Simon Wilson admits that some years ago the thought of putting together a repository of digital materials was scary for him and his colleagues. However, with the help of a successful grant funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Hull History Centre became partnered with colleagues at the Universities of Virginia, Stanford, and Yale on a project entitled AIMS (Born Digital Collections: An Inter-Institutional Model for Stewardship). This grant enabled the archivists at Hull to focus entirely on born-digital documents for an extended length of time.
In today’s paper, Wilson looks back over the project, what they learnt, and what ideas they have for other archives. As part of the project a white paper was produced which is now available online. This was written for archivists by archivists and looks at the entire process of archiving born-digital materials.
There are a variety of difficulties with learning to archive born-digital materials. For starters the material can often be much larger than a physical copy whilst also appearing much smaller (for instance a pdf could contain thousands of pages). Then there is the issue of formats and changes in technology. At Hull they updated an old computer (which they now call their forensic workstation) that contained a zip drive, floppy drive, CD-ROM drive and, in addition, USB connectivity. This enabled them to access digital material contained in old formats, check them, and upload them via USB. Hull also takes photographs of the physical containers (i.e. the floppy disk itself) in the hope that this might also be useful to future research. In addition they have learnt to use various tools that enable them to rapidly check file formats and other aspects of digital files.
The AIMS project has given Hull confidence in considering the issues surrounding the collection, storage and management of born-digital archives. This might include documents such as pdf’s, but also e-mails, letters, reports, blogs and websites amongst much else.
The AIMS project was awarded Archive Pace Setter status which means that it is recognised as achieving an innovative approach to new methods of management and collection care. The project also has a blog entitled Born Digital Archives which follows their process throughout the project and is well worth a look.