Think about your family mementos that carry historical significance: letters between loved ones, diaries, textbooks, photographs, perhaps quilts, furniture, or other handmade objects. While we still keep some of these, with some regularity, a lot of us are recording our daily activities electronically. So, as archivists, we’re concerned with getting documentation, these mementos of history, into the archives. (Here is more information about the records that we accept in Special Collections & Archives.)

This summer, SCA benefited from three months of full-time attention from Ashelee Gerald Hill, who served as our Visiting Assistant Librarian for Born-Digital Processing, and her work is continuing with us this year while she finishes her graduate degree in Library and Information Science from UNC Greensboro. She’s here to talk more about what she has learned about working with born-digital and digitized materials:

The majority of my work over the summer had a heavy focus on workflow and essential steps for cultivating an effective workflow for managing born-digital materials. Like any object, be it an heirloom necklace, a diary, or a manuscript on a flashdrive, we can’t lay them aside and expect good intentions and sheer hopefulness to preserve their overall integrity; they have to be cared for and dutifully managed – this requires a carefully crafted process, especially with born-digital materials.

Thanks to this opportunity I advanced my knowledge of managing born-digital materials in an academic library. I researched leading initiatives that are seeking to condense the extensive steps taken in processing and accessioning born-digital materials into multi-functional programs that will streamline the born-digital processing workflow. In being introduced to the concepts of these programs, I familiarized myself with the pros and cons of using either open-source or proprietary software systems for managing born-digital content. Additionally, I found that there are a plethora of hardware and software tools available that are not only used for managing the metadata, but for harvesting born-digital communications – such as ePADD for emails, Archive-It for websites (which we use at ZSR), and imager software for acquiring information from often outdated, physical media. Remember burning CDs? Imaging is like that, but for older media like 3.5-inch floppies.

The most challenging part was putting this newly acquired information into context for developing, what was essentially, a needs assessment for the Special Collections and Archives Department of the Z. Smith Reynolds Library. In an end-of-summer presentation, I recapped my experience doing research+ and had to convey the importance of born-digital materials and the necessity of investing in born-digital records management and preservation.

Towards the end of my fellowship I was afforded the opportunity to remain a part of the Special Collections team to continue learning about and developing ways to manage born-digital materials. Although best practices and guidelines for working with born-digital content are continually evolving to keep up with technological advances, it allows a little bit of flexibility for organizations in collaborative efforts and can bring excitement (and maybe a bit of anxiety?) when exploring the advancements and efforts of other institutions.