Texas Digital Library Conference System, 2017 Texas Conference on Digital Libraries

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The Truth of the Story Lies in the Details: Challenges of Providing Context in the Born Digital Materials of Writers
Abby Adams

Last modified: 2017-03-22


By now, librarians and archivists are familiar with the challenges surrounding data recovery and preservation of born digital materials in archival collections but providing researchers access to such content, particularly in the papers of writers, can be a multi-faceted problem. As we know, not all legacy file formats are conducive to migration, and it is impossible to find applications to view each and every format. Conversely, many scholars want access to a creator’s works in the original environment they were generated in. Much can be discovered about an digital writing habits and computing history and what influence, if any, they had on his/her composition style. From the size of a computer screen to the sticky notes on a desktop to annotations in a word processing document, these details and more provide key contextual information that is often lost in a standard on-site access model where files are migrated to a software agnostic format and viewed on a modern day computer. As more and more researchers seek answers to these questions, answers that are much clearer with analog collection materials,  what responsibilities do librarians and archivists have to gather and disseminate a creator’s computing history and digital writing habits, to collect and maintain obsolete hardware and software, to develop models for emulation and virtualization services? The presentation will address such issues using collections at the Harry Ransom Center as examples.


born digital; access; literary manuscripts