Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Imaging alien and ancient floppies on a contemporary Windows PC

This Omniflop software was designed as a tool for archiving data residing on older floppy formats. It understands a number of older floppy disk formats and can read/write disk images that can be passed to an appropriate emulator. It also claims to be able to work out disk formats it has not previously encountered. Could be worth a closer look.

Library of Congress 'Bagit' transfer tools on Sourceforge

The Library of Congress has released some open source tools for transferring archives at (see Library of Congress Transfer Tools at Sourceforge). The tools support the Bagit specification, and can check for missing, extra and duplicate files as part of the process. Transfers can be made using rsync, http and ftp. The verify script also checks hash values of files against those listed in the Bagit manifest.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Metrics toolkit for assessing usability of archival websites

There was some discussion yesterday on the EAD list about evaluating the effectiveness of online finding aids. Wendy Duff drew attention to a project she is involved in, called 'Archival Metrics', which has put a toolkit together for undertaking user evaluation of online finding aids. There are also other archival metrics toolkits available for download. Am wondering whether this will be useful to us as interface developments become a larger part of our work.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

A copyright agenda for C21?

Tim Padfield signaled yesterday (nra posting) that the Intellectual Property Office are undertaking a new review of copyright legislation in the UK. An issues paper, designed to start a debate, was published on the IPO's website in December. This new review is intended to build on the work of the 2006 Gowers Review; the paper says that work arising from the Gowers Review continues to be taken forward (format shifting is specifically mentioned, I'm pleased to say), but that there has been change enough in the 'technological and commercial landscape of the creative industries' to merit new consideration.

The issues paper is succinct and there are a few interesting ideas in it, such as:
  • to what degree should creators be able to control the way in which their work is re-used?
  • how can exceptions to copyright remain effective while contractual and technical measures override them?
  • does a personal blog deserve the same copyright protection as the work of a best-selling author?
The paper solicits responses to the following four questions:

1. Does the current system provide the right balance between commercial certainty and the rights of creators and creative artist? Are creative artists sufficiently rewarded/protected through their existing rights?

2. Is our current system too complex, in particular in relation to the licensing of rights, rights clearance and copyright exceptions? Does the legal enforcement framework work in the digital age?

3. Does the current copyright system provide the right incentives to sustain investment and support creativity? Is this true for both creative artists and commercial rights holders? Is this true for physical and online exploitation? Are those who gain value from content paying for it (on fair and reasonable terms)?

4. What action, if any, is needed to address issues related to authentication? In considering the rights of creative artists and other rights holders is there a case for differentiation? If so, how might we avoid introducing a further complication in an already complicated world?

Monday, 5 January 2009

Chris Rusbridge's '12 Files of Christmas'

Just before the Christmas break, Chris Rusbridge of the DCC offered to recover obsolete files. Today is the 'closing date' for submissions. I hope Chris gets some interesting submissions that we can hear about in due course. See Chris' blog entry for more info.

Hypertext and self-destructing poems

A few of us attended the Flair Symposium at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin in November. It was an opportunity to hear about literary archives from the perspective of the writers that create them and the archivists that curate them.

While at the HRC, I also found some time to take in their (now just closed) exhibition - The Mystique of the Archive. The exhibition described the contents of a literary archive, exploring its journey from creator to archival repository to scholar. Two items in particular stuck with me. First, the plot chart for Norman Mailer's Harlot's Ghost, and second the display of Michael Joyce's Afternoon. The first has all the magical qualities of a traditional manuscript - it's a window on the composition process. The second is one of few exhibits of born-digital archive material that I have seen. Afternoon is a work of hypertext fiction created using software called Storyspace. You can buy both the current versions of the work and the software used to create it from Eastgate. I have never read a work of hypertext fiction, but I understand that the format presents the reader with a variety of paths through the work. Matthew Kirschenbaum of MITH is working with the archive of Deena Larsen, a hypertext author who encourages the extension of her works; this introduces all sorts of interesting questions about the (potential) scope of the archive.

Matt was also the first user of the Joyce archive at the HRC and he writes about this in his book Mechanisms. He writes too of the importance of the physical medium on which data is inscribed and the use of data forensic techniques to recover and examine data. There's much in Mechanisms that chimes with issues and approaches we have encountered, though the terminology is very different to that used by archivists. At the FLAIR Symposium, Matt spoke about the Agrippa Files (also the subject of a chapter in Mechanisms) and there's a website dedicated to this. The work that's been done on Agrippa is an interesting example of data recovery and emulation. The poem was a digital work designed to scroll on the screen, accompanied by the odd sound effect. It was also crafted to self-destruct by encrypting itself after a single reading. The poem has been recovered, using dd, from a 3.5" disk used with an early 90s Mac. On the website, you can now view a video of the poem running in the mini vMac emulator booted with a System 7 boot disk.

The NEH has funded a collaboration between MITH, HRC and Emory on digital literary manuscripts. The grant supports a series of site visits, which will enable the partners to share experiences and to develop a fuller proposal for the curation of contemporary literary archives. We were lucky enough to meet with the good folk of this collaboration at Texas. As well as hearing about MITH's work with the Larsen archive, we learned of their work on the Jonathan Larson archive and a project which investigates the preservation of virtual worlds (see Kari Kraus speak on this at the Metaverse conference). We also heard from Erika Farr and Naomi Nelson about Emory's experiences with the digital elements of the Rushdie archive, and from Gabriela Redwine about the Ransom Center's work on the digital materials in its collections (including the Joyce and Mailer archives). The stories from all three institutions stem from hands-on engagement with born-digital archives, which makes their telling all the more valuable; others will be able to read about this work when a paper is published toward the end of the NEH grant.