Out of the blue, an archivist gets a call from the husband of a famous scientist who has recently passed away. He wants to donate materials to the archives that can help people to understand and learn about her research. The archivist visits their home and is handed a cardboard box. Inside are not sheets of paper but a stack of floppy disks, CDs, Zip disks and a hard drive. What’s the archivist to do?
Researchers at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) at the University of Maryland, and the School of Information and Library Science (SILS) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are investigating methods and developing tools for these sorts of situations.
A new white paper titled, “From Bitstreams to Heritage: Putting Digital Forensics into Practice in Collecting Institutions” examines the application of digital forensics methods to materials in collecting institutions – particularly libraries, archives and museums. It is a product of the BitCurator project and is written by Drs. Christopher A. Lee, Frances Carroll McColl Term Professor and research associate, Kam Woods of SILS; Matthew Kirschenbaum, associate director of MITH; and SILS doctoral student Alexandra Chassanoff.
”The landscape has changed quite dramatically in the past few years,” said Lee. “The white paper reflects a great deal of energy and progress around the work of extracting, securing and describing information that’s been stored on computer disks and drives.”
The BitCurator project, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is “an effort to build, test and analyze systems and software for incorporating digital forensics methods into the workflows of a variety of collecting institutions.” Procedures and tools for acquiring and validating data from physical media are well established in the field of digital forensics. There is a rich and growing body of open source tools that can be used to process, manage and disseminate forensically acquired data. While the primary target for many of these tools and methods is the law enforcement community, there is great potential for connecting these two streams of activity in order to support the work of collecting institutions.
BitCurator is developing and disseminating a dedicated open-source software environment that can be used to apply digital forensics methods to collections. The software and associated guidance documents are freely available from the project’s wiki: wiki.bitcurator.net
According to the white paper, “Forensic methods identify, capture and retain various forms of contextual information, which can be vital for users making meaningful use of digital materials.” It explains those processes, along with many associated challenges and opportunities
“BitCurator now moves into a critical next phase, with a full-time dedicated Community Lead based at MITH whose mandate is outreach to collecting institutions,” said Kirschenbaum. “We look forward to working with a wide variety of archives, special collections, museums and other constituencies to create a robust user community around our platform.”
The white paper is now available here: Bitstreams to Heritage