Session 401: Ensuring Access to the Bits: Archival Application of Digital Forensics

Session 401: Ensuring Access to the Bits: Archival Application of Digital Forensics
Guest author Rose Oliveira


Digital Forensics is a relatively new field within archives but it is steadily growing as we grapple with the rising portions of digital materials in our collections.  This panel was a great blend of DIY learning of digital forensics, thinking about applications in institutions and providing case studies and examples of some the technology being used and being created for archivists. As a novice in this field, this session was particularly useful for me in learning about the current literature and foundational texts to learn more independently.

The panel started off with Donald Mennerich currently at NYU but formerly at the New York Public Library.  His presentation, Tune In, Turn on Boot up: Managing Timothy Leary’s Born Digital Records, was a case study of his use of proprietary system Forensic Toolkit (FTK) and discussed the advantages and disadvantages of this system.

Sibyl Schaefer, Rockefeller Archive,  presented We’re all Digital Archivists: Forensics Techniques in Everyday Practice. Schaefer focused on the history of digital forensics in the field and implementing digital forensics into the field. She brought up an important point: as born digital components of out collections increase, the time of a sole person in an institution being regulated to managing digital material is no longer viable. We are moving into a time when all archivists should become comfortable in a digital setting and that there must be a bridge to close the knowledge gap. Therefore the role of the digital archivists to be the leaders of workflows and managing projects but that everyone in an institution needs to be comfortable learning to dive into the digital. She encouraged the idea of FTK day training which familiarize people with forensics terms and provide a basic understanding and then working one by one with processing archivists.

Christie Peterson John Hopkins University, 0-1: Planning for and Initiating Forensic Workflows identified fundamental texts to develop and continue to grow the skills necessary to understand digital forensics. She identified “Digital Forensics and Born-Digital Content in Cultural Heritage Collections” as a key paper to read (see above link).  For those who want to dig deeper into forensics she suggested learning command line and Ubuntu as this will provide you the flexibility to mold and modify programs as well as  understand systems like FTK and Bitcurator and she recommended reading the first three chapters of Digital Forensics with Open Source Tools by Cory Altheide and Harlan Carvey.  She also identifies the importance of self-reliance and well-crafted google searches to work through problems as they arise. This is common in the computer and gaming world it and essential as collections become more complex.

Christopher Lee, The Archival Digital Forensics Landscape: Recent Activities and Future Possibilities covered the lessons learned in getting BitCurator up and running, the challenges they faced, and as well as thoughts on where to look next to create the infrastructure. This is detailed in “From Bitstreams to Heritage: Putting Digital Forensics into Practice in Collecting Institutions,” a white paper that is a product of the BitCurator project. The paper examines the applications and challenges of digital forensics in libraries, archives and museums.

Digital forensics is an area in which there is much to be learned and one must wade into the waters to learn.  Below is a list of important texts they identified for learning about the state of the field and how to implement digital forensics into institutions.

“Digital Forensics and Born-Digital Content in Cultural Heritage Collections” was highly recommended as essential reading on this topic.

An AIMS white paper on digital stewardship “Born Digital Collections: An Inter-Institutional Model for Stewardship (2009-2011)” provides some historical context.

The National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA) “National Agenda for Digital Stewardship 2014”  provides the most recent thoughts on digital stewardship.

 “Walk this Way: Detailed Steps for Transferring Born-Digital Content from Media You Can Read in House,” an OCLC paper,  gives an overview on the process for institutions.

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