Data Preservation Bootcamp at iMAL, Centre for Digital Cultures and Technology in Brussels

Nina van Doren
Blog post
iMAL workshop digital forensics and preservation strategies. Photo by: iMAL, Centre for Digital Cultures and Technology in Brussels

​photo by: iMALOn the 9th and 10th of April, iMAL - Centre for Digital Cultures and Technology in Brussels and PACKED - Centre of Expertise in Digital Heritage, organized a 2-days workshop on the handling of obsolete data carriers and computer hardware. A group of 10 people from various institutions in Europe gathered in Brussels for an immersive two-day boot camp, hosted by Ben Fino-Radin, Digital Repository Manager at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. LIMA was present to learn about recent developments and best practices of this digital storage system design for long-term preservation. 

The workshop provided the attendees with some of the most critical basics for handling and caring for digital art. Hands-on activities such as capture and recovery of legacy and contemporary media carriers, use of checksumming tools, breathing life back into obsolete software through the use of emulation, and experimentation with simulating the properties of CRT monitors. Ben demonstrated the possibilities of various free and open source software, arming the participants with the ability to accomplish their preservation goals no matter the resources at their disposal.

The first day started with extracting metadata from physical (obsolete) carriers. After an introduction to command line basics and floppy disk geometry the attendees started the practice of software preservation. The first part is called ‘stabilization’. By creating a disk image, an exact copy of the carrier (floppy, a cd-rom, harddrive etc.) is digitalized and the physical object can be stored away safely. By using different forensic tools, the extracted metadata serves as a proof for authenticity of the disk. The attendees practiced with several ways of reading and imagining a disc, through the command line in a Linux virtual machine (dd, dd rescue for dd raw format); by using FTK Imager in Windows emulation and at the lowest possible level using Kryoflux

Ben Fino Radin explaining floppy disk geometry. Photo by: iMAL

The second day focussed on fixity and bit preservation. This leads to a proper understanding of what the preserved bits and bytes in fact are, and how to properly store them. The attendees learned to perform MD5 and SHA checksums. Depending on its design goals, a good checksum algorithm will usually output a significantly different value, even for small changes made to the input. In preserving cultural heritage, authenticity of the file is of prime importance, and corruptions in the file should be avoided. Checksums can inform on changes that have been made. Sometimes these corruptions happen accidentally. To avoid the scenario of mixing up (personal) data of the conservator a write blocker can be used outside Linux systems. 

The group also learned about the use of the Baggit format. “Bags” have an uncomplicated structure but essential metadata is machine readable. A bag is essentially comprised of three elements: A declaration text file, which is like a seal of authenticity; a text-file manifest listing the files in the collection; and a subdirectory – usually titled “data” – filled with the digital content. Bags can be sent over computer networks or physically moved using portable storage devices. The receiving computer analyzes the bag and runs checksums on the contents, if the checksums match, the transfer is successful. This is a useful format for institutions in transferring files within its organization as well as for distribution purposes.

iMAL, Centre for Digital Cultures and Technology in Brussels
Photo by: iMAL

After working with the several tools, Ben explained how institutions can incorporate them in a workflow. For example, BitCurator is a suite of open source digital forensics that combines different tools, packed for easier use and may serve most needs. Archivematica uses a micro-services design pattern to provide an integrated suite of software tools that allows users to process digital objects from ingest to access in compliance with the ISO-OAIS functional model. When designing an archive that is concerned with long term preservation, the OAIS-model forms the base of reference. The OAIS model has proved useful to a wide variety of other organizations and institutions with digital archiving needs. Depending on the objectives of the institution, a workflow can be adjusted. In order to facilitate day-to-day active management of the contents, MoMA developed a new system that will be introduced in the coming weeks.

LIMA is currently researching long term sustainability of software based art and interactive digital art to update her digital storage system design for long-term preservation. In projects such as: