feast. In her 1945 book When We’re Green We Grow, Jane McKimmon wrote of the meal, “Pecans, sorghum and peanut candy with other sweets came from the east, apples and kraut juice from the foothills of the mountains; and sweet milk from the Guernsey breeders’ association, together with the buttermilk from the creameries, almost put coffee, good as it was, out of the running.”

Picnic dinner at a contest for the Little Mill Home Demonstration Club on June 2nd, 1920

This “Live-at-Home” dinner parallels the work of today’s leaders like Vivian Howard and her husband Ben Knight to promote sustainable local farming and to reconnect North Carolinians to their roots through food.  Gardner’s dinner mirrors the meal of locally sourced dishes – including oysters, chicken and rice, cornbread with local cheeses and homemade jams, and a Pepsi float with peanuts – that Howard served the audience.  The communities and stories behind these foods are closely tied to NC State’s extension and home demonstration legacy that is documented and preserved in the Special Collections Research Center.  Projects such as Green N’ Growing and Cultivating a Revolution further highlight this history, and our digital collections hold a wealth of resources about agriculture and food in North Carolina that are available online.

Thank you to everyone who attended the event, and the Special Collections staff look forward to putting together more events like this in the future. To view these collections in person, check out our online collection guides and schedule an appointment at the SCRC by sending an email to:

By: Todd Kosmerick

Three new video oral histories have been added to the Student Leadership Initiative, which chronicles the experiences and impact of former North Carolina State University student leaders. People recently interviewed are Wesley A. McClure (Student Body President, 1967-1969), Stephen G. Rea (Student Body Treasurer, 1980-1981), and the Honorable Ronald E. Spivey (Student Body President, 1981-1982).  Excerpts of the videos are available online.

Wesley A. McClure interview

In his interview Wes McClure discusses the adoption, in 1969, of a new Student Government constitution that is still in effect today. He talks about the beginnings of  the Free Expression Tunnel and student reactions to the 1960s North Carolina Speakers Ban.  He also describes the School of Design in the 1960s. After graduation from NC State in 1969 McClure became an architect, and he was a principal of McClure Hopkins Architects and other firms.  He and his wife are founders of Savvy Parrot, Inc., the developer of “Adventures on Pepi’s Island,” a web-based social emotional learning software.

Steven G. Rea interview

In his interview Steve Rea discusses building consensus in Student Government and working on such hard issues as student fee increases.  He also talks about mentors and his leadership role in the student chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the importance those had on his career.  After earning both bachelor and master degrees from NC State, Rea worked at Carolina Power & Light and then Heyward Incorporated, where he has been most recently the Senior Vice President for Power Capital Sales.

Ronald E. Spivey interview

In his interview Judge Ron Spivey discusses working with administrators to expand operation hours of  a campus snack bar and a gym. He talks about serving as the student member of the Board of Trustees, opening lines of communication with students, and meeting such influential people as Roy H. Park and Gov. Jim Hunt.  He also recounts the start of the desk-signing tradition of Student Body Presidents.  After graduating from NC State in 1982, Spivey earned a law degree, and later he became a North Carolina District Court judge and a Superior Court judge.

Since its launch in 2010, the Student Leadership Initiative has sought ways in which to more fully connect users with university history, enrich university archives by adding personal narratives, and positively impact learning and research in the NCSU Libraries Special Collections Research Center. This multi-year program has chronicled the experiences and impact of former student leaders through the collection of video oral histories and the development of interactive virtual and physical exhibits, with the ultimate aim being to better expose how the college career informs a life.

By: Cathy Dorin-Black

The Countrywoman newsletter is one of the official publications of the ACWW

A recent addition to the North Carolina Extension and Community Association Records in the University Archives contains a number of materials related to the Associated Country Women of the World (ACWW). The NC Extension and Community Association, which had its beginnings at the 1920 Farm Women’s Convention, coordinates and links Cooperative Extension agents across the state and provides them with a voice for their concerns. The Associated Country Women of the World, it turns out, has been an important affiliate with this North Carolina organization.

The ACWW began at the International Council of Women at Geneva in 1927, where it was determined that various rural women’s organizations around the world needed a way to communicate with each other and share mutual concerns. At a 1933 Stockholm conference, the name “Associated Country Women of the World” was formally adopted, as was a constitution.  The organization’s aims were defined “to promote and maintain friendly and helpful relations between the country women’s and homemakers’ associations of all nations . . . to further common interests of these organizations in the economic, social and cultural spheres, while avoiding political and sectarian questions of a controversial nature, and to encourage the formation of organisations working for such common interests . . . .”

Conference brochure for Perth, Australia

While the home office was based in London, conferences were held every three years in cities all over the world, including Washington, DC, Copenhagen, Colombo (Ceylon – now Sri Lanka), Oslo, Perth, and Nairobi. Visiting these different cities must have been quite an experience for rural women in the early twentieth century who rarely traveled internationally and did not usually encounter different countries, languages, and cultures. Yet despite the differences, these women found common ground on such topics as farming, decorating, charitable activities, and family life. The ACWW remains active today.

Included in the records held by Special Collection are triennial meeting brochures, newspaper clippings, ACWW publications, and meeting minutes. There is a newspaper article describing Eleanor Roosevelt’s speech on Rural Woman’s Day at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. To the 250 women preparing to sail on the Queen Mary to London for the ACWW triennial conference, she said, “They will have an opportunity to leave with the citizens of other countries the desire that we have to preserve the peace of the world.” From only a short time later, however, there is correspondence regarding decisions to postpone conferences during World War II, but some also reveal discussions to maintain the London headquarters during the bombing.

A couple of images of the ACWW can be found in the Special Collections Research Center’s digitized collections. To access records on the ACWW involvement of the NC Extension and Community Association, please consult the collection guide and contact the Special Collections Research Center.

Conference brochure for Killarney, Ireland

Conference brochure for Nairobi, Kenya

Apr 06 2015

Collection Surprises

By: Rose Buchanan

By Rachel Jacobson and Rose Buchanan

Floppy disks from the Raymond LeRoy Murray Papers

For processors of archival collections, it becomes second nature to look for groups of similar records produced as a result of the collection creator’s activities. When organizing collections, it is not unusual to come across materials other than paper documents. There may be relics of the past discovered amongst the files. For example, an odd floppy disk or VHS tape may turn up every now and again. Some artifacts may be a bit more unusual.

In a Special Collections Research Center with a broad collecting scope, one must be prepared to discover an occasional strange artifact. Recently, two peculiar artifacts have been discovered here at NCSU. One of the artifacts was a bit jarring while the other brightens up the collection it is a part of by contributing to the collection’s uniqueness. The jarring artifact was found as part of an addition to a collection that was already established, the James F. Wright Papers.

The unexpected artifact brings two questions to a processor’s mind. One, in which part of the collection could this artifact fit? Two, how should one store potentially hazardous materials? Answering these questions is all in a day’s work at the Special Collection Research Center. As this collection only has one series and materials are being arranged in the order they were received, the answer to the first question was not as complicated as it could have been. However, because such materials may be dangerous, it was decided that the tranquilizer gun should be held under restricted use for researchers’ safety.

Marble made from borosilicate glass, a nuclear waste storage material

Other unexpected artifacts, however, are safe to use and in fact add a sense of quirkiness to a collection. This was the case with the Raymond LeRoy Murray Papers. Dr. Murray was a physics professor at NCSU in the Nuclear Engineering program and was a key figure in establishing the University’s nuclear reactor, the first reactor operated on a college campus. While arranging his papers, processors came across a small marble made from borosilicate glass. As the card accompanying the marble said, “This nonradioactive marble is made with glass from a full-sized glass melter developed especially for defense nuclear waste.”

A quirky artifact indeed! While the marble does not pose a safety risk like the tranquilizer gun, processors still had to determine where the marble would best fit in the collection. Since the marble was discovered in a folder of “souvenirs” that Dr. Murray kept from his time in the Department of Nuclear Engineering, the processors decided to include the marble with teaching materials, rather than place it with reactor material which may fit more closely with research. This decision was made in part because of the artifact’s provenance. As the artifact was found in a previously sorted carton filled with teaching related documents, it seemed the logical choice to keep the artifact in the same series with the material stored near to it. Perhaps Dr. Murray picked the marble up during a visit to a nuclear waste disposal facility and later showed it to his students. Or Dr. Murray and others in the Department of Nuclear Engineering may have given prospective students each a marble as a “souvenir” of their visit to the University.  Either way, researchers may view this artifact, and other interesting finds, by contacting the Special Collections Research Center.

By: Jason Evans Groth

As the NCSU Libraries Born Digital Strategic Initiative has grown over the last year and a half, we have been fortunate to interact with many talented librarians and archivists who are also building programs at their own institutions. While conferences like SAA 2014 in Washington, D.C. and, more recently, NEA/MARAC 2015 in Boston, have provided a context for us to share our work in person with others, we have also made the effort to reach out to individuals both in the Triangle Research Library Network and, more widely, through email and phone calls to those whose projects and work have surfaced beyond their respective institutions. It is safe to say that all of these interactions have, at some point or another, approached the topic that is on the minds of all of us working to make born digital collections discoverable, accessible, and responsibly preserved: “Am I doing this right?”

We have decided on (at least) two answers at NCSU Libraries. The first is “If you’re doing anything then, yes, you are doing it right.” And the second is the all-powerful “it depends,” which is quickly followed by “but if you are doing anything then, yes, you are doing it right.” Of course, “right” is a loaded word. As discussed in a previous post, flexibility is an important consideration when building a born digital program, since so many things can change in the processing of different digital objects. For NCSU “right” means the following: We established our core requirements for general processing based on our needs for access, which we  mapped out before we knew how we could process anything, and we built in enough flexibility to the workflow that, when changes (inevitably) rear their expected heads, we have room inside of our workflow to accomodate.

NC State Students in the 1980s, potentially creating data that we need to store and make accessible now.

Why all of this doubt, though? Archivists are already well-equipped to handle the daunting task of establishing physical order, appropriate room conditions, and an organizational system to provide the fulfillment of the promise to keep things safe and, hopefully, accessible for as long as possible (forever, for lack of a better word). What makes digital so different? It could be that digital computing devices and data, now almost one hundred years old, are still relatively young in the context of archives. It could be that we have faced challenges with storage and retrieval of digital objects in other professional domains, and we know the challenges associated with digital preservation and with maintenance of disks in general. It could be that we are a humble profession, and despite being information experts – largely through computing interfaces – we have decided that we are not “techies” and may not be able to approach this challenge properly. It could be that we’re afraid of the speed with which digital assets can be shared, which is far different than our traditional patron-in-the-reading-room model. It’s possible that all of these things contribute to the doubt, but, just like there is not one single tool that will solve any institution’s born digital challenges, none of these are the only reason we’re doubtful about born digital. These concerns do feed one of the most prevalent problems, which is the penchant we have for worrying about worst-case and, often, edge-case scenarios when it comes to digital collections.

There is no such thing as a perfect born digital curation and preservation program, and setting out to eliminate all problems, especially those we hear about in worst-case or edge-case scenarios, is a losing game. The majority of these cases likely do not now – and never will – apply to our institutions. For example, we currently have no workflow in the SCRC to handle 8″ floppy disks or data cassettes, but we know that other institutions do. Rather than worry we’re not doing born digital right because we can’t account for this legacy data carrier absence in our program, we have, instead, surveyed our collections and found very few of these items. We have decided that other formats, for which we have the capability to process, are higher priority. But rather than give up hope, we have built in some flexibility to discuss these formats in the future should we get to a point where they are in demand. In other words, we have devoted our resources to media we know we’ll see more of, while constantly scanning for solutions to cases that are decidedly more on the edge. This decision is practical and also empowering because it has set us in motion to focus on what we know we can do well rather than worrying about what we can’t do at all. But it also leaves room for us to consult our colleagues who either have these capabilities or have experience with appropriate vendors and make informed choices when and if the time comes to take care of that data.

A photo of now obsolete media from the NCSU student newspaper, The Technician, November 2, 1983

We also know that we will face lots of data that can’t properly be processed by applications we have at our hands right now. While we’re not placing bets about robust virtualization environments being available to us anytime soon, we can’t let this keep us from at least migrating the data from legacy media that we can handle to monitored hard disk environments that afford preservation practices. In other words, freeing the currently unreadable data from their media jails gives us a chance to see it later; not doing anything guarantees that our chances will grow slimmer by the month to ever even approach it again. On top of all of this, since most digital curation and preservation programs like ours are so young, we can’t decisively say what it is our patrons or researchers actually want, so keeping it all in a responsible way and paying attention to patron activity will help us keep our program one that works for patrons rather than one that works for the ideas we have about them.

This may sound a little reductive, but the essential component of a born digital program is the safe transfer of data from one place to another that does not harm the data and that allows us to monitor it safely for the duration while providing access to it, too. Sound familiar? It’s just like what we do with papers, books, and physical objects in our archives, with one key difference: It can happen very quickly and can be both deceptively simple and complicated. That is, a hard drive will fail, so just because it feels easy to see and access data right away when the hard drive is fresh, it doesn’t mean we can take our eyes off of it and assume it, like a book stored properly, will last several lifetimes. And, on the other hand, a lot of people create a lot of complication around the basic component of born digital, sometimes just because they can. Making sure that what we do with the data when we free it from its original carrier and add it to our repository matches the goals of access and care we have established from the beginning keeps us from experiencing “digital creep” (making something simple in the digital world very complicated because of the affordance of tools at our disposal) and helps us to move our processing forward so we actually can get to our backlog and keep up with what’s coming in.

In general, what rises to the top regarding news of born digital are crises that result in data breaches, huge technical failures, unreadable media, forensics tools that do every possible thing to a bitstream that one can currently think of, and on, and on, and on. What isn’t generally discussed are smart archivists making plans to accomplish the goals their archives have established for proper access and preservation of their digital holdings. These archivists do not let the idea of technology or tragedy get in their way. They realize the skills they need to deal with this technology are truly basic, since so many other smart people who develop software and hardware have made it easy for them. They realize, too, that they already know how to accomplish the majority of this work by using the skills they have honed with traditional collections. Their organizational and planning skills, along with some updated vocabulary and either a write-blocker or a write-blocking script for their USB ports, are the firm foundation for a solid born digital program.

By: Gwynn Thayer

Please join us this Friday at the College of Design in the Belk Rotunda for our Spring “Show and Tell.”

We will be bringing selected items from the following collections: the Martha Scotford Research and Study Collection on Graphic Design; the Richard C. Bell Drawings and Other Materials; the Matthew Nowicki Drawings and Other Material; the Alexander Isley Papers; the Brian Shawcroft Papers; and the Meredith Davis Papers.

We will also bring architectural drawings created by Harry Barton for the Tudor Revival S. H. Tomlinson House in High Point, North Carolina.

Please email us at with any questions!