Dealing with the Oddities of Born Digital

From Timothy Kanke who completed a year-long internship with Special Collections this spring:

The Florida State University Science Education Curriculum Development Collection documents the creation and development of science teaching materials produced by the science education program at Florida State University from the 1960s to the 2000s. A portion of the collection is composed of many different types of digital media containing completed games as well as various stages of code development. My internship focused on further exploration of what is in this portion of the collection and to research means of preservation and access to these materials. This collection provides many interesting challenges. It contains many different types of storage media including 3.5” floppy disks, CDs, micro cassettes, DAT, Travan, VHS, DVDs, EX drives, Jaz disks, laser disks, 8mm magnetic tape, and U-matic tape. Another challenge is that a majority of the material are stored on older file formats for Apple II and Commodore Amiga computers that are not directly compatible to most modern operating systems.

Playing one of the video games includes in the Science Ed Collection
Playing one of the video games included in the Science Education Curriculum Development Collection

There are a few methods of moving old software to a modern platform. Both of the following methods create disk images that an emulator can read. One method is to directly connect the older machine to a clean workstation. For Apple II computers this is achieved with Apple Disk Transfer ProDos. This process has a specialized program installed on a modern operating system which is connected to an Apple II which has a modified version of its operating system. Another method is by using a specialized controller such as KryoFlux. It is a combination of a hardware controller (i.e. circuit board) and software. The original media storage device such as a floppy disk drive is connected to the controller. This allows access to the contents on a floppy.

This internship has also given me experience on conceptualizing a collection which shapes how the items are preserved and accessed. If the collection is to provide future generations the chance to experience educational software game play from the late 1980s to early 2000s, then the original equipment, or at least an emulator, is a necessity. If the collection is to document historical computer code, then the code itself and the accompanying documentation needs to be viewable. Or if the collection is focusing on the pedagogy, then a description of the gaming experience with the supporting printed materials might be sufficient for future research. The description of the game could be a walk through video. This kind of video interview captures the monitor output and the audio of the game as well as the words spoken by the player.

Of course choosing one conceptualization does not automatically exclude the others but a focus curtails unnecessary expenditures and brings to light what is truly necessary to preserve the collection. This allows the researcher to immerse themselves into the content and not be distracted by inconsistency of processing. It is impossible to predict how exactly a collection is going to be used in the future but a focus brings a cohesion to the individual items.

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