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Formalizing First Steps: University Archives takes part in Jump In 2014

April 28, 2014

Here at Special Collections we’re wrapping up the results of a special survey we completed of our University Archives sub-collection (all holdings of official records and historical collections related to UTSA’s history). The survey was done as part of Jump In 2014, an initiative put together by the Society of American Archivists Manuscript Repositories section. We joined many other archives in pledging our participation, which helped us begin with the “first steps” of building an electronic records program by inventorying all of the born-digital material we have on removable media.  For this project, we started with a focus on just the University Archives collections.

So what does “born-digital material on removable media” mean? “Born-digital” is a term used to describe any materials that were created digitally—common examples would be papers typed in a word processor on a computer, or digital photographs snapped with a camera phone. “Removable media” simply means any physical media used to store or transfer these born-digital files—things like USB drives, CDs, and portable hard drives that we use today. But what about media we used 20 years ago—the floppy disks, or even the Zip disks? And what about those papers we typed years ago in programs like WordStar or WordPerfect?

5.25" floppy disks found in the University Archives collections.

5.25″ floppy disks found in the University Archives collections. These were used from the 1970s-90s.

The preservation of born-digital material and the problems of getting it off of obsolete media continue to be a big issue for any archives with electronic records. In a previous post, we explained the complex challenges to preservation that the “rapid evolution of technology” of digital content creates for archivists. Physical media adds another layer of complication because media types change through time, and finding a means of accessing the digital content on that media can be harder as formats continue to change (such as in the early 2000’s, when 3.5” floppy disk drives began disappearing from new computers). Luckily, our new Head of Special Collections has a lot of experience working with digital material, and we’re taking our first steps in tackling this doubly problematic type of material. As we move forward with our goal of establishing an electronic records preservation program, we have to begin with figuring out what we’re up against, so we decided to start with an inventory of the University Archives collections within Special Collections.

While our full report will be posted on the SAA’s Manuscript Repositories page soon, we’ll share a preview of some of the findings here:

  • We found that University Archives collections contain 5 types of media, on 639 disks/discs in total. This included CDs, DVDs, 3.5” floppy disks, 5.5” floppy disks, and Zip disks.

    3.5" floppy disks in the unprocessed Norma Cantu collection.

    3.5″ floppy disks in the unprocessed Norma Cantú collection, which contains nearly 600 disks.

  • CDs and DVDs represented the highest number of discs, as this continues to be a popular means of storing data. These discs pose the lowest risk for us now, because we’re still able to load these and read the material. (For now.)
  • One single collection, the papers of retired UTSA professor Dr. Norma Cantú (unprocessed) contained 559 disks, representing every format we found.

Armed with this inventory, we can now start thinking about how we’ll address getting born-digital material off of this obsolete media, and we hope to have a full inventory of all holdings in Special Collections done in the near future.

Further resources:

For more information on born-digital and digital preservation, see:

For more information on how you can work to preserve your digital materials, see:

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