Tag Archives: electronicrecords

Documenting Digital Student Life

Post contributed by [Matthew] Farrell, Digital Records Archivist.

The Duke University Archives collects records documenting University history. We’ve done it for a long time, and we’d like to think we’re (pretty) good at it. While there are a lot of organizational, legal, and business-oriented reasons to preserve the records of Duke, a university isn’t really a university without the students who live, study, and work here. So in addition to the records documenting Duke’s administration, building and grounds, and athletics, we also collect materials documenting student life.

One of the biggest and best sources of such materials are student organizations (fun fact: there are over 800 organizations listed in DukeGroups !). We accept records in a large number of formats, but since I’m the digital records archivist, I’m going to focus on DIGITAL FORMATS.

We accept many, many types of digital stuff from all types of student organizations. Some examples:

  • Arts organization Amandla Chorus donated video recordings of their dance performances.
  • Club Athletics organization Duke Taekwondo sent us digital photographs of their competitions.
  • Political action organization Graduate Students Union donated document files in both MS Word and PDF regarding their struggle to gain official recognition as a labor union at Duke.
  • Cultural organization Desarrolla asked us to crawl their website with our web archiving service.
  • Social Justice organization Duke Students & Workers in Solidarity gave permission for us to harvest Tweets related to their occupation of the Allen Building in 2016.
Teresa Mao of Duke Taekwondo competing at Brown University in November 2018
Teresa Mao of Duke Taekwondo competing at Brown University in November 2018.

We can work with your organization to identify the best way to get digital records to the Archives. Google Drive and Box are popular methods to transfer files to us from the Cloud. We can lend you a hard drive for files stored on local laptop or desktop computers. We can accept removable storage media of many different types (CDs, DVDs, thumb drives, ZIP disks, or Floppy disks). We have a whole website set up to give student organizations information about how to transfer materials to the Archives. We’ll consult with you to ensure that you’re sending us the records you want to send us, and not any sensitive material.

Bottom line: we want to make it as easy as possible for your organization to donate your records to our holdings, to ensure that the mark your group is currently making (or made if you’ve already graduated) enters the historical record, able to inspire future generations of Duke students.

Capturing the Duke Web

Post contributed by Matthew Farrell, Digital Records Archivist.

I can claim without controversy that the web is among the more popular avenues for communicating, publishing, and otherwise interacting with information. Although professionals involved in the creation of websites often have titles (engineer, web designer, information architect) that borrow the language of corollaries in the physical world, information on the web and how one experiences it is inherently ephemeral. Relics of the early web still extant online often owe their continued life to chance, such as the website for the 1996 film Space Jam or the long-thought-lost-until-a-copy-was-discovered-on-a-floppy-disk first website.

In order to preserve Duke’s web presence, in 2010 the University Archives partnered with Archive-It, a service of the Internet Archive, to take snapshots of various websites. In the five years since we have captured close to 500 Duke-related websites. Comparing a site’s evolution over time can be striking. This portal allows one to compare Duke homepages at different times. For example:

Duke University homepage, 2010
Duke University homepage, 2010


Duke University homepage, 2015
Duke University homepage, 2015


The following screencaps are for the Duke Chapel’s website.

Duke University Chapel homepage, 2010
Duke University Chapel homepage, 2010


Duke University Chapel homepage, 2015
Duke University Chapel homepage, 2015


While the above examples are changes that are, at least in part, cosmetic changes to information, capturing web content allows us to preserve and provide access to the social and intellectual conversations on campus. We have had success capturing Develle Dish in both DukeGroups and their more recent Sites.Duke iteration.

Because the Duke Fact Checker was not officially associated with the university, his blog went down after his passing in early 2014. Though its no longer available at its original URL, we were able to get annual captures of his commentary between 2012 and 2014.

All of this is great but was previously difficult to access without knowing how to use the system. As of February 2015, there are two easy ways to browse and search through the Duke Web Archives. First, the University Archives created a collection guide to the Duke-related websites. The 500 or so URLs are arranged loosely by organizational type and can be browsed here.

Because of the way the web is crawled, some sites may have been crawled that don’t appear in the collection guide. To help address this problem as well as provide another avenue into the collection, there is a search function provided by Archive-It and their Wayback Machine here. Using the Wayback search, one can search for any URL. If the site appears in our collection, even if only partially, the search will return it.

We are currently at work to address Social Media, so look for future posts around that subject.

Post contributed by Matthew Farrell, Digital Records Archivist.

A Day in the Life: Rubenstein vs. “The Brain” Virus

Earlier this year, the Rubenstein Library purchased a KryoFlux floppy-drive controller to help retrieve data from the numerous floppy disks we receive. The University Archives had an obsolete machine with a 5.25″ drive that didn’t work and I hoped the Kryoflux could breathe new life into the drive. After some effort the equipment was installed and the initial self-check tests were successful. A stack of 48 5.25″ floppy disks from the Alvin Roth Papers were close at hand and thus served as the inaugural batch of media to test copying. The copying process was quick, simple, and more importantly, seemed to work. Finally it was time to take KryoFlux’s closing avocation to heart: “enjoy [my] shiny new disk image” and test the results.

Seth and the KryoFlux machine
Seth and the KyroFlux

Mounting the disk copy showed a list of files, but their contents seemed wrong. The documents would start and end at seemingly random points of prose mid-sentence. The seemingly random beginnings and ends were too regular to be a simple case of digital rot. I wondered if I had done the capture wrong (the point of testing) but it might be something else too. I had to dig deeper for more evidence, past the file structure to the data itself for more clues.

In addition to finding problem, I found something much more interesting: “(c) Brain,” a bit of text that tied this disk to a bit of computing history. The Brain virus, written in 1986, is widely accepted as the first MS-DOS virus and, ironically, was an honest mistake. Two brothers, Basit & Amjads, wrote Brain as a means to protect their heart-monitoring software from piracy but ended up having a greater reach than they expected. Just like many others, Brain somehow found its way onto this disk apart from the software it was protecting. Unfortunately this disk doesn’t have a complete copy of the virus; although I am glad there was enough to open the door on an interesting piece of computing history.

New equipment and old media, combined with new puzzles and old viruses, certainly made for an interesting day. While this virus doesn’t pose any real threat to us now, it does serve as a reminder to be careful with the records we receive.

Post contributed by Seth Shaw, Electronic Records Archivist for the Rubenstein Library.