Digital Collecting – Exciting and Challenging times

Dear Reader, this post does not (yet) have a happy ending, but rather it’s a snapshot of some of the challenges we’re facing, and might provide some insight into how we handle content (especially the digital stuff).  I’m also hoping it’ll start you thinking about how you might handle/organise your own personal collections.  If it does, please let me know by adding a comment below.  Now enough from me, and on with the story…

 trolley

Not so long ago we received a trolley full of files from a private organisation.  This is not an unusual scenario, as we often collect from Western Australian organisations, and it is part of the job of our Collection Liaison team to evaluate and respond to offers of content.  The files we received included the usual range of hardcopy content – Annual Reports, promotional publications, internal memos and the like… and a hard drive.

Not being totally sure what was on the hard drive, we thought we’d best take a look.  We used our write blocker (a device to stop any changes happening on the hard drive), and accessed the drive.  Well, we tried to… Challenge 1 was hit – we couldn’t open the drive.  A bit of investigation later, (and with the use of a Mac), the drive was accessed.  Funny to think at this point how used we get to our own ‘standard’ environments. If you are the only person in your family to use a Mac, and your drives are Mac formatted, how are you going to share files with Windows users?

Once we could get to the content, we carefully copied the contents onto a working directory on our storage system.  (Carefully for us means programmatically checking files we were transferring, and re-checking them once copied to ensure the files weren’t corrupted or changed during the transfer process).  At the same time, our program created a list of contents of the drive.  There were a mere 15,000 files.  Challenge 2 started to emerge… fifteen thousand is a big number of files!  How many files would you have on your device(s)?  If you gave them all to someone, would they freak out, or would they know which ones were important?

[Enter some investigation into the content of the files].  Hmmm – looks like most things are well organised – I can see that a couple of directories are labelled by year (‘2014’, ‘2015’, ‘2016’), and there are some additional ‘Project’ folders.  Great!  This is really quite OK.  What’s more (following our guidelines), the donor has provided us with details of each section of the collection – including a (necessarily broad) description of what’s on the drive – that’ll be really helpful when our cataloguers need to describe the contents. Challenge 4 – Identifying the contents, is (at a high level anyway) looking doable.  Oops – hold that thought – there’s a directory of files called ‘Transferred’ – What does that mean? Hmmm…

 

Enough for now – stay tuned to updates on the processing of this collection, and feel free to get in touch.  Comments below, or if you think we may have something that is collectable, start at this web page:http://slwa.wa.gov.au/for/donations

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