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DIGITAL MAGIC PRESERVATION FOR A NEW ERA

English professor Kirschenbaum weighs in on digital archiving.

By Matthew Kirschenbaum, The Chronicle of Higher Education



You don't get to play with a whole lot of cool tools or toys when you're an English professor. Fountain pens and Moleskine notebooks maybe, or a book light or fancy e-reader. Bibliographers—those savants who analyze the unique physical characteristics of manuscripts and printed books—get the best stuff: illuminated magnifying glassesand book weights, white gloves and padded forceps, and more exotic assemblages, such as the original Hinman collator, a contraption the size of a refrigerator whose flashing lights were reportedly capable of inducing epileptic seizure. (Newer collators fold and collapse into a briefcase for transport to distant libraries, and while they may induce headaches, are seizure-free.)
 
But now that literary materials are often stored and accessible only in electronic formats—manuscript drafts written with word processors, e-mail correspondence buried in hard drives—we may be able to get our hands on some nifty techno-biblio accessories that make data retrieval easier.
 
One such device is the inelegantly named FC5025 floppy controller card, 1 1/4-by- 3 3/4 inches and silicon-wafer thin. If you grew up in the 1980s when I did, and if your first computer was an Apple, Commodore, Atari, or TRS "Trash" 80, the FC5025 (or one of several gizmos like it) is the link to whatever frail trellises of data may still remain magnetically etched on the surface of the antique "floppies" that went with those machines. One end of the device anchors an old-school gray ribbon cable that connects to an actual 5 1/4-inch drive, scrounged from eBay or a friend (I got mine from a supply closet).The other end holds the familiar, comforting shape of a USB terminus. Sandwiched in between, embedded in the FC5025 controller board, is the software necessary to bridge the gap between a wheezing, groaning disk drive and any modern operating system.

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Date of Publication: 
3/10/12