BitCurator Users Forum 2017 – Digital Forensics: The Academic Library and Beyond

By Benn Joseph

Last week I was lucky enough to be able to attend the annual BitCurator Users Forum, held on the campus of Northwestern University. This was the first time BUF was held outside of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I was happy to only have to walk one building over to attend this event, which drew archivists from all over the country, although as a UNC alum I would have preferred another excuse to travel to Chapel Hill.                         

At this point most College & University Archives section members are probably familiar with BitCurator and the various digital forensics methods used to capture and preserve born-digital archival materials. One might imagine you’d need to be expert in this knowledge in order to be able to contribute anything meaningful to such a conference as the BitCurator Users Forum, but that is not the case. This two-day conference provided ample opportunities for both experts and beginners, and was structured in such a way as to provide both training for neophytes, as well as a forum for more advanced users to theorize on ways in which BitCurator might be made to evolve in the future.

Day one allowed attendees to self-select as beginners or experts, with the beginners attending a day-long workshop on “Testing the BitCurator Waters.” This track began with an introduction to digital forensics and how it relates to the work performed in libraries and archives, and touched on the foundational concepts of forensic analysis, tying them to archival practice. The rest of the day focused on the BitCurator environment, and how to run the core set of forensics tools on sample disk images. The expert track, “Diving Deep with BitCurator,” focused on developing out different aspects of BitCurator and digital forensics workflows. Attendees here discussed repetitive tasks that could benefit from automation yet currently require human intervention, workflow breakdowns and bottlenecks common to multiple users, and functionality that does not currently exist but would benefit multiple users. Day two brought all attendees together, and featured speakers, lightning talks, and birds of a feather discussions, all guided by the forum conveners, but driven by the attendees.

There were a number of interesting developments in the world of digital forensics shared by attendees, as one might assume, with each of them easily meriting its own blog post. Worth mentioning in this brief write-up, though, would be The Archivist’s Guide to KryoFlux, just announced by the eponymous working group, and presented at BUF 2017 by Jennifer Allen, Shira Peltzman, and Dorothy Waugh. The KryoFlux is a floppy disk controller card developed by the Software Preservation Society that can read a wide variety of legacy floppy disks and create bit-for-bit disk images of their contents.

Image illustrating the features of the Kryoflux. Image courtesy Kryoflux Products and Services.

The Kryoflux is something that is being used with increasing frequency by academic archivists to read information on floppy disks in collections. Unfortunately, the Kryoflux itself ships with only minimal written guidance for the end user, and the official documentation is rather arcane for those of us not well-versed in the manufacture of artisanal floppy disk controllers. The Archivist’s Guide to KryoFlux working group saw the need for a guide written specifically by and for archivists, and the result is an outstanding document that will allow any archivist to use the Kryoflux to recover archival collection materials stored on floppies. It is now open for comment and review.

Benn Joseph is the Head of Archival Processing at Northwestern University Libraries, and a current member of the Steering Committee of the College & University Archives Section of SAA.