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Dec 13 2013

Born Digital at NC State

An NC State student from the past may have created born digital material on this now-legacy Macintosh. Figuring out how to capture, store, and make such data available is part of the Born Digital Initiative.

The Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) at NCSU Libraries has embarked upon a two year strategic initiative to start processing and making available born digital resources. But what, exactly, is a “born digital” resource? Oxford defines “born digital” as “denoting texts or recordings produced in digital form, rather than having been converted from print or analog equivalents.” In other words, the digital file you created when you scanned your grandparents’ wedding photo is not a “born digital” resource, since it was an analog source (the photograph) converted to digital form (the file). However, pictures from your wedding that were taken on a digital camera and transferred via USB to your hard drive ARE born digital. Now, think about the enormous amount of born digital objects you create every day – text messages, smart phone pictures, email, websites, movies shot on digital cameras, original music recorded directly to your home computer, etc. – and apply that to all of the collections we will be accessioning as the years progress. From word processor files to video game code, the Libraries are working to figure out how best to properly preserve this important, born digital work, for the researchers of the present and the future.

Many of our already-accessioned collections contain everything from 5 ¼” floppy disks to DVD-Rs, blu-rays, external hard drives, and any-given digital storage format in between, and these are in addition to the massive amount of born digital objects and collections that exist across all of the Libraries, like the My #HuntLibrary project and the Student Leadership Initiative. The SCRC and the Libraries’ IT department have developed a born digital workstation that, at the moment, can handle reading many of these legacy formats, with the ultimate goal of freeing the content from its restrictive carrier for ongoing use. With this initiative NCSU Libraries  joins other institutions who have already identified this area as one that is both promising for researchers but also extremely problematic, both because of the staggering diversity in technology that has gone into creating born digital objects and also because of the incredible amount of born digital material that already exists and that is being created constantly. We’ll continue to report about the progress of this important and exciting initiative over the next several months.

A screen-shot of the NC State home page from 1997. The broken link illustrates one of the many challenges of born digital preservation – preserving all files that even one web page depended upon can be prohibitive and sometimes impossible, depending on how they were stored after their initial creation.